Originally posted on Academie Duello’s blog in August 2011
We’re in the top half of the training pyramid now, and getting to high-level dressage material. That doesn’t mean regular everyday riding horses don’t benefit from these concepts.
Impulsion is the fourth step on the pyramid (after rhythm, relaxation and contact). In German it is known as “schwung” and can be defined as free-flowing energy, causing the horse’s back to swing, his quarters to engage, and his legs to articulate. Good impulsion is mirrored through a horse that appears to have an innate desire to go forward with active, lively steps. How far the horse steps underneath his barrel and how much he engages his hocks are both measures of impulsion.
Impulsion is also the energy in the gaits which gives ‘loft’ and the amazing illusion of floating seen in higher-level dressage horses. Take a look at this video of Steffen Peters and Ravel of the US Dressage team, and see how Ravel seems almost suspended in air.
But it’s not just haute école and champion dressage horses that have impulsion. You can see it in on the longe line, in the hunter ring, and in horses loose in the field. It’s easiest to spot at the trot, in that split-second of ‘hang-time’ during which all four feet are slightly off the ground, and the free, floaty-looking movement of a relaxed and forward moving horse.
Ground poles are an excellent way of encouraging more impulsion from your horse. Notice how when you go over a set of three or four trot poles you can feel more lift and power from your horse. Hill work, if you can find it, is even better. The muscle development created from going up and down hills gives your horse the hind-end strength needed for impulsion.
When your horse is moving freely and evenly in any gait without constant leg encouragement you have impulsion, and it is perhaps the nicest feeling to have in a horse. You won’t have it all the time, but when you feel it, smile and enjoy!