The "Impulsion Line" in Riding Horses

Impulsion line and working on the forehand.

     The impulsion line is an imaginary forward energy line from the horse’s hipbone to the horse's tip of the nose, and in riding horses it is from the hip to the bit, hence the rider can genuinely ride the horse "on the bit" (in hand). Any deviations of this line from the horizontal position (hip line) toward the ground will cause the horse to travel out of balance and on his forehand.

A good impulsion line (in red) in this free moving horse in hand, pointing well into the uplifting direction. Both, left front and right hind are solid on the ground, contrarily to the dressage picture below.

As a result of the above the horses breaking over is eased by the uplift, as well as the time in the air is increased to provide secure and non abusive movement of the horse.

The riding disaster of today's riding. Impulsion line pointing into the ground. The landing as well as the carrying burden of the front legs is thus greatly increased. A moment in which the entire weight of the horse is resting on one front leg at the stress height to the deep flexor tendon. Note, the right hind is almost off the ground, while the left front is still in solid contact with the ground and supporting the entire weight of the horse and the rider. Also note the uneven distance (stride) of the front legs from each other in comparison with the hind legs.

    Further more the horse can no longer respond properly to the rider's hands since the hands are "out of touch" with the horse's energy (power). One of the worst things that are being taught today is some kind of “driving the horse into the bit” and with the impulsion line pointing toward the ground… well, where to are we driving the horse?  

     To understand the impulsion line and the direction of it, is of the essence to any form of balanced riding. The impulsion drives the entire body of the horse (through the back and neck to the poll and by mechanical balance ends in the horse's nose) in the desired direction. It is not only forward but also in the upward direction as well, which provides sufficient lift for the front legs, as well as for the entire body and it’s leg exchange.
    In the extended gaits and faster speeds it will provide sufficient time in the air to ease the over extension and the "break over" by the front legs. This action very much depends not only on the traveling gait but also on the speed. At the walk, the impulsion power is at the minimum, especially when the speed is slow, like when horses are walking calmly about the field when grazing. Because horses in nature mainly spend their time walking about or standing, their natural body development, including their feet, is different than that of the conditioned working horse.

    When we choose our horse for a particular work we must be familiar with his movement at that work, as well ass his stressed body parts from such work. The riding horse will stress his forelimbs more than any other working horse. Therefore the proper carrying balance of his body, as well as the rider, insures the horse’s soundness and longevity.

    The crucial factor in riding and training a horse is the observation of the impulsion line, which under no circumstances should point to the ground (resting or relaxed walk excluded). In the nature and in his natural movement no horse will travel in faster speeds and higher gaits with his nose below the hipline.
   If we do not teach the horse anything at all, just breaking him for the saddle and then ride around, he will keep his natural impulsion line at least at the horizontal level. It is because of the inadequate training and riding that the riding horse’s impulsion line is altered and points into the ground. This will inevitably cause various injuries to the front legs and puts him prematurely out of work, not to mention it makes him unsafe to ride. 

    When the impulsion line pointed toward the ground, rather then up from it, it was called in the old days “riding the horse into the ground”. Unfortunately this is what we do to horses today, especially when "riding them into the bit" in such frame. The riding of horses on the forehand in limited spaces is one of the main causes of the navicular associated injury in today’s age.

    When you were a little child and jumped on the pony, and rode it around like a wild Indian or day dreamed about your wedding invitations after prince charming rode in on his horse, you more likely caused no damage to the creature. However, the day you took your first "riding lessons" by the so-called "riding experts", your riding and mainly the understanding of it became worse day by day. The sad part is, that the higher you go into the riding world today, the worse is the riding.

     In conclusion one should remember a simple fact, that if the impulsion line points to the ground, the horse is without a doubt on the forehand. This is how you can evaluate better riders, teachers and horsemen in general.

          Semi natural balance of a race horse shows the impulsion line above the horizontal. I assure you, the minute the horse will drop his bit below the hip line, the jockey will stop riding/driving the horse forward, because he does not wish to "bite the dirt". Usually, tired or sore horses will start to put their heads lower in order to rest their tired hind legs/quarters.

Related Articles: The dynamics - The Forward Swing of Cadence
                               Impulsion - Misunderstanding - Misinformation

                               Impulsion in Riding Horses - Dressage

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