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Impulsion vs. rushing

From: Audrey Yates

"The feeling you want is really the same feeling that you get when you go for a before-breakfast ride, and you're on your way back to the barn. If your horse is warmed up and eager for his breakfast, he'll be moving energetically forward; if you are walking him, as you should be, you should have the feeling that he would trot if you gave him the slightest HINT that it would be acceptable."

Hi Jessica.

You gave this snipped definition of forward to Helen.

I have a crossbred that leans strongly to the TB side of his breeding, and therefore have the opposite problems. So how do *I* get free forward movement from a horse that is always ready to trot at the slightest suggestion and therefore is usually rushing rather than moving with impulsion?

Thanks Audrey

Hi Audrey -- this is basically the same question, but from the other side! The answer, in both cases, is also basically the same: the horse needs to be educated to the leg, so that he doesn't rush off or take off whenever he feels a leg touch him, but instead waits to be ASKED to go.

You can control the amount of "forward" better if you can introduce a little lateral suppling along with the longitudinal suppling. If you have an indoor school, or an enclosed arena of any kind, use the fence as a visual aid. Walls and corners are wonderful training aids!

First, I would work on all of his various gears at the WALK. When you can use your back, seat, and legs to send him into a contained, marching walk, a long, swinging walk, and every variation in between the two, you'll have a much better chance of getting this same set of "gears" at the trot, and eventually at the canter.

It's hard for horses to move slowly and in balance -- practice at the walk, where it will be easiest for him to learn to listen to your leg. Use a lot of changes of direction, and teach him that "leg" means "step up under yourself" and not "run away, run away!" As I said, walls and corners can help a great deal. Even in an enclosed arena, a horse that's only ridden around the edge can find room to rocket around if he's inclined that way. ;-) Ride patterns -- incorporate turns, and don't let him cut the corners or assume that you want him to keep going around the ring forever.

Keep him guessing -- as you approach a corner, instead of following the rail, do a smooth half-turn (a half-circle that leaves you facing back the way you came, followed by a diagonal line that brings you back to the wall) or start well before the corner, and do a smooth half-turn in reverse (a diagonal line away from the rail, followed by a half-circle that brings you back onto the rail, going the opposite direction).

Practice -- at walk, and then at trot -- keeping him "in position" -- slightly flexed in the direction of travel. A straight horse can stiffen and fall onto the forehand quite easily; a flexed horse is more likely to stay balanced. Change direction frequently, and each time before you change direction, straighten yourself and your horse, and then put him in position for his new direction.

When you begin working at the trot, do the same thing. One of the best all-purpose exercises, IMO, is two contiguous twenty-meter circles. You have to focus on maintaining a steady gait, a correct position, and an appropriate bend almost all the way around the circle -- then, where the two circles touch, you have a few strides in which to straighten the horse, re-position him, re-position yourself, and get your new bend for your new circle.

At any gait, asking for flexion and engagement will help re-balance the horse and keep him from charging forward. Another helpful exercise is one in which you keep shifting the horse from your inside leg to your outside rein -- something with which he should become VERY familiar in any case, whether his career lies in dressage or eventing! Ride him forward in position, and at the same time send him to the outside rein with your inside leg. Your inside rein can be direct, or if he is still green, you can use a slight opening rein, but in either case, it should be SOFT -- you are indicating to him that his nose should tip in that direction, not pulling him around a turn. Keep your outside leg behind the girth to catch his hindquarters in case he prefers swinging them out (easy) to bending around your inside leg (hard). Again, you can do this at walk until it becomes easy, then do it at trot, and eventually you will be able to do this at the canter.

And of course, do thousands and thousands of transitions -- within gaits and between gaits. And don't forget to talk to your horse -- let him know when he pleases you, and give him something to do, immediately, when what he's doing doesn't please you. You should always be saying either "yes, thank you" or "now do THIS please."

Pay attention to your own position at all times, and to your aids -- a horse that rushes forward needs to be rebalanced with a series of half-halts, so that he can use that energy to become round and light instead of fast and heavy on the forehand. If you keep him busy, and keep him happy, he will become much more attentive, and it will be much easier for you to keep him balanced and light. And once you have the energy channeled into a more useful form, you can have so much more fun!


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