In-Hand Work with Rafael Soto

A Q&A with this Olympic medal­ist from the Royal An­dalu­sian School of Eques­trian Art

Dressage Today - - Content - with Rafael Soto Story and pho­tos by Diane E. Bar­ber

Diane Bar­ber, a Dres­sage To­day con­tribut­ing writer and stu­dent of Olympic medal­ist, Rafael Soto, spent an af­ter­noon with him at the Royal An­dalu­sian School of Eques­trian Art in Jerez, Spain, where he over­sees the rid­ing depart­ment. They talked about his meth­ods of dres­sage train­ing, in­clud­ing in-hand work and airs above the ground. Af­ter their dis­cus­sion, Soto de­mon­strated pi­affe and pas­sage in-hand. He then changed into tra­di­tional Span­ish rid­ing cos­tume and mas­ter­fully pre­sented lev­ade, cor­bette and capri­ole with three of the school’s PRE show horses.

DB

When do you be­gin train­ing dres­sage in­hand with a young horse?

RS

At the Royal School the work is typ­i­cally in­tro­duced when the horse is 4 years old and af­ter he has been rid­den for one year. In six months, a horse usu­ally has good bal­ance and rhythm at the walk, trot and can­ter. Af­ter that, for the first year I do work in-hand two times a week just be­fore I ride the horse. It is im­por­tant not to do it too much. Twice a week is enough.

DB

How do you in­tro­duce the in-hand work and what do you start with?

RS

Once a horse ac­cepts the aids on the ground well, I take him in-hand with a snaf­fle and put the reins over the horse’s neck, sim­i­lar to long reins but on the side in­stead of be­hind. Then I can start do­ing some shoul­der-in and I be­gin to ask for pi­affe from

be­side the horse just be­hind the sad­dle. I use my voice with the whip be­hind and I make the hind legs move a lit­tle bit. I do this for maybe five min­utes in each hand while I am search­ing for ways to get small steps for the cre­ation of pi­affe. If I do this two or three times ev­ery week, by the time the horse is 5 years old he knows pi­affe very well and ac­cepts the whip pos­i­tively. I then con­tinue work­ing this way for one year, still just two or three times a week. When the horse is 6 years old and can do a very bal­anced and con­fi­dent pi­affe and he knows the aids of my voice, the whip and half halt very well, I put a stu­dent on at the end of the work. Then we do a bit of work in-hand with the rider in the sad­dle to pre­pare the horse for me to ride him in pi­affe.

DB

When and how do you teach pas­sage?

RS

I start teach­ing pas­sage af­ter a horse does a very nice pi­affe, which is usu­ally at 6 years old. Learn­ing pi­affe first is very im­por­tant. When the

horse horse is good at pi­affe, I can go from pi­affe to trot and use the whip to the cor­rect cadence to get pas­sage steps. Pas­sage is an evo­lu­tion of the trot in the dres­sage horse and pi­affe pre­pares for a bet­ter evo­lu­tion. I start in-hand to ask for a for­ward and col­lected trot and I touch the whip on the croup to cre­ate up­hill ac­tion and sus­pen­sion in the trot to get pas­sage. If that doesn’t work, I go back to pi­affe, then pi­affe to trot, and try again for pas­sage.

DB

How im­por­tant is pi­affe for train­ing airs above the ground?

RS

Pi­affe is the foun­da­tion and is in­dis­pens­able to teach a horse to do the airs be­cause he must col­lect all of his power and com­pact his body in the hindquar­ters to be able to do lev­ade or cor­bette, which re­quires dif­fi­cult jumps one af­ter the other. It is the same with the capri­ole and the jump to kick out with the hind legs.

DB

Are all the horses at the Royal School able to per­form airs above the ground and can they do them with a rider?

RS

No, not all of the horses per­form airs above the ground. I have to say that the horses who do the airs are spe­cial­ists at them be­cause they have a great tem­per­a­ment and abil­ity for the jumps. Some have a tal­ent for lev­ade, oth­ers have a tal­ent for the cor­bette and oth­ers have a spe­cial tal­ent for capri­ole. Some of the horses will do them in-hand on the ground and with a rider. But there are only a few who can do that. In to­tal, in the school we have about six horses for capri­ole in-hand and maybe two of them can also do it with a rider. Of the horses who can do cor­bette, we have about four and only one can do it with a rider.

This is a very high level of train­ing! All the horses who do work in-hand with the jumps are rid­den and can do pi­affe, pas­sage and fly­ing changes. But they do not do the Grand Prix dres­sage in the show. We ded­i­cate them to work in-hand and the jumps just like I ded­i­cated In­va­sor

[Rafael’s for­mer An­dalu­sion stal­lion] to Grand Prix dres­sage only.

DB How long does it typ­i­cally take for a horse to learn the airs and how im­por­tant is con­for­ma­tion?

RS If a horse has tal­ent, by 6 years old, af­ter the two years of work that I men­tioned be­fore. But to do it re­ally well a horse needs more time. Usu­ally around age 7 the horse will be ready do it in the show. Con­for­ma­tion is very im­por­tant to be suc­cess­ful with the airs. The con­for­ma­tion of the An­dalu­sian horses is per­fect for the jumps be­cause the breed is short and com­pact, which makes it eas­ier for them to do the move­ments. The best horses in the world to do airs above the ground are def­i­nitely the Baroque horses.

