Practice Maintaining Impulsion on Course with the Figure-8 Over Fences

Practice Maintaining Impulsion on Course with the Figure-8 Over Fences

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

With Karen Brain

By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne

“Impulsion is the desire to move forward with more energy than is required to just ‘go forward,’” says Karen Brain, a former international level eventer and Equine Canada Level 2 Coach. “It’s an eagerness of energy being offered by the horse within each step while still in easy control of the rider. Impulsion is what makes the best hunter jump beautifully round with square knees, the jumper explode on take-off on a steep angle over a square oxer with a foot of air to spare, and the eventer to gallop through the up-bank bounces coming out of the water complex with an abundance of energy while being tight with his knees.”

“A ‘flat’ horse who moves without impulsion has limited scope in his stride and minimal to no engagement, and won’t be able to jump clean,” she continues. But, she points out, “a jump horse without impulsion has more serious consequences; rails down, stopping, and bad judgement on take-off can result in an accident. For the rider, jumping without impulsion can be likened to driving your car through Death Valley in the summer with only half a tank of gas, hoping you don’t run out. Jumping with impulsion is like having a full tank of gas in your hybrid and only driving to the corner grocer. The former makes you feel unsafe and vulnerable, while the latter provides you with a sense of security and confidence.”


horse jumping with impulsionPhoto: Robin Duncan Photography

A horse jumping with impulsion will exhibit square, tight knees, proper use of the neck with his nose in front of the vertical, upright balance through the body, a keen, enthusiastic expression, and the appearance of momentum through the air.


horse jumping without impulsionPhoto: Robin Duncan Photography

A horse jumping without impulsion often demonstrates the low-hanging knees (as in photo) associated with over-jumping, low shoulders, a flat back, and a laboured, unconfident expression. A lengthening appearance in the air is also indicative of a flat, unadjustable stride on take-off.

Both of the rider’s legs, and sometimes the seat, create impulsion. “Your outside leg activates the horse’s outside hind leg,” says Brain. “Your inside leg equally balances the drive of the outside leg to also direct the inside hind leg and create the same desire to push or thrust.”

She suggests the following exercise to help develop the jumping horse’s natural impulsion and show the rider how to gage the need for impulsion, and how to create impulsion when the horse does not automatically offer it.

Figure-8 Over Fences

Set up the five bounce uneven verticals on the 25-metre circle, the two square oxers on opposing diagonals, and the cavaletti or low vertical at the far end of the ring as shown in the diagram below. The uneven verticals should be set with the outside of the rail set higher than the inside, which can either rest on the ground or be set to the lowest hole on the inside jump standard (see inset).

jumping horse figure-8

As you ride a figure of eight over the jumps, after each obstacle ask yourself the following questions: Can I sit quietly, letting my horse carry me with his current stride to the next jump? Or, has my horse lost his impulsion and now I need to recreate the impulsion before the next jump?

Begin with the bounces...
“Develop the canter lead of your choice on the 25-metre circle, riding outside the bounce jumps until you feel you have established the correct step and impulsion required for the exercise,” Brain instructs. Then, ride through the bounces, aiming for the centre of each uneven vertical.

“Does your horse slow down through the bounces?” asks Brain. “Does he have to reach toward the last couple of bounces? Does he try drifting to the inside toward the shorter distance and the lower height? These are all indicative of a loss of impulsion.”

To the first oxer...
“Ideally, your horse will maintain the ‘jump’ in his canter stride after the bounces and you can just steer him down to the first oxer,” Brain says. “If the canter stride becomes short and flat or long and strung out, you’ll need to use your half halts combined with your driving aids to recreate your horse’s impulsion.”

Then the cavaletti...
After the first oxer, reevaluate your horse’s impulsion and adjust if necessary through the turn to the cavaletti. “The cavaletti’s purpose is to provide the rider with a focal point to ride to, and a jump effort, however small, which enforces the need to maintain control of the step and the impulsion within the step,” explains Brain.

And finally the second oxer...
“The flow to the second square oxer should be just that – flow,” she continues. “You should feel a round, active stride with a comfortable press into the bridle from the horse signifying his desire to go forward and jump, while allowing the rider to control his step.”

On landing, re-evaluate your horse’s impulsion before riding through the bounces again. “The purpose of constant reevaluation is to remember that your horse is always providing you with valuable feedback,” says Brain.

The Figure-8 Over Fences exercise can be modified to suit young horses or novice riders by lowering the height of the bounces, removing one or two of the bounces altogether, turning the square oxers into cross-rail oxers, or trotting into the bounces (in which case the distance between the bounces should be shortened to nine to ten feet).

The exercise can also be adjusted for more experienced horses and riders by riding through the bounces on the inside or outside tracks (requiring shortened or lengthened strides), raising the outside end of the rail on the uneven vertical bounces (raising the height also tightens the set distances which requires better balance and impulsion), and raising or widening the square oxers.

Karen Brain equestrian bio About Karen Brain
During the course of her eventing career, Karen Brain trained with such coaches as Olympian Nick Holmes-Smith, represented Canada in the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome, Italy, and was shortlisted for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games until her horse became unsound. After a fall in 2001 left her an incomplete paraplegic, Karen took up dressage and won individual and team bronze medals in the 2004 Paralympic Games and finished tenth individually in the 2008 Paralympic Games. Now an Equine Canada Level 2 Coach based in Victoria, BC, Karen focuses on teaching lessons in jumping and dressage.











This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Canadian Horse Journal as part of "3 Takes on Training: Impulsion - Eagerness of Energy."

Main Article Photo: Robin Duncan Photography - Impulsion is the desire to move forward with more energy than is required to just 'go forward.'

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