by Jean-Philippe Giacomini


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:
appuyer, courbette, parade, levade, cabriole (or capriole), their etymological origin is really Italian. The words "de piede fermo" mean firming one’s feet, and were used in the context of "trotting on the spot". They were later transformed phonetically and shortened to ‘pie-fer’, which became piaffer. "Passegiatta" (‘passegi") became passage and means taking a leisurely and stylish walk. The English later adopted the derivative German spelling: piaffe but "Passage" remained unaltered.

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
and ridden by colonel Wattel, a chief ecuyer of the Saumur school with a talent of mythical proportions. Unfortunately the rest of Cramique’s test was of no consequence. This was the public end of a long tradition.

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.

In my experience, medium and extended trot are, without a doubt, better learned from the Germans who, since Steinbrecht, have made the gymnastic development of suspension in the gaits the building block of their training system and a corollary of their braced seat. Piaffer, passage and other collected movements are better learned from the Portuguese or the Spanish, (specially by experiencing the feel of their trained horses and imitating the rider’s arched back). It is important to remember, when training horses, that we must be flexible in our concepts regarding the seat, the contact and the general balance of the horse, rather than expect horses to adapt without complaint to a rigid program that mostly sounds good in a dogmatic book full of unrealistic promises.

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.
On one hand this new practice has improved the gaits of the horses and the general discipline of the riders, yet on the other it is threatening the traditional understanding of collection through the loss of a relaxed use of the aids and an obsession with unrealistically long strides at the trot.

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:

Powerful and patient light draught horses, committed to an even and long walk stride, leaning on the collar to pull the plow all day (Holsteiner and Hannoverian mares were working in the fields until the sixties).

Energetic and calm carriage horses, committed to an even and long trot stride, leaning on the collar, were the back bone of the world economy and were selected to work in trotting teams for the fast delivery of fresh goods. .

Since the middle of the XIXth century, Arabians with stamina and hard tissues, have been used to improve cavalry horses (particularly Swedish, Trakheners and French anglo-arabs. For the purpose of long distance riding, these horses are committed to an even and long trot and canter stride .

Since the beginning of the XXth century, fast and athletic racing thoroughbreds have been used to improve the heavier breeds towards sport purposes. These horses, by the needs of their competitive nature on the race track, are committed to an even and long gallop stride, balanced on the forehand on purpose by the position of the jockeys.

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
forces in history and for today’s sport horses. Xenophon was the first to describe their form of riding as :"...pirouettes, half turns, lightning speed attacks and retreats" and La Gueriniere described the Spanish jennet as follow: "...the Duke of Newcastle, who makes great eulogies to the horse of Spain, only finds him one defect, which is to have too much memory, because he uses it to manage [his balance] as of his own and to so prevent the domination of the rider, but this defect, if it is one, is only the effect of his gentility and his resource [survival instinct?] and it is easy to benefit from it by following the principles of the true school". In the bullfighting arena, today’s only true testing ground for the agility of the baroque horse, one can see feints and dodges that are based on the horses’ lateral flexibility, speed of foot work, undying energy and, above all, a surviving instinct based on a supreme sense of balance. For a horse to stay on his feet whatever the luck of combat, it requires the ability to change rhythm "ad infinitum", to always resist the inertia of speed, to balance himself "against" visual as well as unseen, potential dangers, to always be on a self reliant alert, in other words, to assume self carriage.

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).
This becomes particularly noticeable when the trainer focuses on using the whip on the hip (often too high) and, concurrently, pays little attention to the position of the front-end during the exercise because s/he is too happy to "get something". The more suspension behind, the more the horse needs to balance on the front legs and starts to do a "hand-stand" in a clearly downhill equilibrium. As the horse braces on the ground with the front feet, he needs to brace against the bridle for balance.
As a result, these particular biomechanics make the duration of the front leg support start earlier and last even longer. The horse starts to push himself backwards from contact with the rider’s hand by lengthening the neck forward. The front end is now stuck from front to back between the hand and the seat and between the ground and the hand. Naturally, as we can observe in those situations, the rider start to push quite frantically forward in the saddle to maintain the little bit of impulsion left in the now grumpy looking horse in the hope to keep enough energy to finish the feeble 15 steps required by the test. Add to it the pressure of the Olympics or any other important competition and it is a miracle that the horses piaffe at all!

