This season I am making the scary jump from Small Tour dressage to the Grand Prix. The most frightening part? The piaffe.
My horse is naturally talented at the passage. When I first found that passage “button,” we both became addicted. We passaged in our corners, we passaged on the trail, and we passaged when we were supposed to piaffe.
In the piaffe, the horse needs to sit and take quick, short steps. This is challenging for a horse such as my own; he has to contain his desire to boing into forward momentum. He has to bear weight behind and rhythmically trot in place. Easier said than done.
This week my coach, rider/trainer/ judge Gabriel Armando, was in town. The last time we worked with Gabriel, our focus was on suppling in the half passes and leg yields. This week, however, we focused on the one tempis and the piaffe.
I have to admit, I’ve had sleepless nights over our piaffe. While my horse loves the exciting energy of the passage, I may love it even more. The piaffe seems so stale to me; I’ve never really understood how to keep that same delightful power of the passage in one place… aka the piaffe. When I was a little girl, my quarter horse mare was forward thinking, but short strided. I remember watching a dressage trainer piaffe on her extravagant warmblood at the local Horze Expo. The simplicity of it was wonderful! I took that movement and easily applied it to my little quarter horse. She instantly grasped the short, quick strides and while it wasn’t a piaffe for a 10, we were still trotting in place.
Gabriel was able to bring me back to the memory of my quarter horse mare. He had me focus on quick, short strides on a small circle. The idea was that I needed to keep my horse supple and active without blocking him in the bridle. I had to draw my heels back to his hocks, push my hands forward, and rhythmically use my voice to encourage him to carry his weight behind. And it worked! We got a few steps.
In the Grand Prix, I need 12-15 steps of piaffe. So, with the few steps I have, I am going to focus on building our strength and relaxation until we can effortlessly carry the required steps.
What I love most about Dressage is that it is easily applied to all horses and riders. The piaffe may be a Grand Prix movement, but with the right training and approach, anyone can build some quick, short steps into a trot in place.