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Comments Off on Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 3: Dressage and Impulsion

Top Horse Boarding Facility’s Lessons Learned – Part 3: Dressage and Impulsion

September 10th, 2013

As the Head Trainer at Whispering Hope Stables, I pride myself not only on providing the best horse boarding facility in the Raleigh/Cary/Apex area, but on educating and training our equestrian athletes and their riders. At WHS, our focus is dressage basics as the necessary groundwork for various disciplines including hunters, jumpers, cross-country, and pleasure riding.

As we continue to advance up the building blocks of the training scale, Impulsion marks the more advanced second half of the pyramid. Built on a solid foundation of rhythm, relaxation, and a good connection with the rider; Impulsion is the necessary energy that propels the horse forward in the moment of suspension during the trot and canter. It relates to thrust, not speed. Anyone who has done a dressage test has no doubt encountered at least one “lacks impulsion” comment. At some point, we have all sped from M to K with short, fast strides that do not accomplish any loft whatsoever.

The German word for what those judges are looking for is “Schwung” which is defined as the “transmission of energetic impulse created by the hind legs into the forward movement of the entire horse.” The reason this differs from flat out speed is that it requires the hind leg to reach underneath the horse, pushing up and over a relaxed and elastic top-line, thus creating a swinging back.

There is no Impulsion at the walk simply because there is no moment of suspension. In the instance of the walk the judges are looking for activity, not Impulsion.

To create Impulsion the horse must not only willingly go forward with a relaxed top-line but we must be able to begin to shift the weight of the horse; which is naturally carried about 60% by the forehand to the hindquarters. This is accomplished through the rider by having established an elastic connection with the horse from the leg/seat/rein aids – (see the last article on connection).  The horse in essence prepares for a halt by closing the leg/seat/rein aids instantaneously, which encourages the horse forward before the halt occurs.

If the rider has established a good connection with the horse and can control the rhythm and relaxation, transitions such as canter/walk or trot/halt should be performed easily. Once those are established, transitions within the gaits become bigger or smaller without changing the tempo and are the next step. Energy is augmented via the leg aide, then tempo is restricted by tightening the rider’s core (stomach muscles) which deepens the seat, while closing the hand at the same time. This should only be done for an instant to create a good half-halt; as more would result in a full halt. If your half-halt is ineffective, then perform several full halts from all the gaits.

Once the horse is prepared to respond with a full halt, simply encourage him forward in the instant his/her weight shifts back to halt. That instant of preparing the horse is analogous to a downshift of a car and should round his lower back; putting his hind legs further under him and tucking in his abdominal muscles, which in turn allows the lifting of the forehand. This increased moment of suspension is how we increase the core strength of the horse, as well as the carrying power of the hind legs, which results in ever-increasing moment of suspension. Combine these moments together and voila–Impulsion!

All of the lateral work, particularly the shoulder-in and haunches-in, will build carrying power. Each of these movements places a hind leg beneath the center of gravity of the horse, as the forward movement is shifted back by the outside rein aid. The energy is then allowed only in the direction the hind leg is traveling, and the shoulders are lifted so the front legs can cross. The correct performance of these particular movements are imperative to the advancement of the training and core-strength building of the horse which is why so few horses and riders get successfully through second level.

Once again, this is just one part of the six-piece training scale. This type of strength building takes time and must be supported by the good basics. The lateral work that goes into building the strength for true Impulsion should make the horse increasingly flexible and should make him/her very sensitive to the leg aids, preparing the horse for the final step necessary before collection: Straightness.  Details on this next month!

Written by:  Laurie Hutchinson

Head Trainer

Whispering Hope Stables

Laurie Hutchinson is the Director of Training at Whispering Hope Stables, Raleigh’s Premier Equestrian Facility. In 2013 she will be competing Whispering Hope Sporthorse’s Hugo Boss in the USEF Young Horse Dressage Program for 6 year olds, and her own Veva Rose in the Grand Prix and the USEF Developing Horse Grand Prix for 8-10 year old horses. She can be reached at (919) 851-6237 for lessons, training and clinics.