No matter what level you compete at, impulsion is hugely important – without it, you can’t have straightness, collected or extended gaits, or a correct, stable contact. Despite this, impulsion is one of the most misunderstood and underused tool in most riders’ arsenals.
In simple terms, proper impulsion is achieved when you feel as though you squish your horse into a smaller shape before asking him to go forward. If you ride for that squish, and your horse’s shape doesn’t change, he’ll just get longer and more strung out as you ask him to move forward. Creating a more compressed base by bringing his hind feet closer to his fore feet should be your primary aim – that way, you can begin to lift your horse’s midsection and take this sustainable, cyclical energy forward. How do you know when you’ve got it right? When you feel like you’re riding uphill, even on the flat surface of your school.
Exercise: Two-track transitions
Tactfully and correctly used, lateral work is a sure fire way to increase your horse’s engagement, encouraging more active steps behind. By adjusting his gait within these lateral steps, you’ll create push and power.
How should I tackle them? Your positioning during shoulder-in should always make it clear to your horse what you want. That means his inside hindleg should always be engaged – it should be underneath your seat, in the middle of his body. Begin with a ‘nearly’ transition in trot, and use that to move your horse into shoulder fore. Then ask for a bit more angle. Once you’ve established shoulder-in, try to ride transitions within the gait without losing the angle. Begin by riding another ‘nearly’ transition – this can be a subtle one at first, while you figure out how to maintain your aids and continue the movement.
Dan Greenwood shows you some great riding exercises to increase your dressage score and ask for more impulsion from your horse in October Horse&Rider, on sale 22 August.