In a previous blog I looked at the causes of a horse rearing whilst in the middle of a dressage test, What Went Wrong? In this month’s blog, I wanted to look closely at a piaffe shown in a grand prix freestyle competition and the qualities that the horse shows in the movement in this video
I am focusing on the piaffe that begins at 1 minute 8 seconds. Before this piaffe, the horse is in passage and to bring the horse into piaffe, the rider makes a backward pull on the rein (1:09) whilst simultaneously using her spurs and bracing her body backwards. This has the effect of compressing the horse through its neck which puts the horse on its fore hand, disengages its haunches and disrupts the diagonal steps (below).
Consequently, the horse can only bounce its haunches up in the piaffe as it’s front legs barely come off the ground (1:13) and there is no elevation of the neck and withers. Unable to correctly engage its haunches the horse is now fully on its fore hand as the front feet land significantly before the hind feet and the rhythm of the diagonal steps is completely lost.
Through the piaffe, the horse swings its left hind out to the side whereas it should move up and down under the body of the horse. The rider makes continual backward movements on the reins, blocking the horse and creating resistance in the horse’s jaw, neck and back.
Due to the incorrect movement in the piaffe, in the transition out of the piaffe, the horse makes two canter strides before picking up passage steps(1:22).
In a correct piaffe, the horse moves its centre of gravity back, the hind legs flex more and the fore hand becomes lighter and more elevated. The haunches should not bounce higher than the withers.
The front feet should be raised higher than the hind feet, or the hind feet and front feet should come to the same height if the horse’s conformation or level of training does not allow for the former. If the hind feet are raised higher than the front feet, it is a clear indication that the piaffe is on the fore hand and incorrect.
The pictures below show two horses with different conformation showing correct piaffe steps and the piaffe shown by this horse and rider for comparison.
Diane Followell - Training Riders, Transforming Horses
To start the new year I'm looking at definitions for some of the French terms associated with higher levels of classical dressage; Descente de Mains, Ramner and Rassembler. Please see my previous blogs for discussions on other dressage terms; Cadence and Collection and Rhythm, Impulsion and Engagement.
Descente de mains
This is a French term and the literal translation is “descent of hands”. For classical dressage purposes, descente de mains is a lowering or giving of the rider’s hands to softly release the contact and have the horse remain in the movement without altering the frame, rhythm or cadence, and is most telling in piaffe.
It is a simple and very tactful movement for the rider, but comes as the result of precise training; a horse in balance, with the correct level of impulsion and rhythm. Descente de mains is not riding with loose reins or when the horse has his neck stretched down with his nose near the floor!
Nuno Oiveira and Arthur Kottas Heldenberg both give clear precise descriptions of descente de mains.
Arthur Kottas Heldenburg from Kottas on Dressage (glossary) describes descente de mains as
A term from French equitation; basically, a yielding of the rein contact, either as a reward or to check the horse’s self-balance. In respect of the hands, ‘descente’ can mean either a physical lowering, or ‘reduction’ (lessening) of the contact – commonly both.
Nuno Oliveira, Reflections on Equestrian Art
Descente de main: the rider relaxes his fingers and the horse meanwhile maintains the same pace, the same attitude and the same cadence.
A good definition of Ramner can be found in Dom Diogo de Bragança’s book Dressage in the French Tradition (page 18)
Ramner, the neck is raised and self-supporting, verticality of the head (or a position of the head close to the vertical, and in front of it), the poll at the highest point of the neck.
It is possible to position the horse’s head by raising your hands, but this will not create ramner, which is a position that the horse chooses for himself based on other factors. The horse must be supple, balanced and able to control the impulsion generated from the haunches. As these qualities develop, the horse becomes more engaged, and the forehand will become lighter, the neck will lengthen from the withers and the poll will appear to advance with the nose near vertical. It is important to understand that this starts from the withers, not the head.
The translation of rassembler is given as
To bring together.
To assemble, to gather together.
To gather together, to collect.
In classical dressage terms it defines a horse who is in perfect balance, haunches engaged with the weight displaced back to the haunches as much as the horse’s conformation will allow, creating lightness in the forehand and a very maneuverable horse. Again, it is a position that the horse acquires for himself through careful and precise training and is one of the ultimate goals of classical dressage.
In Dressage in the French Tradition by Dom Diogo de Bragança, he describes rassembler as
..balance or equilibrium on a short (collected) base of support (the horse's feet placed close together).
…which is the harmonization of the means necessary for the execution of natural gaits, or those that are derived from them, on a short base of support.
Rassembler is indispensable for classical high school training. It is different to collection because it is a quality that is more tied to lightness and ramner than collection alone implies. Whilst ramner refers to the position of the horse’s head, rassembler refers to the whole horse.
Diane Followell - Training Riders, Transforming Horses
Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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