PIAFFER and PASSAGE
by Jean-Philippe Giacomini
I. THE HISTORICAL ROOTS OF PASSAGE AND PIAFFER
Spanish Horses And Italian Renaissance Men Set The Stage
For The French Classical Apotheosis.
Piaffer and Passage are two of the movements that epitomize the training of the High School horse. These "airs", as the French call them, (the closest English translation is: a "look", an "attitude"), are the stylization of the fleeting displays of natural movements most frequently seen performed by groups of excited Iberian stallions playing at liberty, along with the jambettes of the Spanish walk, the rearing and kneeling down of mock fights. When the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon sent troops to "protect" the Kingdom of Naples from French invasion in the XVIth century, and later installed themselves there to stay, they brought their Iberian horses and their national customs (bullfighting became all the rage). Italian horse masters of the Renaissance such as Fiaschi, Pignatelli and Grisone tried to devise the first crude training systems to reproduce, on demand, the naturally collected and brilliant movements of the Spanish horses that their own heavier mounts did not offer so willingly. It is interesting to note that after Federico Grisone wrote his book in 1534, he became known as "the father of equitation", even in Spain where he later taught. The Spaniards’ respect stemmed from the fact that he had created a (somewhat) reliable training method that produced a stylized form of their own instinctive "gineta" tradition, which assured their superiority in combat and the public’s admiration in parades.
Since the 17th century,
piaffer and passage have been known with their French spelling, because
at that time France exercised a considerable cultural, political and
also equestrian influence on the rest of Europe, (French was the semi
official language of most European courts as far as Prussia and Russia).
The cream of European aristocracy seriously interested in horses came
to study at the Royal Academy of Versailles near Paris. However, like
most other equestrian terms:
Because of the "Terror" of the French Revolution, the surviving aristocratic "ecuyers" of the royal and private academies massively emigrated towards employment in other European courts (mostly in Germany), notable among them the d’Abzac brothers, last chief riders of Versailles. They further promoted the French equestrian influence and La Gueriniere’s teachings outside of the French borders and helped establish a more or less unified European training doctrine.
The Remnants Of High School In The Competitive World Of The XXth Century.
In the FEI dressage system today, passage and piaffer are the only classical "airs" from the baroque period still presented. They only appear at the highest levels of competition: Intermediate II and the Grand Prix. The Olympic Grand Prix Special dedicates 45% of the scoring to them. It has not always been so. When Baron de Coubertin rekindled the Olympic flame in 1896, the equestrian part of the Games was the reserved ground of cavalry officers riding their military horses. The dressage class was very simple and did not involve any real collected work. Between the two wars, the FEI was created "to compare, in a spirit of camaraderie, the merits of the differents schools of thought prevailing in the training of horses". Read the French and German schools whose theories were both issued from the teachings of la gueriniere until the disappearance of the School of Versailles due to the French Revolution, but diverged markedly at the end of the XIXth century with the Baucherist passion in France and the anti-Baucherist equal passion in Germany and Austria.
Germans and Swedes.
The massive emigration of the aristocratic "ecuyers" of the royal and private academies towards employment in other European courts (mostly in Germany) had further established the influence of La Gueriniere’s teachings outside of the French borders. In the second half of the XIXth century, the new methods of Baucher (exposed during his travels to Berlin and other cities), suscitated violent reactions from Seeger and other German equestrian celebrities that had as much to do with technical disagreements as with nationalistic sentiments. In spite of this atmosphere, General Decarpentry and Dr. Gustav Rau founded the FEI and managed to work together at the establishment of the new Grand Prix test and of the judging rules. Piaffer and Passage reappeared. The Swedes won just about everything for a while. In 1932, in Los Angeles Colonel Lesage won on his thoroughbred Taine, interrupting a long series of Swedish success. In 1936, the German team coached by Otto Lorke (who also trained all the horses), won the team gold, the individual gold and bronze and Alhois Phodasky won the silver in spite of strong political opposition. After World War II, the FEI seriously considered eliminating piaffer and passage again as only very few riders could perform it.
The Fillis heritage and the Russian Olympic team.
Between 1960 and 1970, the Russian riders, inheritors of the Fillis training program, (he had been one the last equerries of the Tzarist regime), won the dressage at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, (Sergey Filatov and the Akal Tekke Absent), the World Championship of 1970 (Petushkova and Pepel) and figured very well in the 64, 68, and 72 Olympics . Their riding style is naturally reminiscent of tehir past mentor: the reins are held "a la Fillis": snaffle reins over the index and the curb rein under the pinkie, creating a strong fifferentiation of tehir action and a strong upwards leverage witha snaffle as well as a strong downwards leverage with the curb. The horse’s neck were quite elevated and the piaffes showed some reasonable elevation but looked a little mechanical. they were mostly obtained with serious tapping of the diagonal legs with rigid bamboo canes and without much rounding of the back..
