Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Getting "Forward" Back

So, a few weeks ago I had a pretty yucky lesson in which it was pointed out that I had allowed a severe lapse in impulsion.  Well, it wasn't really that yucky, I suppose.  I needed that lack of impulsion pointed out to me and it was fixed by the end of the lesson with the help of my trainer.  Unfortunately, my trainer can't be there every ride to yell at me when I goof up.  So, I had to do a lot of contemplation to figure out what exactly was going wrong and how to fix it by myself.

I had cemented that forward, uphill feeling from my lesson in my mind and set to work recreating it by myself.  And this is where that pesky idea of "feel" comes in.

I hate that word.  What does it even mean?  Nobody really knows (I've asked), or at least they can't give a definition that is good enough for my highly analytical thought process.  That's the problem with "feel".  It's not something that can be defined or broken down to physics or chemistry.  There's no formula for "feel".  It can't be taught, but it has to be learned.  But, I digress.....  We were talking about impulsion:

So, with the feeling of forward fresh in my mind, I began to think about what was happening while I was in the saddle and at what times my horse was forward.  I eventually came up with a Grand Scheme:  Every time I felt like I wanted to fuss with my hands, I just needed to kick my horse.

I know, I know... We're not supposed to fuss with our hands.  I believe it's one of the Ten Commandments of Dressage.  But, I'd be lying if I said that I don't ever have the urge to do it anyway.  It's human nature, we're a very handsy species.  We're genetically programmed to do everything, including riding, with our hands.  Just have a look in the warm up ring of your local dressage show if you want confirmation of that.

Every so often when I ride I get this overwhelming urge to do something with my hands.  With Spider not consistently forward, I was getting that urge more often.  Why?  And then it hit me.  I was trying to get the connection back.

Spider was dropping behind my leg, which broke his connection to my hand.  I wanted to get the connection back.  My instinct is to use my hand to get it back, but that's not right.  The only way to get the connection back is to drive the horse back up to my hand.  Hence: "When I want to do something with my hands, I just kick my horse instead".

And that is feel.  Well, it's feel for me.  Who knows what it's like for everyone else!?

Oh, and there's an epilogue...

My Grand Scheme has worked, for me at least.  Lack of impulsion was not mentioned even once in my most recent lesson.  I was even complimented on Spider's energy and uphill balance.  Now I just have to work on the lateral work...... It never ends, does it?


  1. I like your scheme. It's perfect. It's always about forward, at least for me. ;-)

    1. It is truly all about forward. If you've got forward, you've got a horse.

  2. Replies
    1. It seems to be working! And I'll keep using it until it stops working, then back to the drawing board....

  3. No, it never ends! But that is the best part, isn't it? Thanks for joining my blog, I look forward to following yours!

    Feel is very difficult to explain, something I have trouble describing to people. I can ride all day with 'feel' but I can not talk about it. What the heck?! Personally, I think the training pyramid needs to be re-written with forward on the base, just to get the idea to everyone that no matter what you are doing, you need forward. To have rhythm you need forward, right? I ride a lot of young horses and break out babies so usually when I am riding, all I think about is GO!

    I’m not so much of a ‘hand fusser’ but a general mess all over with my hands. Again, because of the horses I usually ride, (and when I am not riding the track horses) I am re-training horses off the track so I use a lot of opening reins, or direct reins, gosh, my reins are everywhere! It isn’t about being pretty, but it would be nice to look good on a horse every once and a while! Again, it never ends! :)

    1. Thanks for following me! I always like finding new people and ideas. Plus, I have a soft spot for Thoroughbreds!

      I think of the training scale as less of a linear progression and more of an ideal. Yes, rhythm and relaxation are the foundation, but sometimes you need to get impulsion before you can get rhythm and relaxation. But, I also see a lot of people in the mid and upper levels barreling around on very forward horses that are so tense and choppy that it makes my brain hurt! You really have to tailor the training to the horse, and to the rider, to make it work. But, once everything settles into place, you can usually see how the components build off of each other into a cohesive structure.

      Oh, I remember very well my early days of riding green horses and "remedial" horses! I was a mess with my hands, too. Although, I don't think that hands should ever be still. An immobile hand is a hard, unyielding hand. A rider's hands should move, but in a calculated, soft way. I use opening reins and directing reins, too. But, I think that the idea is to use them to show the horse what we want, so that he can learn the proper aids. Once he knows what I want, we can master the subtlety we need for the show ring. The "ugly" stays at home ;)

  4. HAHAHA well timed post! I am working on feel! I have the same problem I am very handsy ... I find it very difficult in western riding, because it is on slack rein, then we pick up a contact and then release. However WHAT am I suppose to feel for the point of contact is still a mystery. I know that if I take too much, Teena braces, if I take the right amount she softens.
    Oh! My! Now I know what the Western riders mean by "feel" Bloomin' 'eck is really hard to know how much contact to take. I had better result in English riding contact, because I did not have to give it away then to pick it up again. I only had to soften my fingers!!!

    Thanks for your post, it is a good reminder of riding from back to front!

    1. I think the one of the hardest things to learn in riding is how to give the reins and then take them up again! That's part of the reason why free walk and stretching circles are required in the dressage tests.

      I had a terrible time learning proper contact when I first started dressage, because of my western background. I had a better seat, though, because western riding is more about the seat and leg. I still have frequent lapses and get yelled at for having my reins too long, though! I've learned it's less about pressure in the reins, and more about driving the horse up to your hand, while you follow his mouth with relaxed shoulders and a soft, pliable hand.

  5. Good for your analytical thought process for figuring this out. Nothing feels btter to me than a correctly forward horse.

  6. My favorite trainer, Lockie Richards, had a teaching tool he always used with me. Whenever we accomplished a goal in a lesson and the horse was going "just right," Lockie would ask, "Feel it? Feel it?" Once I'd tell him I did, he'd be satisfied, knowing full well that I was going to be able to recreate that feeling on my own. He'd always ask at the crucial time and want feedback. If he didn't get it, we'd go on a bit more, discussing what was going on until I could, indeed, "Feel it." Even now, when I ride, I can hear his voice in my head.

  7. All sounds great! I'm so glad your plan for improving impulsion has worked for you.

    I definitely drive from my leg and try to drive from my seat also (since recently Rica has had a lack of impulsion) but yesterday it was strange... I have also been working on keeping my outside rein steady and fairly solid to help her with her bending, and I'm wondering if I could be restricting her too much with my outside rein so that I am not allowing her to move forward, or if it's simply her being behind my driving aids. Hopefully I can find that balance. My next lesson is Wednesday, so I suppose I could ask then.


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