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 the hand.
The leverage of the rider’s position, nearly standing in the stirrups amplified the action of the hand even further, with most of the rider’s weight going against the high cantle.

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).

Baucher changed 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.
The seat of the rider remains very light at all times in order never to cave the back. Except in the "effect on the whole, the hands ands legs are never used simultaneously but successively (how ever quick is the succession). Collection was achieved after the "ramener" (verticality of the forehead) was established through progressive lateral, then vertical flexions of the neck, poll and jaw. Eventually, the total elevation of the neck was attained, not without going through a phase of "ramene outre" or extreme overbending used for doing transitions from gait ot gait.
The main result of this elevated neck position of the horse is the lightness of the forehand, not just to the hand, but of the front feet on the ground because all the muscles of the shoulders are stretched upward already. The perfect position was maintained and improved by successive half halts, but of a very different kind than the ones from La Gueriniere. Baucher advocated that the hand with the contact should always move upwards and slightly forward (like moving an imaginery cup and saucer from one shelf to another one further away and inches higher) and never backward like the Baroque riders. In this system, the piaffe is taught as a passage on the spot, conserving the tempo, the suspension and the horizontal balance of the passage and not as a sitting movement that is used to prepare for the levade.

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
of inertia to get going.

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".


Characteristics of the Ideal Piaffer.

The ideal piaffer is a movement in which the horse moves, on the spot by associated diagonals with a time of suspension in between the lift of each diagonal.

The rhythm must be regular and as slow as possible (cadence), without
compromising the stability of the horse.

The haunches must be lowered and both hind legs flexed at each joint, when resting and when lifting.

The neck must be elevated, (but not forcibly), and stable on the shoulders.

The lifted front leg must be lifted with the forearm as close to the horizontal as possible (the degree depends on the breed of the horse), while the supporting front leg must ALWAYS be absolutely vertical and show a pastern lowered at the same time than the lifted leg is at the maximum height.

The flexion of the supporting front leg’s pastern must be somewhat less marked than the one of the diagonal hind pastern because the hind foot must be carrying more weight. Observing the difference in flexion between the pasterns of the two legs of the same diagonal (rather than looking at the degree of engagement of the hind legs) is the only way to determine which end of the horse is the most loaded.

The movement must show fluidity in all phases and no jerkiness, particularly at the peak of the movement.

The horse must appear light to all the aids of the rider, not just the hands.

The horse must also be vibrant, yet relaxed in his topline. The image is of calm energy and enjoyment for both partners.

Another measure of the quality of the piaffer is the ability of the horse to perform smooth and quasi seamless transitions from and to the passage.

Clearly, very few horses fulfill this ideal but it’s detailed knowledge is essential to the trainer so they can decide in which direction s/he must direct the training. The trainer must work on the regularity of the cadence, the relaxation of the topline, the lowering of the haunches, the elevation of the front end, the energy and vibration of the movement, the lightness to the aids, the fluidity of the transitions. Improvement in these areas all come unevenly and in small increments and must be considered separately and their own merits.

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.

"Piaffer precipite", or hurried, is merely a stamping of the feet with little to do with the real thing, and is done by hysterical horses to avoid collection.
Andalusians with a naturaI lack of suspension will present this difficulty.
Sometimes, it is performed with the hind legs literally behind the vertical (in French: "piaffer depite").

