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Dressage Today - - Clinic -

My the­ory re­gard­ing the teach­ing of piaffe has come largely from Is­abell Werth and her trainer of the time, Dr. Uwe Schul­ten-Baumer. Piaffe starts in your mind at the very be­gin­ning of your horse’s train­ing when teach­ing the trot–walk tran­si­tions. In this down­ward tran­si­tion, the horse steps from be­hind, he steps to the rein and his steps be­come shorter with­out los­ing the rhythm, through­ness or ac­tiv­ity (see first be­low). He never falls in a heap into the walk.

Ev­ery horse has a lim­it­less num­ber of trots: There’s the work­ing bal­ance, there’s col­lec­tion and then greater de­grees of col­lec­tion. The horse can’t sus­tain cor­rect di­ag­o­nal pairs after a cer­tain level of col­lec­tion be­cause of lack of en­ergy, lack of strength, lack of bridge through the back or lack of un­der­stand­ing. But over years, he is grad­u­ally able to in­crease the de­gree of trot col­lec­tion in that down­ward tran­si­tion to­ward walk, and piaffe just evolves nat­u­rally into a so­phis­ti­cated trot on the spot— with tran­si­tions be­tween piaffe and pas­sage built in. The train­ing of piaffe is merely a con­tin­uum of trot ed­u­ca­tion. You come back, go for­ward, come back, go for­ward in rhythm. The horse doesn’t know he’s do­ing piaffe and he doesn’t think it’s dif­fi­cult. It’s the seam­less, non­con­fronta­tional evo­lu­tion of a tran­si­tion from a trot that moves to­ward walk in more and more en­gage­ment, shorter steps, al­ways di­ag­o­nal pairs. When done well, the horse is al­ways able to go in and come out. De­vel­op­ing piaffe and pas­sage seam­lessly over years helps the phys­i­cal­ity of them as well as the men­tal­ity of it. There’s never a sit­u­a­tion in which the horse, all of a sud­den, has to load the hind legs in­cred­i­bly or he be­comes men­tally wor­ried.

Piaffe is about di­ag­o­nal pairs. It is some­times trained from the walk as it is re­quired in the Grand Prix Spe­cial, but that means the train­ing of tran­si­tions be­tween piaffe and pas­sage is not built in. I feel the idea of the tran­si­tions needs to be taught from the be­gin­ning, there­fore elim­i­nat­ing their dif­fi­culty and the neg­a­tive emo­tions some­times as­so­ci­ated with them. When one buys a Grand Prix prospect be­cause he’ll do piaffe out of walk, one should re­al­ize that the horse may be a long way from be­ing able to do it with tran­si­tions in the ring.

When the horse is trained through trot–walk tran­si­tions, there’s no day when you fi­nally say, “We’re go­ing to do piaffe and pas­sage to­day.” The horse’s ed­u­ca­tion is phys­i­cally and men­tally seam­less and the horse builds con­fi­dence along with com­pe­tence.

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