Piaffe and why one cannot use a whip to create it
The famous Nuno Oliveira in piaffe
Piaffe gets created by increasing the deceleration phase. In the breaking or deceleration phase the horse stores energy – the more I have of that the more I can release. Normal breaking happens during 45% of stride, whereas in Piaffe it is up to 80% of the stride. The smaller the forward push of the hind legs, the better piaffe because the upward push comes from front legs.
If the best piaffe comes from letting the hind feet stay on the ground longer it becomes very clear that a stimulation with the whip will create the opposite. It will stimulate the leg to leave sooner rather than stay longer.
You cannot touch the front legs either – elevation of the front leg is an elastic recall that creates the lift. Touching them with the whip will disturb that elastic recall. If you touch the front legs the horse will often bring the front legs back too far (goat on the mountain top) and again no elastic recall. Also - if there is too much weight on front legs then you can’t get elastic recall. Touching the hind legs with a whip will create a lift in the croup which in turn will overload the front legs. Many horses respond then by bringing the front legs too far back.
In the piaffe the legs need to be perfectly straight under the body – if you bring the hindlegs more under then the horse cannot use its legs like a spring. The push up from the hind leg happens when the hind leg is just a bit behind. If you make the horse piaffe with the hind leg too far under you create a functional sickle hock. As a matter of fact the hind legs in the piaffe are less under the body than they are for collected trot. Ultimately dressage is about education not to teach a trick. Using whips to teach piaffe creates a trick which then often cannot be recreated in the competition arena.
How do you create Piaffe then?
You teach more lift by more straightness – once the horse figures out how to use the back and they stay in deceleration 80% on hind leg – when they push forward they do minimally so – then the forelegs can propel with 81% upward.
Piaffe is the ultimate orchestration of the entire body.
If you teach a young horse the pinot jog – they learn how to propel the front legs upward – this takes up to 5 years and then you refine it until you reach Piaffe. Some horses offer passage first and then develop piaffe from it, some horses are not comfortable to handle the forward movement with the balance control so they do piaffe first. If they learn passage first often the piaffe is more elastic.
What is the Pinot trot?
Jean Luc has shown us Pinot trot (which he named after the guy that showed it to him first) during some of his lessons.
Pinot trot is rising trot where the rider stays very close to saddle, hands rest on neck, a slow cadence set with the body, think about keeping knees down. During that slow trot, the rider keeps pushing the horse forward, doesn't let him lean on the hand and maintains cadence until the horse starts lifting the back. This jog is also a good way to get the horse to let go of an isometric hold in the back.
To create maximum output for minimum effort: the horse needs to use its back.
The rider puts the horse at its natural cadence. The he/she filters the energy and nuances with his/her body rather than using the hands. As the rider continues to push the horse forward he keeps the small steady posting in his body. Once the horse offers longer steps it does so by lifting the back. More lift can come from a better dorsal-ventral movement of the pelvis. Both the Pinot jog and the canter encourage that pelvis movement. My own epiphany: Many movements / exercises in today's training have a kernel of truth but the true reason and background have either been lost or are just not understood biomechanically => exercises are executed mindlessly and therefore do more harm than good. Therefore it is necessary to constantly observe and evaluate if the movement creates the desired effect in the horse's body.