The German riders in the Olympic tradition.
At Munich in 72, the Olympic Gold Medal was won for Germany by Liselott Lisenhoff (a student of Bubbi Gunther, himself student of Lorke) on the Swedish stallion Piaff (himself a son of the medalist Gaspari with the Swede Saint Cyr). After that time, the Germans establish an unrelenting grip on the team dressage competition, yet without much brilliance in the piaffer and passage department.
The End Of The Baucherist Tradition In The TheaterOf Modern Competition
The only remnant
of past French glory at the 72 Games was a small fireworks but no firestorm:
Cramique, a thoroughbred ridden by Patrick Le Rolland from Saumur and
trained by colonel Brau, a polo player with a Baucherist education,
got several 10 for his piaffer, passage and transitions. The style of
the horse, (vertical neck, very elevated in front, not sitting but "bouncing"
with great energy), was strongly reminiscent from the pictures of Rempart
and Fairclough, two thoroughbreds trained
Since that time, Dominique D’Esmee has maintained the French flame, mostly through her inventive freestyle presentations. More recently, German born Margit Otto-Crepin on the Holsteiner Corlandus, won the 89 World Cup and a silver medal in the 88 games, all for her adopted country France, but certainly not in representation of any sort of French "method". The French riding community (which is benefiting today of a renewed popularity) has devoted so much energy to the religion of lightness in the past hundred years but, at this point, have mostly confused themselves and others by the production of many fascinating books without integrating their brilliant concepts into a pleasantly dynamic expression of riding since the stunning pictures of captain Beudant.
The Image Of Equestrian Difficulties In The Riding Public’s Mind Of Today: What Is Difficult Really Depend Of The Horses’ Type And How You Go About Training Them.
In all the classical books, passage is described as the most majestic ‘trot’ for the parade horse and piaffer is seen as the expression of maximum collection. In today’s equestrian culture, these movements are considered as the ‘summum’ of difficulty and nearly of a mythical nature. Probably, because most modern horses do not have the natural ability of collection of the Iberian horses (currently rare on the competitive scene). Three hundred years ago, if anyone had thought of attempting extended trot and flying changes, as we know them (today’s dressage’s staples), these exercises would have been regarded then as the reserved domain of equestrian genius (or even witchcraft). When baucher presented One tempi changes in Germany, the German riders called him a representant of Evil. All of these concepts are based on perceptions that vary with the type of horses in fashion at the time.
Integrating Piaffer into a Comprehensive Training System
The current riding panorama shows (in simplification) either great moving warmblood horses that bury themselves at X at the time of performing the supposedly vibrant piaffer or exciting baroque types that can piaffe and passage "up the kazoo", but can often do little else. For the puzzled riders attempting to understand better how to train and ride a certain type of movement, it is essential to understand they need to study them within the equestrian culture most adept at producing them. To assume that a training method effective for one type of movement will consequently be effective for an other one at the other end of the training spectrum is the kind of logic likely to create disappointment.
This apparent contradiction is a frequent occurrence in dressage competition where we see horses supposedly correctly prepared in the basics suddenly hitting training blocks at Prix Saint George level. Were they poorly trained, contrary to their riders and trainers legitimate beliefs or is the system (that worked so well early on), suddenly proven inoperative for collection? Aren’t piaffer and passage the natural continuation of clean, forward going paces or are they just too few horses talented for collection in the frequently used warmblood breeds? The truth is more complex than answering those obvious questions: every "perfect" system has in fact an eventual downside that every horse will reveal in time to his confounded trainer.
The integration of both types of movement equally (on one hand, forward and suspended, on the other collected and elevated), has always been the central preoccupation of my personal riding and teaching. I have never found them to be in technical contradiction as most horses can develop somewhat in both direction without too much difficulty. Horses with natural collection benefit from the athletic development of their gaits and horses with long suspended strides greatly improve through the early teaching of piaffer and other collected movements learned in complete relaxation.
Good, effective equitation cannot happen in the vacuum of an exclusive "chapel". I feel that any trainer aiming at being well- rounded would greatly benefit from studying and attempting the practice of other methods and styles, including the ones s/he doesn’t believe in. They may be happily surprised to find out that in every practical field of equitation, trainers have developed useful methods of training horses to suit their particular interest. These methods can be successfully integrated in the classical curriculum as long as they are made to fit the inalienable principle of ‘calm, forward and straight’. [author’s note: this will be expanded on in another chapter.] Such an open attitude may yield amazing results to the daring few!
The French Classical Influence On The Ancestral Tradition Of La Gineta In Modern Portuguese Equitation.
In the sixties,
when Nuno Oliveira presented some horses at the Paris Agricultural Show,
Michel Henriquet credited him to have said (in essence), to an effusing
French minister: "the equitation I am showing you today represent
the French tradition that you have lost". Apocryphal or not, this
comment is correct in the sense that more "French" riding
can be seen in Portugal now than in France itself. Today, it can be
seen as a questionable improvement to their respective equestrian culture
that, in Portugal, Spain and France, we see more and more of the competitive
style of riding.
Different Types Of Horses Can Teach Aspiring TrainersInvaluable Lessons.
For riders only familiar with a single type of horse, it is very easy to have their riding style and training method shaped by the natural reactions that corresponds with the horses’ most common type of movement and equilibrium. For instance, riders that only ride hot horses, get used to ride from their hands and never learn to "push" if they are not given the opportunity to experience a balanced horse that needs pushing and would stop if the rider started to pull on the reins. Medium and extended trot are, without a doubt, better learned from the Germans who, since Steinbrecht, have made the gymnastic development of suspension in slow cadenced gaits the building block of their training system and a corollary of their braced seat. Naturally, they have bred horses with the corresponding qualities. On the other hand, piaffer, passage and other collected movements are better learned from the Portuguese or the Spanish, (specially by experiencing the feel of their trained horses who perform those airs naturally and brilliantly and imitating the rider’s arched back). To better understand the causes of these basic differences, it is important to study the historical selection processes that have shaped the modern breeds available today for dressage.
Modern warmbloods are recently created mixed breeds from various genetic sources which present common characteristics in their style of movement:
All these horses have clearly a common point which is a balance on the forehand. When sport riders need to transform those animals into jumpers, their reactivity to the fences (that has been carefully selected for the past 60/70 years), most often help the horses to instinctively rebalance themselves. However, when the same horses are confronted with the constant transitions of the dressage test without any visual help and suddenly need to transform their natural forward inertia into upward lift, the riders find themselves permanently using the brakes. Hence the great modern religion of the half halt and all it’s diverging and lengthy descriptions from (mostly confused) equestrian dogmatists. The interesting part is how to resolve the contradiction between this never ceasing recourse for this rebalancing maneuver and, simultaneously, the recommendation to pursue the elusive self-carriage. In this dilemma, something gets lost and it is usually the self carriage. When applied to the piaffer, the half halt theory really falls apart because how can one halt a horse already on the spot? As a result, warmbloods that can move so well in the basic gaits, end up presenting a poor piaffer and a "hesitating" passage (without fluidity).
Baroque horses (Andalusians,
Friesians, Kladrubers, Lipizzaners, Lusitanos, Morgans, American Saddlebreds,
Tennessee Walkers etc.) all descend from the ancient Iberian Jennet
with whom they share the most important characteristics. At some point
in time, breeders established crosses with local breeds of draught horses
(Friesians) or with Arabians (Lipizzaners), or simply reselected old
Spanish phenotypes through various breeds accessible at the time (Saddlebreds
and Walkers). It is essential to remember that "jennet" derives
etymologically from "la Gineta" which describes the riding
style of the "Zenetes", an ancient population of riding warriors
from Spain (or North Africa?) that have remained the mythical model
for all light cavalry
Suspension Is An Undeniable Quality Of The Ideal Piaffe.
Piaffe, passage, piaffe-passage and passage-piaffe transitions are the corner stone of academic equitation and are therefore extremely difficult to perfect, though piaffe and passage are quite easy to teach to a passable degree. Having trained a few hundreds of horses to piaffe in my career and working daily on the question (I have 7 horses at different stages of development of the piaffe, the passage and the transitions as well as a couple working on levade and levade-piaffe transitions), I feel that I can share a few helpful comments on the subject, particularly relevant to the Clayton study. A good piaffe has many elements, all of them important, but let’s just concentrate on the suspension problem, because of the attention Dr Clayton has brought to it.
The Current Look Of Piaffe In Modern Competition
All horses trained
in the "horizontal balance" (corresponding to the intensive
development of the gaits as modern dressage criteria insist on) will
easily have suspension behind in the piaffe and start to jump from one
hind leg to the other (this is particularly obvious for the warmbloods
with a lot of natural suspension).
The result of all of this is the widely discussed "marched"piaffe where the horse leverages him/herself from the front legs who never have any suspension because that has become mechanically impossible. Unfortunately, it is on the correction of the number of strides (15) that rests a good part of the mark (been there, done that), rather than on the quality of the movement. In a dressage test, the horse has to "perform" the movement to get the first part of the marks, then the judge will see "how" it happened, compare it’s quality with the rest of the competitors (in a general sense) and mark according to the current RELATIVE standard, because, generally that’s all they have been exposed to.
The Modern Perversion Of The Half-Halt (As It Was Defined By La Gueriniere).
Another, more systemic problem to the equilibrium of the horse on the forehand is the complete misunderstanding of the form of the half halt allied to it’s systematic and frequent overuse as the magic pill for collection. Because of Museler’s description of the half-halt, people have become convinced that they need to use hands, legs and seat in the half halt, giving the poor horse no place to go when he modifies his body in the change of balance resulting from the half halt. Further more, the simulteneous actions of the hand and of the seat, though they sound good on paper, contradict each other in reality. The current equestrian platitude is to advise riders to halfhalt "at every stride", dixit an American dressage Olympian. La Gueriniere, still the "Father of Equitation" to both the Germans (Steinbrecht, etc) and the Austrians (SRS) says it with more authority than I could (quote, p.132, School of Horsemanship, English edition):
Relatively to the method for the half halt....... "pulling backward on the bridle hand [both curb reins in the left hand], bringing the nails upwards, without bringing the horse to a complete stop, but rather pulling "in" the forehand until the horse leans into the bit when the rider wishes to collect his gait. The half halt can be repeated frequently without disrupting the horse’s gait and since the horse is collected and it’s forehand supported with this aid, it is consequently obliged to lower its haunches which is the purpose of this exercise...If [the horse] bears too much upon the hand, half halts should be done more frequently and generously from the bridle hand without aids either of the thighs or the legs. On the contrary, THE PRESSURE OF THE THIGHS MUST BE DIMINISHED OTHERWISE THE HORSE WOULD BE EVEN MORE UPON THE FOREHAND."
The current habit of the driving seat, combined with big movement and the use of the half-halt at the same time than the driving, forces the horses to land first on their front foot because, as La Gueriniere says, the " pressure of the thighs drive the horse more upon the forehand". So, the more riders want their horses OFF the forehand and drive them and half halt them for this purpose, the more they get them ON the forehand and, eventually, have to become more and more energetic with their hands, resulting in the "halted look" in which the horses never finish their full movement forward with the front legs, but rather suspend their flight. This can be seen mostly in the passage and the "passagey" trot (so called for it’s similarity with the said "bad"[halted] passage. In itself, the slower rythm of a "good" [fluid] passage would not attract any negative comments to the rider.
For The Baroque Riders, The Piaffe Was Mostly The Prepatration For The Airs Above The Ground.
We must remember
that the Baroque riders’ goals was the airs above the ground,
starting with the levade (complete suspension of the forehand, no suspension
at all of the hindend) and progressing from there. These horses could
do piaffe with suspension in the front without any problem, but often
lost suspension in the back because they crouched too much under the
overloading of the hind end and would go wide behind at the same time.
This half-halting work was facilitated by very powerful curb bits on
horses already sitting on their haunches and therefore getting them
to sit even more. The bits " guaranteed" the correct curve
of the upperneck (and its lift as well as of the withers) and their
action could sit the horses down without hollowing the back. Because
of the immense demultiplication of the curb shanks, La Gueriniere advocated
a great lightness of hand, but this lightness was very relative as the
horse felt 5 or 6 times more force in the mouth than the rider did in
Modern Baroque Riders
I have observed Willi Schulteis (past German coach and many time professional dressageGerman champion) and his position was very reminiscent of the "a la brida" style of the XVIIth century riders: very long stirrups, rocked on his tailbone in a deep saddle with no thigh rolls (he didn’t need them because the horses never went on the forehand). Traditional Portuguese riders of the country side like this type of balance in their horses because it makes them brilliant and they still practice a very sitting piaffe, with frequent errors of rythm, lack of suspension behind, but very engaged and elevated in the front. One can also look at some American reiners (at least in the sliding stops) and Spanish Doma Vaquera riders, on TB who end up sitting like QH when they are trained: in modern equitation, these are all styles of riding closest to the Baroque equilibrium.
Baucher And The Passage On The Spot (Horizontal Piaffe).
everything, particularly in his " second manner". The "first
manner" sort of copied the Classics in a sitting equilibrium but
the second really tackled the problem of the collection in horses that
had an horizontal balance in the first place:TB, part arabians etc,
that were becoming fashionable in the second half of the XIXth century.
His system used several important exercises that I will resume here
in a simplified form. The "effect on the whole" or "effect
on the spur"is a squeezing action of the legs (acting mostly on
the horse’s belly), against a fixed hand and under a still seat.
This was used to control the horse, either standing or in movement.
It was applied to regularise the rythm, maintain the engagement etc.
Modern, Unsuspected Baucherists.
The caricature of the Baucher system is the modern saddleseat riders who exxagerate the elevation of the neck and place it’s lower edge behind the vertical for more front feet elevation.This excess shows the dangers of the system carried out to excess: the back hollows out and the hind legs no longer engage but lift up and down in a " hocky" action. The modern, most successful example of the baucher system is Nicole Uphoff and Rembrandt: she used a very light seat, never driving, extremely light contact with the bit, worked the horse at length in the overbent position, (an exercise that has now become a staple of succesful competitors like Anke from Grunswen and her protege Arjen Theuwissen), presented Rembrandt in a very high neck position in the horizontal balance (but never down hill) and showed a piaffe that was more a passage on the spot (didn’t sit as mentionned very often by all the pundits) and, according to our scientific observer, Dr Hillary Clayton, is the only Olympic horse with suspension of both the front-end and back- end (albeit fleeting during the competition, but certainly more consistent at home). There is no way to know if Nicole, or her early teacher Dr Schulten Baumer have studied Baucher or just reinvented the method because the westphalien’s hot temperament just resembled the Baucher subjects for which the method was originally created.
Some Biomechanical Aspects Of The Piaffe.
What makes the baroque
horses (andalusians, Lusitanos, Lippizaners, Friesans, Saddlebreds etc.
so gifted for the piaffe? I have observed that the common characteristic
of all horses that piaffe well, regardless of breed, is the greater
length of the arm than in the average horse. This characteristic, most
often associated with a long shoulder blade is common to the Iberian
breeds and it positions the front leg further under the body, giving
considerable support to the front end, as well as a greater "spring"
to the front leg action. This characteristic has it’s greatest
influence on the horse’s equilibrium in the piaffe, because it
permits the horse to engage the hind legs while the front leg in support
remains vertical, an essential trait of the correct piaffe. When the
arm is short and the front leg placed too close to the point of the
shoulder, the horse either places the front leg in front of the vertical
when s/he piaffs, resulting in an impossibility (or refusal?) to go
forward, or behind the vertical and thus overloading the front end and
delaying the transition into the passage. Horses of Arabian origin frequently
have this problem, but also warmbloods who have been selected for a
springy forward flick of the front legs. There is a famous picture of
the late Grundstein, a remarkable horse in every other way, piaffing
with all four legs in a"V". It is interesting to note that
the mechanism that give the Iberian horses suspension in the piaffe,
the passage and the extended trot-derived from the passage (a combination
of the already described conformation with the energy due to collection),
does not help them have suspension in the ordinary trot. In this gait,
they move like cats: supple, big movements without much air time. In
reverse, the mechanism that give Arabians and Warmbloods the suspension
in the trot (the sharp muscular tonus that make them move like deers),
does not help them much in the piaffe because the big "machines"
need a bit
The Two Forms Of The Correct Piaffe Depend On Each Horse’s Conformation
In conclusion, I would say that both the "sitting piaffe" or the "passage on the spot" depends on the conformation of the horse. "Long arm" horses tend to be better at the former while "short arm" horses should be trained for the latter. In either case, whichever training method is employed, it is in the elevated neck position, and this position only, do I believe, that the front end can achieve suspension in the piaffe in a controlable and repeatable manner. In both cases, and proportionally to each individual’s talent, the backward half-halt on the curb will increase the hind leg flexion and jump, while the vertical half-halt on the snaffle will improve the lift and suspension of the front end. The role of the legs and the seat, essential at the onset of the piaffe training, become less and less important in the perfeting phase. This is why Etienne Beudant, after his first book called after a Baucher principle "Hands Without Legs, Legs Without Hands", called the next one: "Hands Without Legs...." because he had figured out that when therider had perfected the role of the hand, the roleof the legs was becoming redundant. The picures of his horses in piaffe, passage, Spanish trot are exceptional for the brilliance of the movement, the perfection of the rider’s seat, the lightness of the contact, all of it due to a maximum, progressive elevation of the neck.
The Ideal Piaffe As The Goal Of Training.
