Impulsion is not just the energy required to move a horse, nor is it having a horse going round the school as fast as it can, (that just creates a tired horse), so I am starting this blog with a quote from Nuno Oliveira,
“Impulsion means to maintain the energy within the cadence.”
Impulsion is often misunderstood by riders, in dressage it can be your greatest friend or your greatest enemy. Too much energy at the wrong time unbalances and makes the horse heavy in the shoulder. Whereas insufficient energy makes the horse flat and unable to perform the movement you are asking. The right energy at the right time gives a freedom, mobility and lightness to a horse, linking to self-carriage.
Impulsion is not a one size fits all, different horses need different levels of impulsion at different times, and it is the skilled rider who knows how much to ask and when. Good impulsion exists when you have a straight horse, supple and balanced with his hind leg travelling straight under his body, the impulsion directs the horse forward and up, lightening the forehand. When the horse has impulsion it is the rider who directs it either upwards to give a collected step, or forwards for a more extended step.
With young horses don’t ask too much too soon, begin by asking for a very little lengthening and collecting in trot, in balance, on the long side of the school, retaining the energy from the lengthened steps to the collected steps. As the horse develops his strength and suppleness so the balance improves and the impulsion increases.
And a final though on impulsion; don’t ride with more energy than you or your horse and cope with.
Collection is the result of correct training, with a strong, supple, balanced horse that has self-carriage, can control his paces and respond instantly to his rider. It is developed over years from methodical training, starting with correct circles, where you begin to engage the inside hind leg and balance your horse, moving on to suppling the quarters and shoulders through carefully selected lateral work, and then developing strength and impulsion.
Classical collection comes from the horse engaging the hind leg under his body which results in a lightening of the forehand. The degree to which you can see this engagement depends on the level of training and the horse’s conformation. Some horses show a distinct lowering of the quarters, and the lightening of the fore hand is easy to see. For other horses, the change in the quarters is not so evident, but this does not mean that the horse is not collected; you can see the same qualities in both horses, just displayed differently.
A horse that is heavy in the hand and has weight in the shoulder is not collected, regardless of the perceived action in the legs. The hind leg should appear to be working under the hips, not out under the tail, the back should not be hollow or braced and the fore hand should have a lightness and freedom of movement through the shoulder with the neck stretching forward from the withers.
The ultimate expression of collection is in the “decente de main” and “decente de jambes”, most easily seen in piaffe, where the rider lowers the hands and releases the contact and lightens the action of the legs, while the horse remains in the same piaffe.
Collection is the result of the careful development of a horse through training, ensuring each stage is correctly developed, creating a supple, balanced, strong horse, able to control their impulsion and therefore able to respond instantly to the riders aids. If you rush the early training, you will have problems in the more advanced work.
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer