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.
No, I am not done with my notes from the Science of Motion symposium yet, however one of my blog readers has asked me which books I would recommend. Let me first state that books are a great resource but also likely to be outdated if they contain studies or newer information on biomechanics. That means if you are interested in new information you are better off to find a good website that regularly updates. If you like Science of Motion, then you have found the website of course – www.scienceofmotion.com. There are several tabs that have quite current findings and studies as compiled by Jean Luc Cornille.
When it comes to books I like to separate them into two big groups:
Tips and ideas that make you a better rider
Tips and ideas that help you understand the body of the horse and specific exercises that can help you train your horse
So first my favorite for the Rider books:
Ride from Within – James Shaw
Here is a book that teaches you how to control your body better by applying Tai Chi and Chi Gong methods. The basis of everything is a very effective breathing method and James shows many exercises that can be done on the ground and in the saddle. I found them to be extremely effective. If you are a visual person, he has two DVD’s that accompany his book that I recommend. James has further developed his method, if you get a chance to experience him in person, please do. I have written about some of his ideas in earlier blogs – check the July 2015 one. James has a website - http://www.ridefromwithin.com/
Ride with your Mind Essentials – Mary Wanless
If you learn by picturing certain movements and positions this is a great book. Mary has quite a few books out, this is my personal favorite and the one I go back to when I need to refresh my ideas on teaching. Mary does hold a few clinics in the US, check out her website for more details - http://www.mary-wanless.com/
It’s not just about the Ribbons – Jane Savoie
A wonderful book to help you with the mental side of riding. As physical as riding is, your mind plays a huge role in being successful and confident on a horse. Jane points out some great strategies to achieve that. Her website is - http://www.janesavoie.com/
And now the about the Horse books:
Biomechanics and Physical Training of the Horse – Jean-Marie Denoix
Mr. Denoix holds a PhD in veterinary medicine and is a specialist in equine locomotion. If you want some very current information on how horses move, what happens in their body when their hooves impact the ground, then you will find this book quite enlightening. There are many illustrations that help you understand the matter. With your updated knowledge, you will also find why it is best to avoid some exercises and which ones the horse can benefit most from. It certainly can help improve your training. Here is his website - http://www.iamanequineveterinarian.com/dr-jean-marie-denoix/
Tug of War: Classical versus “Modern” Dressage – Dr. Gerd Heuschmann
One of the earlier books that questions current training methods and gives great biomechanical insights into the movement of the horse. Especially the information on the back, where to position the neck, how the reins and bit can have an unintended effect is important and well presented. Dr. Heuschmann since has published a second book “Balancing Act”. Another good book. If you only want to buy one, get “Tug of War”. Dr. Heuschmann’s website is - http://www.gerdheuschmann.com/. Currently it seems to be only in German. I know he did have an English version.
Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage – Philippe Karl
Philippe Karl studied at the Cadre Noir (incidentally so did Jean Luc Cornille) and this book questions many “tried and true” training methods. He does make it very clear why he does not like some methods, how they can be detrimental to the horse and how our understanding of dressage has changed in the last 50 or so years. An interesting read, certainly eye opening - http://www.philippe-karl.com/
Classical Schooling with the Horse in Mind – Anja Beran
I had the great pleasure to meet Anja at one of her annual performances at Circus Krone in Munich. She certainly embodies the idea of lightness and correct riding with the horse in mind. This book takes you in logical progression from selecting a horse, through all training stages to Grand Prix movements. Well written and with many useful illustrations. Anja mostly trains out of her facility in Germany (good excuse for a trip) - http://www.anja-beran.com/
Falling for Fallacies – Jean-Claude Racinet
A very interesting book that questions many statements that are made day in and out by riding instructors across the globe. Mr. Racinet starts with the statement and then shows you why the reality might be quite different from common beliefs. Mr. Racinet passed away in 2009.
How your horse moves – Gillian Higgins
Gillian paints horses – specifically she paints muscles and bones onto the horse and then shows you how everything moves. A wonderful book to get a better idea of the placement of bones and muscles. If you wish to see it in motion – she has a great DVD as well - http://www.horsesinsideout.com