DB You men­tioned that you use a snaf­fle bit for pi­affe and pas­sage in-hand. What equip­ment do you use for the airs?

RS The caves­son is used for work in-hand with the airs above the ground. I start the horses the same as I do with the young horses, with side reins and with a caves­son in front. I work like this a lit­tle bit al­most ev­ery day to start to bring the horse up­hill with his shoul­ders, then I just use the caves­son with­out side reins. When the horse is do­ing the airs above the ground he needs to be on a longe line so he is free to jump, which is very dif­fer­ent from pi­affe and pas­sage in-hand, when the reins are held close to the horse much like when rid­ing. When per­form­ing the airs the horse is in a snaf­fle bri­dle, but he is not work­ing off the reins be­cause they are at­tached to the sides of the sad­dle. The caves­son is at­tached on the nose for more con­trol of the head and so there is no risk of hurt­ing the horse’s mouth. It also helps hold the longe line in place.

DB How do you teach a horse to tran­si­tion from pi­affe to lev­ade?

RS When a horse is ready to do lev­ade he tells me be­cause he sits very well for the pi­affe. To ask him to do it, I go up with my left hand on the caves­son and push a lit­tle bit with the whip be­hind him to make him sit for the lev­ade. The mo­ment I put the whip at the hindquar­ters he just wants to go up with his shoul­ders and his front legs to sit on his hocks.

DB What are the ba­sics of teach­ing cor­bette?

RS For the cor­bette it is more dif­fi­cult. I po­si­tion my­self on the side of the horse a lit­tle in front or just be­hind the sad­dle. First, I must ask the horse for pi­affe then bring him up­hill very bal­anced and straight. Then I touch with the whip and ask him to jump with the hindquar­ters. Nor­mally, I touch on the croup or if I’m in front, just in­side the front legs or in front of the hind legs. Where I touch with the whip de­pends on the horse be­cause ev­ery horse has a dif­fer­ent place to ask.

DB Where did the capri­ole orig­i­nate and how do you teach it?

RS The capri­ole was a de­fense against the en­e­mies in wartime and is very nat­u­ral. You very of­ten see it when horses are out­side fight­ing or play­ing to­gether. Some­times they are run­ning and sud­denly stop and turn and do it. All of the jumps come from the na­ture of the horse when he is free with a group of horses. Some peo­ple think that it hurts the horse, but it does not. In all my life, I never saw any horse in­jured be­cause of do­ing capri­ole or any airs above the ground.

To teach capri­ole, we do it in two parts with two peo­ple. First, we teach the horse to move the front of his whole body up and down like a lev­ade with the hind legs mov­ing and sup­port­ing him. Then, when the horse is up­hill

and bal­anced, the per­son in the back moves a longe whip up and be­hind to get him to stretch and kick out his hind legs. As with all of the train­ing, each time we do it is very short.

DB Which of the airs above the ground is the hard­est to teach? RS Cor­bette, of course! Lev­ade is just one jump and capri­ole is just one jump. The cor­bette is a few jumps and the horse has to jump, re­cover the bal­ance, do an­other jump, re­cover the bal­ance again and then an­other jump. It is very dif­fi­cult.

DB How do you re­ward a horse in train­ing and af­ter work?

RS Al­ways a pat and a lit­tle su­gar so the horse knows he did a good job.

DB Are the airs ever per­formed in horse-show com­pe­ti­tions?

RS No. The jumps are per­formed for ex­hi­bi­tions like you see in the shows at the Royal School. We do it to pre­serve the type of his­tor­i­cal rid­ing of kings and wartime. We also do it to im­prove their fit­ness. Some­times the four best schools in Europe (Spain, Por­tu­gal, Saumer and Vi­enna) come to­gether and maybe we do a lit­tle com­pe­ti­tion among us. Vi­enna and Por­tu­gal do jumps the same way we do. But Sau­mur only does cor­bette and capri­ole and no lev­ade. And for them, in the cor­bette the horse just stands up and then goes back down.

DB Which airs above the ground move­ment is your fa­vorite and why?

RS Cor­bette! It is very dif­fi­cult to get a horse to do a good cor­bette, so that makes it the most re­ward­ing for me.

ABOVE: Dres­sage stu­dents as­sist Soto with some of the school’s PRE show stal­lions be­fore per­form­ing in-hand move­ments.

LEFT: Soto in tra­di­tional Span­ish cos­tume demon­strates lev­ade with Quinque ad­ja­cent to the Royal School’s sad­dlery.

Soto and Este­peno demon­strate cor­bette, the MOSě FKĘETĚě airs-above-theIROTNF MOUG ment to teach.

LEFT: Juan Jose Ver­dugo (left) and Soto pre­pare Mer­cu­rio for capri­ole.

RIGHT: Mer­cu­rio per­forms a capri­ole in the arena be­hind the Royal School’s palace.

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