Riding your horse "forward" is almost indispensable for all riding. Movements fall apart when you are not forward. Lack of forward is the root of many unwanted things in riding, including crookedness in the horse (leaning in or drifting out), loss of balance (on the forehand), and bucks (runaways, spooks, balks, and a variety of other such escapades).

Riding forward is often an elusive concept when you're first learning to ride. It requires an increase in energy but paradoxically, the energy can't be let "out the front". It's not exactly about just getting the horse moving faster - this is where the ideas of impulsion and then engagement become more critical.

It isn't always easy to establish and maintain a forward, energetic but contained movement. Whether in walk, trot or canter, both you and your horse have to ride in a forward - but not running - manner. When you first start working on it, you might find yourself teetering between sluggishness and too fast.

This is where half-halts become essential. Well-timed half-halts help to contain the energy while simultaneously allowing the energy "through". They help establish and maintain the horse's balance - from an initial on-the-forehand balance (in the young or uneducated horse) to a level balance, and finally to an uphill balance (collection).

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Don't worry if it takes a while to really establish this energy. The more you try it, the easier it will come to you and your horse. Keep working on it even if it doesn't seem like you're improving because one day, things will fall into place and your energy burst will be followed just right by a half-halt and your horse will find his legs underneath him and able to carry.

Along the way, you'll begin to really understand why forward energy is a prerequisite to almost every movement in riding. The following are dressage movements and concepts that simply cannot be successful without that forward "oomph". Other disciplines also need the same energy for their movements.

  1. Straightness - energy keeps the shoulders going straight "between the reins" without falling out or into the arena
  2. Balance - not enough forward energy restricts the horse's ability to step underneath himself and maintain balance on turns or straight lines
  3. Contact - stabilize the horse's front end by allowing energy to come over the topline and into your hands 
  4. Half-halt - there can be no half-halt without enough forward energy
  5. Bend - a horse needs to step into the bend and that requires significant energy forward
  6. Circles - horses tend to want to disengage in circles because of the extra effort it takes to keep moving on a never-ending turn
  7. Transitions - need an increase in forward energy to be sharp, strong and well balanced
  8. Swing (through the back) - the up/down swinging movement of the back comes from a well engaged hind end
  9. Spooking - cannot happen if the horse is moving forward energetically
  10. Leg Yield - needs a strong forward inclination even while moving sideways across the length of the arena

  11. Corners - require an extra boost of energy to counteract the restricting nature of the tight, often going into a wall kind of turn 
  12. Shoulder-In - must keep the energy up while bending through the body
  13. Haunches-In - require that extra "oomph" to bring the hind end to the inside track while keeping the front on the rail
  14. Half-Pass - need to maintain that forward-sideways energy similar to the leg yield
  15. Halt - can only be engaged after an energy boost pushes the hind legs underneath the body
  16. Collection - there is nothing to collect without energy coming through the body
  17. Lengthen/Medium/Extension - there is nothing to extend without energy coming through the body!
  18. Back up - energy must go forward before it can translate into steps backward

What do you need forward energy for? Add to the list below in the comments.

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More reading here:

Try This To Feel "Forward": If you’ve never felt “forward” before, how on earth are you supposed to learn it?

"Go and No": The Connection Between Forward And Half-Halt in Horse Riding: If you want to control energy, you have to have energy in the first place.

Do A "Forward" Back-Up: It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. That is the only way the horse can move his legs efficiently and diagonally.

Use the “Canter-Trot” to Truly Engage the Hind End: Many riders think that kicking the horse along and making the legs move faster is the ticket to engagement – but there is nothing further than the truth!

Don’t Mistake the Halt For a Stop!   Don’t do it! Don’t mistake the halt for a stop. They are two entirely different maneuvers.