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Transitions for Impulsion

by Teri Sprague, 4-Star Senior Instructor

In a program where “go” is supposed to equal “whoa” what do you do with a horse that is innately a 9.5 on the impulsion scale? My first grey Arabian, Promise, was just that. Over the years, her impulsion has improved but only through the diligent application of Parelli impulsion patterns.

You have heard it for years: “Circles for long (impulsive) horses and straight lines for short (under-impulsive) horses ,” and recently we have added an emphasis on partial disengagement and transitions to improve impulsion.

In Promise’s early years, I used a lot of the Clover leaf to improve her impulsion. I’d put her on the pattern and as long as she was digging in and saying, “Gotta go! Gotta go!” I’d allow – even encourage her – to go and direct her around the pattern. When she made a change, it was usually like flipping a switch…she would suddenly feel less energetic at the canter. Then we would stop in the middle of the arena for 20% of the time it took to get the change. If it took 20 minutes, that would be a 4 minute rest …or until she volunteered to go forward. In the beginning it would take an hour or more to get 2 changes of energy each direction…but when I made it a program (7-8 sessions in a row, then 7-8 sessions every other session) it did improve. Using smaller patterns helped faster because the turns (circles) came more often. And like most things in Parelli, each time I persisted until I got a change, it took about half as much time the next time.

There was a time after I had been a way from Promise for an extended period, that even after an hour and half of the Clover leaf Pattern, she was still impulsive. I was able to steer her, just barely, but she never flipped the switch to less energy. She was mentally, emotionally , and physically “running a way.” I needed a different strategy, one that would capture this Right-Brain Extrovert mentally, emotionally, and physically. I decided to try Yo-Yos (transitions)…a brief allow on the up side of the transition and a long back up and halt on the down side. It only took about 20 minutes for this to have a really good effect. For this horse, just changing a single gait (canter-trot) was not enough — we went from the canter/gallop all the way to a back up. (For the up transition, I went through all the gaits. Halt to canter and walk to canter transitions tend to rev up a horse. Single-gait up transitions help them stay more relaxed).

Now having another 10-12 years of experience in the Parelli program, if put in a similar situation, I would add an On Line component to fixing impulsiveness at the canter. If a horse cannot easily transition into and out of the canter without getting impulsive On Line, it is not likely to happen under saddle. Transitions On Line start early in Level 2. For the up transition, lead then support if necessary. For the down transition, turn against the motion of the horse and lift the stick in front of it. Then support if necessary by shaking the line up and down.

I still start every ride on Promise (and most of my other horses) with transitions. It proves my communication connection…or not. And if not, I know where I have to start.

“Horses that can’t relax and go slow need more consistency and circles to help focus and relax them.”

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