***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.

"Piaffer balance", or swaying of the back legs, is an avoidance by the horse of engaging the hindlegs under the body by putting them on the side, even though they appear engaged when looked at broadside on. Usually, some crossing of the front legs also occurs or the horse simply steps on himself with his front feet.
This problem mostly denotes a lack of force of the haunches and occurs sometimes in Lusitano horses.

***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.

Symmetrical widening of the hind legs (without swaying) comes from overloading the haunches. It is usually accompanied by a quickening of the rhythm and eventually a loss of the diagonalisation (the horse keeps one hind leg on the ground and one front leg in the air longer than he should). This problem relates to a lack of flexibility of the haunches and is frequent in thoroughbreds and warmbloods.

***Solution: the trainer can ask the piaffer in a slight shoulder-in position
(that positions the inside hind leg under the body) in order to load only that one at a time. Pirouette around the haunches will also help by widening the front feet stance, therefore narrowing the hind feet feet. Transitions from and to the trot will help in lowering the anxiety progressively.

Lack of verticality for the front legs. Most often, this is due to the arm of the horse, (from the point of the shoulder to the elbow), to be too short. It is frequent in Arabians, particularly the "halter types" with flat croups and excessively straight legs. This makes the front legs placed too far forward (not enough under the body) and gives the tendency to the back legs to stand too far out behind. In general, the trainer will discover at the time of teaching transitions between piaffer and passage that this lack of verticality of the front legs seriously compromises the fluidity and the consistent cadence in the transitions.

Axis of the leg in front of the vertical. If it is not due to a conformational defect, the horse is clearly expressing "acculement" (serious unwillingness to go forward). Those two aspects of the same problem are inversely proportional: the worst the conformation, the least is the mental resistance; the least is the conformation fault, the worst is the resistance. In the transition to passage, the horse will lose the rhythm and stamp his feet rather than take a big, clean stride.

*** 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).

Axis of the leg behind the vertical. This is due to the horse losing his balance forward, shortening the neck and burying his withers as a consequence of that faulty habit. The same comment on conformation applies, but to a lesser degree. Horses with this defect (which is less serious than the previous one) appear to be doing well because this engagement of the front leg towards the rear of the body also corresponds to a marked engagement of the hind legs towards the front
of the body and a diminution of the basis of support of the horse. In the transition to passage, the horse will tend to lose his balance and lurch forward in a big stride.

***Solution: As in most balance problems, the rein back is of considerable help.
Elevation of the neck with the hand moving up, slightly forward and then releasing will also work as a correction. If the trainer chooses to use the legs, it must be close to the girth so not to increase the engagement that would make the problem worse. Pirouettes in piaffer will also force the horse to rebalance himself.

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.

From the reinback: It is good for an ardent horse, very active and willing to go forward with perhaps a certain tendency for losing the balance by falling forward. The reinback increases diagonalization and the flexion of the haunches, but does not help much a horse less willing to go towards the bridle.

From the true (meaning very short) collected trot: For a less generous horse that needs the momentum of forward movement to maintain his activity. This is achieved by teaching first square halts and immediate departs from and to the trot.
Eventually, the horse stops the forward movement but is encouraged to maintain the animation and cadence of the trot through the aids I will describe later (clucking and ‘balancer’ - or rocking, of the diagonal aids).

From the collected walk: For more rigid and excitable type horses, like
Thoroughbreds, for whom maintaining the calm is paramount. These horses tend to have at first more suspension than they can cope with and need often to be discouraged from too slow a rhythm.

Through various methods of work-in-hand or long-lining: Work-in-hand can mimic the various ridden methods previously described. It has the advantage of letting the horse find his own balance without the rider and permits the trainer to be in a much stronger position in the case of difficulty with discipline. Long-lining works well with an apathetic horse because the trainer being behind the horse can really create impulsion and at the same time control the degree of forward movement very easily.

