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The Scales of Training: Scale 4 – Impulsion

scales of training impulsion dressage scale four fourth


Impulsion is the fourth of the training scales and only becomes relevant and useful once the first three scales are fairly secure.

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Asking for too much impulsion before scales one to three are established can cause problems, as the horse will not yet have the physical ability to manage a lot of impulsion without stiffening or coming against the hand.

He should be forward-thinking and reactive to your driving aids but beware of pushing him for an inappropriate amount of impulsion too early on.

So what exactly is impulsion?

The FEI defines impulsion as:

The transmission of controlled, propulsive energy generated from the hindquarters into the athletic movement of the eager horse. Its ultimate expression can be shown only through the horse’s soft and swinging back, and is guided by the gentle contact with the rider’s hand.”

You can see within that definition how the scales of suppleness (no. 2) and contact (no. 3) are essential for the control and direction of impulsion into a useful tool.

What do you need to achieve impulsion?

Aside from the scales already mentioned, other pre-requisites are:

  • a fair degree of balance
  • freedom from tension/anxiety
  • understanding of both the driving aids and the controlling aids
  • lack of resistance anywhere in the body or mind
  • forward-thinking (FORWARD is an attitude of mind, not speed)
  • elastic movement of the limbs
  • active hind leg with vigorous bending of the joints
  • a ‘quick’ hind leg, which does not trail out behind the body, but picks up ready to move forward again at (or only just past) the point where the hock moves behind the point of the buttocks
  • hind legs that step forward under the center of gravity
  • the ability to over-track

Too little impulsion causes:

  • lack of athleticism
  • flat, un-elastic paces
  • obvious aids needed just to keep going
  • slow response to the aids
  • difficulty producing medium and extended paces
  • struggling with lateral work

Too much impulsion (yes, it is possible to have too much!) can lead to:

  • tension
  • tightness
  • hurrying
  • difficulty in controls
  • short neck
  • contact issues

Results of impulsion:

  • power – the ability to produce a range of variations within the paces
  • thrust – to increase the spring off the ground in trot and canter
  • a more pronounced rhythm to the paces which combines with the increased suspension to produce cadence
  • ability to maintain rhythm and suspension in all work, especially lateral movements
  • willingness and eagerness to obey the rider’s aids
  • an impression of controlled power
  • makes the horse exciting to watch and exhilarating to ride

In Conclusion

Impulsion is the ingredient that makes dressage exciting and easy to ride, just beware of focusing on it too early in the training.

Provided your horse is forward-thinking and reactive to your driving aids, be patient and wait for the first three scales to be secure before you add too much drive, and always remember that impulsion does not equal speed.

If you get the earlier stages right impulsion will be easy to add, and then your training will really take off!

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