Pace vs Speed vs Impulsion

When I was growing up, before every jump course, my instructor would yell out, "Gallop! Gallop! That's not enough!" as I approached the first fence. More often than not, she was right, and a lovely chip resulted...not the best start.

Though not being an extremely nuanced instructor, she never went beyond this one shouted word or got to the theory behind it. As a result, at a new barn when I went to "gallop" to the first fence during a lesson (on a much brighter horse than the one I previously rode), the instructor yelled out the opposite: "Woah! Woah! Too much!". Guess what? He was right too - I launched about a 1/2 stride too far away and prayed we made it to the other side (We did!).

It was then that I learned the following lesson:

Your pace is different than your speed, and the foundation is your impulsion.

Breaking it down...

...your speed is the actual mph that you are going around the ring.

...your pace can be thought of as the length of your stride - a quicker pace means one takes more steps to travel a set distance, whereas a slower pace means the opposite - but the speed remains the same.

...your impulsion is the oomph that your horses's rear end provides to establish both the pace and the speed.

If you are on a smaller horse, or a horse that has a smaller step (or stride), then in order to get down the lines in the correct numbers, you don't need to increase your literal speed - you need to decrease your pace by asking your horse to dial up the impulsion, and stretch to lengthen out the stride. Stylistically, this means that it won't look like you are galloping out of control even though technically, you will be traveling the same speed - literally, it will mean the same thing and be much safer.

If your horse has an easy time getting down the lines because it has such a slow pace and long stride, then you can ride in a more relaxed manner with enough impulsion to remain soft and adjustable, but not so much that you start to leave strides out.

You see this at play all the time with the gorgeous, "slow" warmbloods in the hunter rings - some of them barely look like they're moving at all, but that's only because of their huge, slow steps. They still have plenty of literal speed to be safe, and you can bet they are adjustable, fluid, and have an almost trance like rhythm to their way of going.

It's not an easy thing to parse out, and there are a lot of criss-crosses that happen along the way, so here, let's take out horses all together.

Say you are watching a parent and a toddler walk down the street. They might both be moving at the same physical speed, but the toddler will take two steps to every one step of the parent. That is because the child is walking at a faster pace than the parent. If you take this further, the child would need to really stretch (and be super athletic!) in order to walk at the same pace as the parent, due to its shorter body and legs.

Back to horses - this means that if you have a smaller horse, it will need to be even more athletic than its taller counterparts in order to travel at the same pace and still have the oomph to safely get over the regular division jumps. This is why those elusive, truly brilliant Small Junior horses come at such a premium - they are shorter, but fantastically athletic and scopey. This is also why many smaller horses make such lovely 3' AA or Children's hunters - they can go down the lines at a slower pace and still have enough energy left over for a tidy jump, where as a larger horse might make a mediocre effort in its place.

So, how does this relate to my opening anecdote, the ones where I spectacularly miss to each first fence? It's because the easiest way to find your distances is not to look for them, it's to get on your optimal pace for that horse, and never leave it. This is definitely easier said than done for me, as I have a strong tendency to be behind the pace - that's why my first trainer kept telling me to "gallop." When I have too much and am over the pace, that's when I see the long ones.

Oh, and I still need to have the impulsion to back it all up. Slow pace doesn't mean slow speed or lack of oomph. When I do that...well...that's when I end up either in the middle of a jump or over their neck because the horse has smartly decided to act on self-preservation rather than try to jump with no motor.

So there you have it, as best as I can explain or understand it, Pace vs Impulsion vs Speed. All necessary ingredients for a great round, just in differing amounts.

Huge stride = Slow pace

** Disagree with anything above and want to start a discussion? Let's talk! But first, please read my disclaimer post. 


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