Those riders who ride a bike will know that you drop down a gear to get more power. The higher the gear the faster your legs go round but you never generate as much pushing power as you do in the lower gears. It’s the same with horses. To create power (or impulsion) they need to slow down to get their weight onto their hocks.
Most riders do it without thinking. How many times have you slowed down to get a bit more control and then kicked on again? It’s the same theory. At it’s most refined it’s called a half halt.
This can be done in trot or canter but for the benefit of explaining we’ll use trot.
Establish your usual speed on a 20m circle. Now use your knee (see The Other Way of Stopping) to slow down until you are going as slow as you can possibly go without walking. Your horse might hollow his back and draw back away from your hand so use more leg and keep your reins short so you can keep hold of the contact.
Don’t worry about how it feels. Concentrate on staying in trot. You still need to have two regular beats to the trot – don’t slow down so much that you’re just shuffling.
Sit back and keep your hands up in front of you to encourage your horse to stay up off his shoulders. If he falls forward onto his forehand he’ll walk.
Trot five or six paces before you allow him to move on again. Sit back and hold onto your contact. Relax your arm and take your knee away which will be enough to allow him to go forward without throwing away the power you’ve created.
Slowing down has put your horse’s weight onto his hocks. When you allow him to move on again he will be glad of the release. He’ll relax, soften his back and lift his feet higher off the ground. Remember to keep hold of your contact. This controls the energy you’ve created and puts a spring into his steps.
Sharp horses will react straight away to this exercise. You’ll find you’re able to put more leg on and your horse will accept your contact more readily. Slowing him down and pushing him on again will give him something to think about and you’ll get his concentration.
The less ‘enthusiastic’ of horses may need a bit of help in the moving on department! Be consistent and it will pay off. When you slow down give little taps with your whip to keep him trotting. (See Be a Lazy Rider) When you ask him to move on again take your knee off and be ready with your whip if you feel no reaction. He needs to learn that knee off means go forward. Lazy he may be but slowing him down will reposition his weight onto his hocks. It will still improve his paces.
Remember schooling exercises are meant to be practiced. Nothing happens overnight. Accept and be grateful for the slightest change in your horse’s trot and build on it. You’ll soon have a horse which goes forward with impulsion whenever and wherever you ask him.