Both work-in-hand and long-lining may require the temporary help of a helper; in-hand, the helper may walk behind the horse with a lunge whip and sometimes holding a single long rein attached to the outside ring of the bridle or cavesson; on the long-lines the helper walks in front holding a short rein attached to the inside ring of the bridle or cavesson to control the straightness of the horse. These methods are, disappointingly so, not easier than riding and require a great sense of timing and the quiet agility needed by the trainer to always be at the very best place in relation to the 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)


To start the piaffe concept is very simple, using the 3R’s progression:

Piaffe can be started very early in the training because it does ot affect negatively the development of the gaits and is not contrary to any part of Calm, Forward, Straight & Round. In fact, it improves calm by the work on self control, improves Foreward by the development of instant response to the aids, Improve Straigh by the establishment od symmetry in weight distribution and hight of movement of each leg, improves Round by the progress on general relaxation and the subsequent backlift.

Progression: relax the whole horse, lift all 4 legs individually, do diagonal lifts, establish the diagonal reflex from the back, then from the front, then animate the rhythm by touching the lifted leg for action and flexion, then the resting leg for jump.

To perfect the piaffe performance can take a very long time, until the horse:

Sits (flexion of the resting leg).

Lifts the hind leg (flexion of the lifted leg)

Becomes absolutely vertical with the resting front leg

Lifts the front leg with the forearm horizontal and the elbow foreward, the
cannon and the fetlock folded.

Stays on the spot, advances forward or go backward, pirouetttes around the hind feet, the front feet or the middle, without losing the rhythm or any of the other components of the good piaffe.

Jumps from diagonal to diagonal with exactly the same suspension in the front as in the back.

Transitions piaffe easily from and to passage, school trot, extende trot, levade or even canter.


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,

(ISTOS) Try not to touch the horse at all: it work in most cases as horses find their own tempo. It is not guaranteed as some horses that rush the rhythm will rush more without a rhythmical guideline through the touch.

(LUSIADAS) Another solution is to interrupt the piaffe and ask for isolated hind leg lifts, isolated front leg lifts or diagonal lifts, then resume.

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):

(ISTOS and HIPPO) If the horse is in reasonably good balance (not pushing against the bridle), lift the hand on the inside rein with the quick soft movement at the time of the near front leg’s lift, give and lift again. At the same time tap the horse on the hind leg OFF the ground below the hock to increase engagement and flexion at the same time.

(ISTOS) Also try tapping with a soft Endo-Stick on various areas concerned with holding the front leg back. (behind the withers, on the shoulder, on the triceps etc.)

(FABULOSO) If the horse is loosing his balance forward, and it feels that, not only he is hard on the bit with his mouth, but also his entire chest is falling forward, lift the front end gently (or firmly as the case warrants) with the hand and use alternated reinbacks and forward diagonal walk steps, repeated until the horse regaines his balance and stops pushing against the hand.

For straightening the front legs which are too far in front of the body:

(HUSSAR and ANDY) Those horses have too much weight on their hind legs and either refuse to go near the bridle or reach the contact and push backwards on it. It is easiest to make them piaffe while progressing forward, which brings their body back over their front feet. Attention must be paid to which diagonal is advancing and which one is not. That one must the one that receives the correction until the 2 diagonals start to gain ground equally. That diagonal needs to be pushed forward by the other one: the push of the left diagonal (LF/RH) for instance (bringing the right one -RF/LH- to gain ground) is obtain by tapping the LH on the hock when it is on the ground. It is easiest done from the left side. If it must be done from the right side, reach over and tap the horse on the off side croup (LH). When the horse has become symetrical, the forward movement can be progressively reduced and slowly approach a more "on the spot" piaffe.

For controlling horses who are unruly during the piaffe lesson or refuse to stop piaffing:

(HUSSAR) Use the "Arab Twitch", which consist of a strong pinch of a fold of skin on the neck or the flank. In horse language, this correspond to a stallion "bite and hold" for controlling a rival, broodmare or younger stallion.

