Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Impulsion, What is it?

Few subjects about horses are as misunderstood as Collection. If you asked a group of riders to explain Collection you will often get a multitude of responses. But persistence will yield at least two answers more common than the rest. One is that Collection is when the horse reaches deeply under his body with his hind legs, thereby assuming a greater portion of the horse’s weight. The other is that Collection describes a horse that tucks and lowers his croup. Both answers are correct but carry with them only part of the story.

These describe the horse's appearance when collected but do not describe what the horse is actually doing. They appear incomplete because they fail to include the concept of Impulsion, and a sufficient detail of anatomy, as integral parts of the explanation. Without these aspects, no treatment of Collection can be fully illuminating. So before even talking about Collection, let us first discuss Impulsion.

Impulsion is usually described as a horse’s forward movement. This answer suggests that to increase Impulsion, a horse need only increase his speed. And yet, a faster horse is not necessarily a horse with greater Impulsion. Some might say that a better definition is that Impulsion is a horse’s TENDENCY for forward motion. Although this is an improved definition, it implies that a horse performing a Rein-back not only has no Impulsion, but that his Impulsion would, in fact, be negative. But this is not true because horses are expected to have Impulsion even during a Rein-back. Therefore the definition does not sufficiently describe the action.

My aspersions on these definitions are not meant to criticize. They are in fact correct descriptions. My only concern is that they are arguable and cryptic for some people.

There are many masters who can give good definitions but they are often hard to find among the morass of well intended suggestions. And of course, instead of keeping my nose out of it, I decided to throw my opinions on to the pile and I hope they are helpful. If not, discard them for some that are.

After researching the matter carefully, I believe the following definition serves the concept best:

Impulsion is a

Measure of the Horse’s

Responses with Respect to the

Riders Cues

Another way of saying it is in the mathematical formula

shown in the picture at the top of this post

By applying this definition, one can readily understand that the more a horse responds to a cue, the greater his Impulsion. Conversely, the more a rider must cue his horse in order to the get the same response, the lower his Impulsion.

The next question is, of course, how to develop Impulsion. The answer is a proper application of the cues. To do this, make sure that all your cues meet the following criteria:






Immediately Released


To be effective, a cue must be distinct from other movements made by the rider. I have often found that asking a student to simply sit on a horse and do nothing can be a challenge. However difficult it may be, it is a worthwhile exercise to develop a sufficient quietness of body to detach your lower body from your upper body enough to keep from unintentionally giving cues to the horse.


A horse must know what a cue means before he can respond with Impulsion. Although a horse can offer correct responses to a cue by accident, or as a means to discover the meaning of a cue, he will not develop Impulsion until the discovery phase is over and he is sure about the meaning of the cue. Until then, he is reacting, not responding.

Too often, cues are repeatedly given to horses who have either never been taught its' meaning or have not been given enough time to learn. The frustration and futility that are the obvious results of such an approach should be avoided as they are not only unpleasant, they are also dangerous.


The third criterion requires a cue to be fair. By fair I mean that the horse must be physically capable of performing the movements demanded by the cues. A horse who is asked to do something that it is prohibited from doing due to environmental restraints or physical limitations, at best, will cultivate disobedience and distrust, and at worst, may become injured. In either case, he will not develop Impulsion.

Not Repeated

A cue should not be repeated without compliance on the part of the horse, or correction on the part of the rider. Continuously repeated commands and cues without compliance or corrections serve only to dull a horse and teach him that ignoring a cue until it is repeated five or six times is a viable option. This attitude is the complete opposite of the desired result. If a horse ignores a cue, it is usually because the horse either does not appreciate the immediate urgency of the cue, or does not understand its meaning. Therefore, the rider must provide corrective or suggestive hints before applying the cue again.


The next criterion requires a cue to be given in a consistent manner. Continuously changing the nature of a cue is a very quick way to sap a horse of his Impulsion. Without Consistency, all other aspects of your efforts will be quickly undermined by growing confusion and misunderstanding.


The most critical of all criterion states that an immediate release must be given whenever the horse offers the slightest hint of compliance. The Release will inform the horse that his movement is correct at the critical moment of performance. It requires the rider to acknowledge, by a release of the cue, any attempt made by the horse to correctly interpret the cue. The vital importance of a timely release outweighs all other considerations and is often considered the cornerstone of Traditional Equestrian arts.

Hopefully this post will cast some light on Impulsion and how to achieve it. On my next post, I will discuss the anatomy of Collection before moving on to Collection itself.


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