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.
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Diane Followell Classical Dressage Trainer
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