Schooling Piaffe: A test of Self-Carriage

Vintage Dinamico....Manolo likes to long line using his one ring cavesson. These images are not finished Piaffes but a succession of steps during Piaffe schooling.

There are a few things Manolo considers crucial when schooling Piaffe. Thefirst one is that the horse be physically ready to start schooling as Piaffe demands enormous 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 that the horse be allowed to move without the handler blocking or framing it. This is true for schooling and then later on when performing Piaffe in the saddle or in-hand.

In Manolo's experience, this physically and mentally demanding 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 his posture and balance to find the "sweet spot" . You can see this in the images below, each Piaffe step is slightly different as Dinamico and Manolo work together towards Dinamico developing better and better balance. 

To be beautiful, ultimately when we have helped prepare him, 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 in their expectations. 

Balance also means for the handler/rider to be "well within" and to be able to expect neither too much nor not enough from his friend the horse. When the handler teaches the horse to Piaffe, the horse teaches the handler patience, consideration, awareness and collaboration. 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 a perfect Piaffe 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 art.

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