BY JENNY ROLFE
Have you ever taken timeless moments to look over the gate of the field watching your horse when he is relaxing and grazing in the field? Then maybe he sees something in the distance, which stimulates his interest. Suddenly he is alert, and moving, full of vitality and pride across the field. You admire his beauty and energy, as the saying goes, “the outside of the horse is very good for the inside of ‘man.”
During our training, we are trying to emulate this pride within the horse to produce the gaits required for dressage. If we are aware of the true nature of the horse, we can encourage his spirit to shine through. Our desire for ‘perfection’ and correct work can sometimes make us blind to working with the character of the horse we are training.
To see a horse working with true impulsion is to observe him moving with joie de vivre and energy and not with fear.
The biggest challenge for the trainer is not only to work towards gaining high marks within competition, but to be working alongside a willing, athletic horse who is also feeling both focused and confident.
Impulsion, within the context of our training, is about contained energy – rather like a coiled spring. The power of the hind limbs creates a rounded loin and back which produces more elevation and cadence within movement. The shoulders become lighter which is the path to developing true collection through a correct system of training. The neck should not be compressed in any way, and the head should be within a natural self carriage near to the vertical or slightly in front, from a natural release of the poll area. This desired way of moving for the horse can only be instigated from a willing mind, full of vitality – producing a calm focus and energy.
If we need to continuously ask with each stride using strong legs , whip or spurs, then maybe we need to review our methods of training where ‘less can become more.’
We may not always be aware of the impact we have, as the horse is so sensitive to our mood and body language. Our focus on our breathing and calmness will be a great influence in our communication.
Impulsion is movement in freedom with vitality, demonstrating elasticity and ease of motion. This response can be generated from a horse who senses the friendship, enthusiasm and direction from his trainer.
If we allow frustration and negative energy to control our mind, this will influence the horse. His movement will reflect his state of mind, producing stilted and tense strides.
Music can be inspirational for both horse and rider, to help instigate more ‘feel’ thus encouraging an environment for both learning and fun. Several of the Classical Schools regularly use music to enhance their artistry and performance.
Let us think of the child at school attempting to learn a difficult, technical subject. The teacher who presents his knowledge with a blend of enthusiasm and imagination will be more likely to gain the willing concentration of his student.
Horses have a great sense of ‘play’ which sadly we can lose, as humans, as the years go by and we face problems and difficult situations.
If we are aware of the value of good timing and fairness, we will recognize when there is a need to reprimand and also when to give praise for his good responses.
Impulsion will become expressive and not as a result of constant pressure or force.
I have found loose work invaluable to instill within the horse, a feel for energetic work. He can learn that when he is within the school we will be seeking his attention and his power to work with us.
Impulsion can be created through work on the lunge as we can instigate a forward attitude before the horse even receives the rider.
While working, particularly with stallions, it is important to allow them some time to let off steam. The first few minutes of lunging should allow the horse to work too fast or buck a little and look around, with no side reins to restrict him.
After a few minutes when the horse has settled into more rhythmic work we can put on the side reins to begin to settle into a working frame. I prefer to use slightly looser side reins so the horse can work into a more relaxed rather than a fixed frame.
While training with the Chief Instructor of the Portuguese School in Lisbon, he made it clear to me that the first part of the horse to move forward is his head. If we ask him to move forward and then restrict his head carriage, we are giving him conflicting aids which will become the enemy of true elastic impulsion.
I prefer to work in a deeper, more relaxed frame during the first part of a training session, where I seek to maintain energy and accept a lower and lengthened release from the horse’s neck and head.
If you observe a horse working loose, he will travel with his neck more elevated until he is working with sufficient energy. When he begins to engage his hind limbs, his outline will naturally change. The spine will become more elevated and there will be a natural release of his neck carriage, which will begin to lengthen and lower. If we learn to observe this natural sequence we can just enhance it during our ridden work.
Many problems encountered with neck carriage stem from a lack of engagement from the hind limbs.
Canter work can be helpful to gain impulsion, and the rider may find the lighter forward seat useful in the warm up period to enable the horse to work forwards encouraging suppleness through his spine.
Impulsion is gained through a system of warming up which encourages the horse to produce a calm energy in his work.
Our goals will be to achieve steady, submissive work from a highly active horse. The lazy horse, however, will be encouraged to work with more energy and we can use canter work, or maybe trotting poles, to stimulate his interest.
When the horse has tuned into our training with steady energy and a release of his head and neck, we can look to further lateral exercises in walk which will enhance engagement and develop more self-carriage.
Lateral exercises may be used within a steady, but energetic walk, including: Shoulder-in, travers, renvers, half pass, leg- yielding and pirouettes, all these will be dependant upon the level of training .
After several minutes of this work, more collection and suppleness should be achieved and the horse can be better prepared to give more true impulsion. Vertical impulsion and cadence will be enhanced by the lateral work in walk.
When the trot work is commenced, prepare with a deeper inward breath. Then on the outward breath, allow the horse to move forward into trot from a ‘giving’ not a restricted hand. It is important to straighten the horse when working forwards as true collection can only be achieved from straightness. Transitions with an awareness of our core stability, balance and breathing will also become building blocks for further impulsion.
The self carriage and fluidity of the rider means that he will be supporting his own weight and balance. This will encourage the horse to be able to move more freely. He will become our mirror.
Always, we need to be in tune with the nature of the horse and understand and encourage if he is trying to please and listen to us. If the horse is reprimanded too hastily, too often, he may become dull or anxious, which will be reflected in his work. Our aim is to enhance his true nature and joie doe vivre – let us allow the horse – to be a horse.
True impulsion comes from the heart . The horse who can perform with vitality and pride will be feeling confident with his rider, seeking to please his leader.
Impulsion is not only a visual and technical goal for the trainer, but requires a way to stimulate pleasure and co-operation from the horse.
This is a journey of horsemanship for us all, to use our inner wisdom and knowledge; so we can enhance the full beauty of the horse, manifested throughout his training. We can create art through love.
READ MORE ABOUT AUTHOR JENNY ROLFE