An ideal in which the horses bounces both on the front and the hind legs, shows absolutely equals diagonals in timing, height and amplitude, regardless of which turn s/he comes from, through the piaffe, the passage and the transitions, engages and sits more in the piaffe than in the passage and maintains a rythm nearly constant through this work is nothing but an ideal, meaning a rarely seen phenomenon, but seen none the less. This is why the mark 10 has been given as an option to the judges. In 72, at the Munich games, I believe that Cramique (trained by Colonel Brau), ridden by Patrick Le Rolland, then from the Cadre Noir of Saumur, got 10s for his piaffe, passage and transitions. The horse did not get a medal because he was unlevel in other movements (nobody is perfect), but I can assure you, having seen him piaffe and passage in Saumur that he could bounce in that work and I didn’t need a high speed camera to see it. I have ridden at least 3 horses trained entirely in the Baucherist method, one was a Russian horse trained by a student of Decarpentry, the other was a TB trained by Monsieur Jordanne, officer of the French National Stud, the third was a Lusitano trained by Monsieur Persyn de Laurette (author of a book on the "fixed hand concept") and they all bounced, at least most of the time in the piaffe and in the transitions. I rode Liostro, trained by the great Herbert Rehbein in a different system, and though the horse was impecably educated, the feel was quite different. Liostro’s equilibrium was very easy to modify towards a higher and lighter position, but Herbert said to me that he liked the piaffe with the horse a little more "on the bit" to be sure he could make him move on sharply after the 15th stride exactly. Liostro lacked the suspension in the front, but not movement or energy and the judges paid him handsomly for his work anyway! Art and Competition have much in common , but not all!!
Should We Adjust The Rules To The Norm Or Improve The Norm To Fit The Rules?
All of this said, let’s not throw rocks at the riders who have to "do" piaffe at X at 11’ 42’’AM on a certain day, in front of 3 judges and a big group of experts sitting on the fence. Those parameters of the "competition piaffe"make a difficult problem even harder to resolve satisfactorily, as opposed to just manage to perform a decent piaffe at home when God is not busy running the world and blesses you and your horse with a little moment of "equestrian grace". What is unfortunate for the dressage value system though is that pitiful piaffes still get very high marks (GP, GPS scores in the high 70ties), implying that the poor performances are now the norm. Then comes a helpful "scientist" with a very partial view of the problem and flawed conclusions that help the organizing bodies to adjust the rules to the norm rather than try to change the norm to fit the rules by looking at other breeds, other equestrian cultures that may have resolved this problem better. The dressage system and the use of the currently fashionable horses in the dressage arena have given us a model and a training solution for the medium and extended trot and the tempi changes. The other equestrian groups (riders of baroque horses in Vienna, Lisbon and Jerez de la Frontera have recognised the quality of these movements in the current German/Dutch/Swiss/Swedish riding system and have quickly adopted their standard for the "forward" movements, and so they should!!. The World’s equitation would be well served if the Northern European and the FEI ruling body looked fairly and inquisitively at both the French Baucherist tradition and the baroque breeds to determine a true standard of excellence for the Piaffe, the Passage and the Transitions.
The Ideal Piaffe Must Remain The Model For All Of The Riders Striving For Excellence.
I have labored all my life to find the " secret" of the ideal Piaffe, Passage and Transitions. Though the results are still fleeting, the work arduous, the certitudes temporary, the frustration considerable, it is still the aspiration of piaffe and transitions to/fro passage WITH SUSPENSION, (the epitomy of the classical/baroque equitation), that has sustained me in my personnal pursuit of equestrian achievement. Having seen Granat’s half passes in Goodwood in 78 and 80, Alherich’s one tempis in his LA victory lap in 84, Kottas extended trot on one of his SRS mounts, Nuno Oliveira’s levades with Beaugeste and his canter-walk transition with Harpalo Prince, Herr Lauscha’s solo perormances during the visit of the SRS to LA in the early 80ties, I have kept them all these moments, vivid in my memory, as my ideals, along with Cramique’s majestic, bouncing piaffe. Nobody will tell me that those were illusions or were down to the norm of everyday dressage competition, Olympic or not: these giants of the art were just better trained horses, ridden by riders touched by Grace, a day I was lucky enough to be there . They were, for a moment, close to the ideal. They are the ones who set the standard for the "10".
MECHANICAL ASPECTS OF THE PIAFFER
Characteristics of the Ideal Piaffer.
The horse must also be vibrant, yet relaxed in his topline. The image is of calm energy and enjoyment for both partners.
Most Frequent Problems Of The Piaffer And Their Solutions.
For some horses with physical limitations, certain aspects of the piaffer may never become ideal but the smart trainer should hopefully not grow impatient and disappointed because such an attitude would compromise the entire training. "Trot on the spot", "passage on the spot", describe different types of less perfect, yet satisfactory piaffers with, in the first case, less cadence, in the second, less "sitting". These different types of piaffer are stepping stones during the training, particularly in the development of transitions with the trot and the passage.