For gaining elevation in the piaffe Front legs

(hippo, Istos) work on diect flexion and make it go higher and higher, Start with the lateral flexion, one side rein, straighten the horse out , use other side rein, keep horse in slight lateral bend. When the neck is vertical, front legs come right off the ground

For starting the Passage with a horse that does not offer suspension

(MAGESTOSO) This method is useful for a horse with a quick rhythm and a good elevated piaffe. First teach a good piaffe as well as the jambette. Then make it go forward in equal steps through the method explained previously. When it resembles a short step, forward, elevated trot, ask for the jambette until the horse takes a big elevated step forward with the front leg. This will usually result in a "passage like" stride. Repeat on both sides until even passage steps are obtained separately (LF, LF, LF then RF,RF, RF etc.). Progressively, try for the horse to put 2 strides together (LF, RF several times, then RF, LF several times). When this is achieved, stop using the tapping on the front legs as soon as possible or the horse may start to do Spanish trot instead of passage. Change tactic and tap the horse eityher on the hind leg on the ground (for an extra push resulting into a jump of the diagonal meaning the longer suspension neede for the passage).

For starting the Passage with a horse that does not go forward from the piaffe.

(VICTOR’S HORSE) This slightly different method works for a horse whose rhythm is slow enough but does not go forward. Within the piaffe, dtart tapping the horse on the back to create alittle tension that will resolve in the slight "hollowing out" needed for passage and give the hand completely after a light half halt (to keep the horse in the elevated neck position). Encouraged by both the new freedom and the new strength in the back, the horse will give alittle jumped step forward resemling passage. Little by little, passage will form.

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.
This argument was heard a lot at the time of the late Rembrandt’s glory because he never lowered the haunches nor elevated the front end much in the piaffe, yet did perfectly regular transitions from and to passage and usually got high marks for his performance.

Short arm horses:

Long arm horses:

The Aids

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:

The gait must be diagonal.

The horse must stay on the spot, or near to.

The rhythm must be regular, progressively slower and eventually permit suspension equally from the front and hind legs.

The horse must engage his hind legs under the body, flex his haunches and hocks both on the resting leg and the lifted leg.

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.
If the head is way too high (the horse might not be ready at all for the piaffer work), in any case, one hand clearly higher than the mouth would help the horse to flex his poll "over the bit" and relax downwards.

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 slightly arched.
This position produces a piaffer that can be totally on the spot, or can be driven forwards and backwards, as well as facilitates transitions between piaffer and passage and the turns (pirouettes around the haunches, shoulders, or the middle) as the rider wishes.

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.

When on top of the croup, the whip creates more jump of the hindlegs, but too much of this technique will disengage the horse and make him go croup high, a very bad defect of training.

When on the hind legs, the whip used at the beginning of the lift creates
engagement and flexion of the leg that is in the air. Lack of timing will creates faults of rhythm and coordination in which the diagonal pairs become disassociated and do repeat steps on the same side (called "magpie jumps")

The whip used at th beginning of the stance (resting on the ground) may increase the lift and jump of the OTHER DIAGONAL (sharp, quick touch) or the slowing down of the cadence (soft, resting-longer-on-the-leg-type-of- touch)


Elevation/movement is an effect of the relaxation of the leg in the air.

Suspension/lift is an efect of the tension (potentially resulting in detente/spring) of the diagonal on the ground.

The essence of the art of training the dressage horse is to succeed in creating those 2 effectx simulataneously: relaxation of one diagonal, tension of the other.

Transitions are the result of a change of balance (front to back for transitions down, back to front for transition up), while using a temporary increase of tension to help the modifiacation of the horse’s inertia. An increase in relaxation at the same time results in the transition to be "brilliant/expressive".

Passage, extended trot and the developement of cadence in piaffe result from tension. Collected trot and the development of brilliance in trot is the result of relaxation.

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.

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