I've discussed the term forward many times on this blog, in terms of training for it, what it is, how it solves riding problems, and how it feels. If you want to read up on it, scroll down to the links at the bottom of this article.
I'm coming back to the idea because as always, the concept is an integral part of horse riding, especially when you are working toward any sort of performance and overall balance. I'd say it's one of the most important elements of riding.
I'm forever checking and augmenting my "forward" with my horse, Cyrus. My students are constantly working on it (maybe it has something to do with my insistence - haha!) and I tend to really notice it in horses and riders when they don't have it.
In dressage, we call it impulsion. It's the pushing power that you get when you ask the horse for more energy. It's all-pervasive, in every gait, in every movement. It's also one of the most difficult things to learn to do, feel and create.
You can do whatever you want, but without "forward", the horse will always be working against itself physically, carrying your weight in a less than efficient manner, and often being hollow-backed and on the forehand.
What It's Not
It's definitely not speed of the legs. This is a common error, and it still happens to me at times. If you're not paying close attention, the horse just moves along faster, quite possibly more hollow and more on the forehand.
Even though increased impulsion, or more "forward", can result in better collection, it's not necessarily the same thing as slowing down. We often think that slow means collected, but true collection requires a lot of energy and engagement of the hind quarters.
If your horse is taking smaller and slower steps, staying generally flat in the overall movement, he's likely not forward. Collection is round movement, bouncy, "jump" in the hind end, active, energetic. The strides may be shorter but this happens because the movement is rounder and more elevated.
I've spent a considerable amount of thought on how to explain "forward" and what it really means. This time, I'd like to ask you.
What do you think "forward" means?
How do you explain it to your students (if you are an instructor) or riding friends?
How do you know you "have" it?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. Please post in the comments below, so we can share in everyone's expertise and experience. Thanks!
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More related reading here:
The One Answer To Most Horse Riding Problems: There is one solution that will improve if not completely resolve the issue - whether it be straightness, slowness, speed, or any of the other problems listed above.
Try This To Feel "Forward": If you've never felt "forward" before, how on earth are you supposed to learn it? You need a friend to help you with this one.
18 Reasons To Establish "Forward" Energy: 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".
Stepping "Forward" in Horse Riding: The term ‘forward’ is used liberally in horse riding but is often misunderstood.
Impulsion: How Two Easy Strides Of Energy Might Solve Your Horse Riding Problem: It can help to straighten the horse. It can resolve “behavior” issues. It can even help to reduce tension in the horse’s body.