Impulsion is the pushing power (thrust) of a horse, which comes from his desire to move powerfully forward with energy. However, speed does not create impulsion, and a rushing horse is more likely to be "flat" than impulsive. A horse can only have impulsion if his hind legs are engaged and his elastic back allows the power to come through.
DefinitionsThere are competing definitions of impulsion. The 2007 USDF rule book defines it as "...Thrust. Releasing of the energy stored by engagement. The energy is transmitted through a back that is free from negative tension and is manifested in the horse's elastic, whole-body movement. The classical dressage trainer Nuno Oliveira described impulsion as, "...a mental and physical state of the horse to obey the rider's demands as fast as possible, to move forward, and to maintain his forward impulsion without support from the aids..." and ""Impulsion means to maintain the energy within the cadence." Another definition is that "[a] horse is said to have impulsion when the energy created by the hind legs is being transmitted into the gait and into every aspect of the forward movement. A horse can be said to be working with impulsion when it pushes off energetically from the ground and swings its feet well forward." The USEF states, "Impulsion is the term used to describe the transmission of an eager and energetic, yet controlled propulsive energy generated from the hindquarters into the athletic movement of the horse. Its ultimate expression can be shown only through the horse’s soft and swinging back to be guided by a gentle contact with the rider’s hand."
In competitive dressage circles, impulsion is defined by the German Training Scale, which states that impulsion is only possible in gaits having a moment of suspension, such as the trot and canter, but not the walk. and in horses used for western riding. Impulsion at the walk is encouraged and judged in many lower level dressage and combined driving competitions that do not necessarily follow the current trends in international judging.
Purpose and requirementsImpulsion is very important in all equestrian disciplines, because good impulsion allows the horse to effectively utilize the power in its hindquarters. For example, horses jumping with poor impulsion are less likely to jump clean, and in extreme cases may hit the obstacle and fall.
Impulsion is particularly important in dressage. It not only makes the horse's gait more elastic, light, and expressive, but providesg the animal with the power needed to perform the required movements. This is especially true for those requiring collection, such as passage, piaffe, pirouette, tempi changes.
Good riding is needed to create impulsion in any horse, although some horses may be built in such a way that they can more naturally create impulsion (such as those with an "uphill" build). The horse must be forward, yet relaxed, and coming correctly "on the bit" by coming up through the back. Additionally, a horse must be straight, with "throughness." The rider should use correct driving aids, and contain the energy created by the engaged hind legs. Ideally, this is accoumplished through persuasion of the horse, not bullying.
Impulsion occurs in all gaits: the walk, the trot, and the canter and even the ambling gaits of gaited horses. Because the walk has no moment of suspension, it is a difficult gait to perform with impulsion. Impulsion at various gaits may not always appear the same. In the walk, it is seen when the hindquarters are engaged and the gait is "purposeful yet relaxed." The USEF describes impulsion at the piaffe as follows: "The piaffe must always be animated by a lively impulsion and characterized by a perfect balance. While giving the impression of being in place there may be a visible inclination to advance, this being displayed by the horse’s eager acceptance to move forward as soon as he is asked."
impulsion in French: Impulsion (cheval)
impulsion in German: Schwung (Reiten)