Q: When I move my horse out at an extended jog, he loses impulsion from behind. I lean forward to encourage him to move out, and he does increase his pace, but it’s not as collected as it should be. Can you give me some tips for maintaining his impulsion while extending his stride?
A: Lots of riders face the issue you describe here. The problem when you lean forward is that you put weight on the horse’s forehand, but the hindquarters is where the power comes from. You actually need to do the opposite of what you think is right. Instead of leaning forward, you need to keep your seat and weight toward your horse’s hind end.
Looking at these two photos, you can see a big difference in both the rider’s form and the mare’s manner of carrying herself. How you sit has a big influence on how well your horse moves. Here I’ll discuss the finer points of gaining extension without losing impulsion, as well as provide some things to keep in mind when you’re riding.
Photo A: The Right Way
First, let’s talk about the rider: Rather than leaning forward, she’s keeping her weight over the horse’s hindquarters. Many people think they need to lean back to do this, but that’s not correct. You need to have your shoulders over your seat, but without being heavy. This helps you ride the horse actively from behind and lightens the forehand. You can see that the rider isn’t slouching. She’s mimicking what her mare’s body has to do: “bulging” her lower back without slouching so she can pull her belly button back toward her spine and stretch up through the back of her neck and head.
Photo B: The Wrong Way
It feels right to lean forward when your horse is sluggish, as the model demonstrates here, but all this does is put the weight on the forehand, preventing the horse from moving forward freely. Think about what your arms, upper body, and head weigh. When you lean forward, you’re adding a lot of weight to your horse’s shoulders and front legs. Horses need to push from behind, not pull from the front. Your body weight and position are major influences on your horse’s ability to use his hind end effectively.
Exercises to Encourage Impulsion
To keep your horse driving from behind, you need to keep things interesting—laziness is a mental problem. To prevent training from becoming boring, make frequent transitions of gait and changes of direction, and try to keep a consistent rhythm as you do, so you don’t throw your horse off balance.
Laziness is one thing; poor rider position is another. For best results, you’ll need to address both to achieve a lengthened stride with impulsion from behind.
Linda Parelli and her husband, Pat, own Parelli Natural Horsemanship and present clinics and demos around the world. Learn more about their philosophy and check their schedule of presentations at parellinaturalhorsetraining.com.