Following is the description of defective forms of piaffer and other serious training problems. The references to breed related defects are generalities based on extreme phenotypes. By no way does it mean that the trainer should expect every Andalusian to rush the rhythm or every warmblood to widen the hind feet. It only mean that each breed should be enjoyed for their most frequent qualities and accepted with their most frequent defects. It also means that particular attention should be given to genetically related training problems because they are deeply ingrained. Our training maxim is "to do what cost, and do it now". This means: address problems immediately, patiently and progressively. For instance, if a young horse has problems cantering, this is what he needs to do now and everyday, but a little at a time.
***Solution: teach the horse from the slow collected walk, if possible one step at a time and use the clicking of the tongue as spaced out as needed. If the problem persists, it might be better to wait and teach the passage first because this movement, by his own nature, has the slowest rhythm of all.
***Solution: The hand of the rider must balance the horse in the opposite direction as his own swaying in a scissor like movement from left to right: if the front leg steps wide the hand of that side must act towards the neck when that diagonal is in the air; if the front leg comes in toward the other leg, the hand must act away from the neck when that diagonal is in the air. The best idea is to do quick piaffer work sessions because the swaying develops slowly as the horse establishes himself in the piaffer and when the rhythm slows too much.
trainer can ask the piaffer in a slight shoulder-in position
*** Solution: Usually, this problem goes with a head position that is too high. Lowering it will help, (carry the hand lower and wider). The other main correction is to increase the impulsion (more propulsive aids: seat and/or legs and/or whip and /or voice). The corollary to impulsion is permeability which is an effect of relaxation of the topline (stretch the top line in the circle and the shoulder-in).
in most balance problems, the rein back is of considerable help.
Methods Of Training The Piaffer In The Classical Tradition
According to the breed and conformation of the horse, the piaffer will have, at the beginning of the training, many different equilibria. This will determine which of several different approaches is best suited to the particular difficulty and talent of each horse.
The combination of ridden work with the help of a trainer from the ground may be essential at different stages of the work.(EXPAND)
FURTHER NOTES ON PIAFFE
To start the piaffe concept is very simple, using the 3R’s progression:
To perfect the piaffe performance can take a very long time, until the horse:
CORRECTIONS OF THE PIAFFE PROBLEMS
For increasing the "jump" of one diagonal in the piaffe, touch the opposite hind leg on the ground.
This is true with all horses.
For slowing down the tempo,
For staightening out front legs which are too far under the body (those horse have too much weight on their front legs in varying degree):
For straightening the front legs which are too far in front of the body:
For controlling horses who are unruly during the piaffe lesson or refuse to stop piaffing:
For gaining elevation in the piaffe Front legs
For starting the Passage with a horse that does not offer suspension
For starting the Passage with a horse that does not go forward from the piaffe.
The difference in piaffe styles according to horse conformation (particularly the length of the forearm determining the position of the front leg under the body.
It is an ongoing
discussion between dressage experts to decide if the piaffe should be
really engaged behind and "sitted" or if it is still acceptable
in a more horizontal balance, provided that all other qualities of the
movement are produced.
The aids for piaffer and passage are not particularly classical or modern, they are either effective or they are not. They work within each rider’s own system of communication, sensitivity, degree of tact, physical shape and ability. This article describes general rules of what is required to achieve both passage and piaffer and their transitions. I will describe what I call ‘natural aids’, meaning the aids most likely to illicit the direct response from most horses. These aids are not medical prescription nor political dngma, they are tools for each rider to choose from, according to their current stage of knowledge and experience.
The ridden aids for piaffer are based on four elements that are the necessary components of this beautiful movement:
Diagonalization Is obtained by the ‘balancer’ (rocking) from left to right and right to left, the left leg (of the rider) to the horse at the same time as the right hand moves to the right. Alternately, the right leg (of the rider) to the horse at the same time as the left hand moves to the left. The key to the effectiveness of creating a diagonal movement is the relaxation of the legs and hands that must never be "attached" to the horse so as not creating temporary contraction that would delay the timing of the diagonals.
The height of the
hands depend on the position of the horse’s neck that the trainer
wishes to correct: if the head is a little too high, the hand must remain
low and apart. If the head is a little too low, the hand must come higher
and more together.
The position of the legs (forwards or backwards) also depend on which direction the trainer wishes to influence the general equilibrium of the horse and the position of his limbs in relation to the vertical. Legs placed further back will create more engagement by stimulating the furthest back abdominal muscles. If the rider’s legs are too far back the horse may end up leaning over his front end and lose the "sacred" verticality of the front legs. To correct this problem, inherent or created, the rider needs to bring the legs further forward and stimulate the pectoral and the intercostal muscles close to the girth.
