Manolo likes to sometimes work on piaffe with a bamboo and a long line using his one ring cavesson and regular lungeline. These images are not of finished Piaffe but of a succession of steps during Piaffe schooling.
There are a few things Manolo considers crucial when schooling Piaffe. The first one is that the horse be physically ready to start schooling this particular movement. Piaffe demands great amounts of physical strength, straightness and balance as well as mental focus and confidence for the horse to remain calm, attentive and stable as he flexes his joints deeply and rhythmically.
The second thing which Manolo considers crucial is that the horse be allowed to move without the handler blocking or framing it. This is true for schooling and then later on for when the horse is performing Piaffe in the saddle or in-hand.
Manolo prefers working from the cavesson and the middle of the nose and uses a long, thin and dry bamboo to help horses develop a good posture in piaffe.
In Manolo’s experience, this difficult movement cannot be performed correctly if the horse has a set neck and a stiff spine and pelvis as a result of the handler’s actions. A horse may compensate but the Piaffe will not be correct and the horse may get hurt.
Piaffe requires self-carriage.The handler’s role is to assist the horse, not restrict him, to help him develop the ability to use his body and flex his joints so that he can carry his weight without stressing one hind leg over another or damage his pelvis, stifles, hocks or tendons by stepping too far underneath himself, not far enough, too narrowly or too widely.
As the horse responds to the handler’s aids, in the beginning, it will experiment with its posture and balance to find his “sweet spot.”
You can see this in the images below: each Piaffe step is slightly different from the previous one as Dinamico and Manolo work together toward Dinamico developing better and better balance.
To be beautiful, ultimately, after we have helped prepare him over time, a movement has to be offered by the horse, it should not be coerced as nothing forced can be beautiful. Training simply means to help prepare the horse’s body and mind so he is comfortable and able to offer when we ask. However, it is not only the horse who must be balanced. The rider and handler must be balanced as well in their bodies, yes, but most importantly, balanced in their expectations.
Balance also means for the handler/rider to be “well balanced within.” To have the ability to gage finely what is necessary and fair and to ask and expect neither too much nor too little from his friend, the horse. When the handler teaches the horse to Piaffe, the horse teaches the handler patience, consideration, awareness and collaboration back. It is a two way street.
It is important to remember to be patient and accept that this learning process and physical progression towards self carriage and the best Piaffe the horse is capable off may take years. The wait is well worth it as a Piaffe born out of true self carriage and collection, on a horse fully confident in his balance and ability to deliver whatever the rider asks of him is a movement that crosses from athletic performance into living art.
A good piaffe is calm and straight.