Imagine that there is a bubble around you and your horse. It moves along with you as you ride. At any time we could hit a pause button and ask the following questions about everything within that bubble:
- Have I got enough engagement?
- Do I have the full attention of my horse?
- Are we correctly aligned?
- How is our balance?
You are answering only for that moment – it comprises of:
- The last stride, which is fading fast from the mind of you and your horse but has a residual bearing on the stride you are in.
- The stride you are currently in with your horse, which it is not too late to influence. This is why we build the speed of reaction in a dressage horse and why riders value a ‘quick’ hind leg. What they mean by that is a quick brain to leg reaction.
- The stride you are moving in to, which is the most important one of all.
It is impossible to store up impulsion for the future. The body of the horse is not a battery. You cannot create impulsion in one moment in case you need it half an arena later, or even 30 seconds later. If you give in to that temptation you risk ruining the tempo or takt of your horse. If we drive on with our legs, or even our seat, too fast we will end up supporting an unbalanced horse in our hands. This is something that riders can get away with at certain levels. For the horse that moves too quickly, the work of high school that is the basis of FEI levels will never come easily or well without a total re-think in training.
So what might tempt us to ride too quickly? Usually it is a fear of lacking impulsion. My advice is this:
Do not panic about impulsion. You do not create impulsion, that is the job of the horse.
Impulsion is a product of training, not an ingredient. It is second to last on the training scale for a very good reason. rhythm comes almost at the beginning, also for a very good reason. Not everybody loves the training scale, but I do. I have kept to it faithfully and it has been the bedrock of success in even the most challenging remedial training cases.
When you ride only in the moment you will not run the risk of making the horse move too fast. The horse will have good tempo and therefore will be rhythmical, relaxed and balanced. That is when the horse will offer you all of the impulsion it can. Many of us are familiar with the advice not to confuse speed and impulsion. That is great advice but doesn’t really explain the difference. Of course we can legitimately exert a forward driving influence over our horse. It is simply a matter of knowing when and how much is right for that moment. Years ago I watched Lucinda Green give a clinic. The riders were amateurs with various levels of experience. One of the key skills that she outlined was knowing when to use the leg. She said we must identify the moment that the horse questions us and be swift with the leg then, we must not be using the preventative leg half a field away. The context is different but the advice is the same. Riding cross-country, out hacking, schooling dressage, it is all the same deal. Ride the stride you are in and let the future take care of itself, because if you do then it will!
There is more detail about how to use our contacts to communicate with the horse here:Better Dressage – Contact
and more detail about the importance of takt and balance here: Better Dressage – Developing your horse’s trot.