The horse staying on the spot This quality comes from the way the seat is used in making sure that the horse remains "in front" of the rider, yet is not driven into forward motion (the fork of the thighs must remain open so as the legs do not provide leverage for the seat to push against). Because the piaffer has hardly any forward momentum, it has a very fragile equilibrium, easily perturbed by loss of balance of the seat, or uncoordinated movements of the hands and legs, yet the seat MUST move very lightly from back to front towards each of the shoulders, alternately. This movement starts in the small of the back and goes downward towards the pubic bone, the saddle’s pommel, the withers of the horse and ultimately his mouth. The movement of the hind legs (created by the rider’s legs) are transmitted to the rider’s seat, who must feel support in her/his buttocks, but not a real lift, if pressure of the buttocks is used against the horse’s back, the horse will either lose his activity or feel driven forward. In both cases, the piaffer will have lost two of it’s essential elements. The metaphor of the piaffing horse to be ‘on the ball’ is true in many ways. The force that lifts the rider up and forward from his buttocks towards his stomach, can be used by the rider to push the horse forward and down from the small of his back towards his pubic bone. This ‘peddling-like’ movement can practically self-generate and rely exclusively on the horse’s activity and the rider’s ability to let it go through his body in the correct direction that I just indicated.
On the keen horse: The rider, at the beginning of training, may lean very slightly forward, arching the back, and sit more on the fork than on the seatbones while his/her hands contain the horse from progressing forward.
On the less active,
usually more balanced horse the rider may sit more on the seatbones
with the shoulders firmly behind the hips, but with the tailbone NEVER
touching the saddle (as this would hollow out the horse’s back).
It is necessary to understand that weighting the seat bones drives the
horse forward (as in extended trot) and sitting on the fork contains
the horse or drives him backwards (as in reinback). Moment by moment,
the rider must decide when and how much to move from the front to the
rear of his/her seat according to the changes in the horse’s equilibrium.
The more trained horse allows the rider to sit equally on the fork and
the seatbones with the shoulders still behind the hips and the back
NOTE: It is to be noted that Portuguese and Spanish Riders naturally have an arched back (including the men) and this morphological particularity has as much to do with the quality of piaffers seen in those countries as the natural ability of the horses for collection. In Germany, many of the tall riders have flat backs that create a seat based on the seatbones and tailbone fitting the deep saddles and facilitating the extended trots for which warmbloods are famous. The students of good equitation will be well served by studying in detail what, in a certain rider’s position, seem to make this or that movement more expressive.
Rhythm In piaffer, it is essential for the rhythm to be regular and for the tempo to progressively slow down through training until it provides the horse with this majestic equestrian quality called cadence. The most important and effective aid to establish rhythm is the clucking of the tongue. It also creates impulsion, it does not contract the horse because there is no specific physical contact. It’s popularity as an aid is proven the world over. It is regrettable that the FEI, in it’s immense wisdom, has elected to deprive riders from this most invaluable aid that is the voice. As if training wasn’t hard enough as it is!
The whip used as a threat (by swishing it left to right in front of the rider’s torso), works very well to improve general energy. When using the touch of the whip, it is first important to make sure that the horse is trained to accept it and yields to it rather than contracts against it (see 3R’s). This lesson of the respect for the whip (dominance through forward movement) is usually best taught on the lunge line, while the rider’s actions are reinforced by the almighty lunge whip of the lunge that will guarantee obedience in the form of forward movement.
The spurs are the highest expression of the legs, the enforcers of the horse’s respect for them and accurate tools that can help the horse understand which exact muscle the rider wishes to address. "There is no delicate equitation without the educated use of the spurs" - Nuno Oliveira. [The "lesson of the spur" as been best explained by Faverot de Kerbrech, a general in charge of the French cavalry, a student of Baucher second manner and the inspiration for captain Beudant’s remarkable work. This important piece of information will be the subject of another detailed article].
In the piaffer, the spurs must act as in the ‘picking’ of a guitar. When the legs are further back, they help the alternative contractions of the abdominal muscles necessary to tip the pelvis, engage the hind legs and stretch the back. When they are further forward, they help the contractions of the pectoral muscles and help lift the front of the horse.
The spurs’ action, obviously as the legs’ action, must be done in the proper rhythm desired for the piaffer itself. The spurs must never be "attached" to the horse’s body, at the risk of stopping the impulsion. The constant pressure of the spurs, creates a constant contraction of the abdominals and flanks and therefore prevent them from moving alternatively as in the piaffer. Constant pressure is used in the "effet d’ensemble", or effect on the whole of the horse (Baucher first manner), to control, calm, stop or regularize the horse already in movement. In any case, it NEVER produces more energy, this is why desperate competitors, riding mostly laid-back warmbloods, are seen frantically squeezing their near immobile horses with tight legs that produce exactly the result opposite to their wish.