Impulsion in Riding Horses - Dressage

Related Articles:
  1) The mechanics of the movement and the body structure. 
  2) The Balanced Horse  
  3) Collection 
  4) Impulsion Line

  5) Impulsion - Misunderstanding - Misinformation

This short article will serve to better understanding of the often-repeated word in riding the “Impulsion".

Thank god for the strong/good mouth of the horse. This is one of the most difficult exercise/figure for the rider in the Spanish school. This is why the high school saddles need higher cantle. (horse actually jumps repeatedly on his hinds like a bird)

Not really perfect one, horse is somewhat over flexed, more likely due to the use of side reins when teaching this figure. 


Here we have an example of the lack of upward energy in apparently extended trot (the horse cannot push of the hind since it is not weight down enough/under the horse). Horse is very heavy on the forehand (off balance), dragging the hind behind, while overextending the front. Easy to imagine the overextension (overstressing) of the deep flexor tendon in the front left. Just in case someone ever wonders about the proliferation of the navicular decease, this may give you some hints.

     The impulsion is the energy of the hind legs pushing-off the ground and with the advancement of the hind legs pushes/drives the horse's body forward and up. Impulsion comes out of the point where the hind leg is pushing off the ground and is carried through the mechanics of the hind levers to the loins and through the back onto the whole front end. 

     The impulsion alone can be divided into forward energy (horizontal-pushing) and into the upward (vertical-lifting) energy. Often these are set out of rhythm/balance by the inexperienced or poor riders. Free running horse on the other hand is quite harmonious, and the difference between them two can be seen in the natural "passage" and the mostly inadequate, "artificial" (forced) passage in today's dressage.

     The initial movement of the hind leg is actually downward, pretty much the same as in us humans, as we need to lower (close) the angle of the joints in order to push either up (see collection), or both forward and up. Hence the collection of the horse (his energy) will greatly influence the so-called impulsion (energy output) which is relevant to the impulsion/forward swing of the whole body as well as to the upward movement. The relation/relevancy in the upper energy and the forward energy output will determine/influence the strength and speed of the gait as well as the lightness and fluency of the forward movement.
   For example prior to the Courbett we can see immense lowering of the hind angles (Levad) in order to provide the needed energy (impulsion) for the lift off, hence more energy is directed upward. Similar, but with the overriding thrust forward is by the racehorse coming out of the starting gate. The initial movement is downward followed with huge thrust up and forward, which sometimes causes to the less experienced rider to be unseated as the horse literally disappears from underneath him.
(Hence, the rider is leaning forward over the front end that actually comes up, similarly like on a motorcycle during a sudden take off).

    In dressage, especially in the extended gaits, the riders for most part causing the unbalance of the needed energies. In most cases, the horses do not have enough energy in the upward push (the hind end is not lowered and under the horse enough), while they have too much energy for the forward movement delivered considerably by the front legs and not by the hind legs through impulsion, as the horses are driven forward by the overweight front end alone. This will in time cause various lameness (navicular) in horses due to the overweight front end. Among other things it will also cause a lack of harmony in movement, mostly overstretching/overreaching front legs, while the hind travels too far behind, thus causing often sore/overstretched stifle joins (when you add longeing to this kind of riding, you will guarantee yourself in time a sore/lame horse). Reason for this is that almost no one these days shows or explains adequately/correctly to the riders how to use the leg aids and theirs seats in order to convey (manage energy) onto the horses the direction and distribution of the impulsion, as well as, the theoretical concept of a balanced/collected riding.

    The impulsion  and the collected energy can be easily observed in horses. For example the Western pleasure horses have very little, because they are literally crawling/rolling over the front end. On the other hand, any scared or nervous horse can demonstrate his collected energy by setting himself on the hind (hopping on his hind legs etc.), thus making himself ready to escape the perceived danger via releasing the collected energy - impulsion if and when needed.

   The adequate impulsion is essential to the free and safe movement of a riding horse. The adequate impulsion guaranties the lightness to the movement of the horse in any gait and speed, thus is of the essence when judging a movement of a horse, since it will greatly influence the length of the animal's service, not to mention the safety of both, the rider and the horse alike.




    The picture A above show the schematics of horse's skeletal structure in his so-called natural balance. Picture A shows undisturbed horse with the direct line of impulsion, thus collecting all the energy of the hind legs impulse power forward through his entire body. Pictures B and C show the break of the impulsion line due to incorrect height of the head (poll) in relevance to the lowering of the hind legs, which is fairly poor. See collection for more details.

Related Articles: Impulsion - Misunderstanding - Misinformation

Written by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek