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The piaffe is the pinacle of collection in dressage, being an extreme connection of power, sit, and cadence. I believe that piaffe is a movement that the horse should be given a long period of time to understand and perfect. But when is it right to begin the piaffe? Truly I cant say for certain as all horses are individuals, but I do believe there are some necessary parts that will make the training progress much quicker. For most of my horses I like to begin piaffe when they are 6 years old, or when they are schooling third level. At this point in their training they are able to understand and take pressure which the collected movements put on them. Additionally, they have an understanding and strength for balance and sit which are two very imperative parts in the piaffe.
Most of our young horses we teach a "game" when they are cross tied, teaching them to pick up and hold each of their legs. We begin this by using a whip, but eventually many of them will use it against us as a form of begging. Interestingly, I have not found an easy correlation between this and the piaffe other then getting them used to the whip aid and having an understanding of picking up their legs. So how do I begin teaching the movement?
- First I highly recommend either a tall arena wall or fence to help with straightness
- you wanted to stand up near the horses shoulder/ neck, holding reins in one hand (I have had some prefer that i hold reins individually in each hand too). Its very important that you keep the reins fairly short, but this isnt for pulling them back. Additionally you want to keep your arm/elbow up in a higher position to encourage straightness
- always keep moving! When you teach the piaffe it is essential that you keep walking so that the horse does not feel claustrofobic and that they understand this is a forward movement.
- use a whip, preferably a longer one ( I use a simple dressage whip, but it is easier to use a piaffe whip). Apply this pressure to the top of the croup. The horses will often either over react or under react when this aid is intially applied. Jeriah ran back to the barn 4 times on his first day of piaffe, so be patient! The first couple of sessions is teaching them how to react to this new pressure. If they are lazy to the whip aid then you need to apply more pressure until they react and then reward, if they are hot to the aid then you want to gain the ability to apply it without them throwing a tatrum or running over you.
- We train piaffe for no more then 5 minutes 2-3(sometimes 4) days a week. I like to do 3 or 4 passes, rewarding each time with a walk and some sugar once they at least give the movement a good effort. Bucking, Kicking, rearing, striking, or any other bad behaviors are not allowed. Often the horses will kick at the whip, this often means they are overly sensitive to the aid and do not understand it as a "sitting" aid. Many horses will try to run you over initally, this is where i will use back up and our previous ground work. I do not use back up for the piaffe, this teaches then backwards and I do not believe it will produce a correct piaffe.
Eventually you will have something that resembles a piaffe. The horse should be light and understanding of the whip as a "sit" aid instead of as a "drive" aid and therefore you should not feel as if you are being run over. Holding your arm up also helps the horse understand the direction of the energy.
Be understanding that all horses have a different ability and look to what is "sit" for them. Not all horses can look super classical in their piaffe because physically they are not built in a way where they can. A horse like Illuminator, who is fairly straight in the hind leg, sits very differently then a horse like Jeriah, who takes the hind leg way under him.
Feel Free to email me at email@example.com if you are looking for further clarity or have further questions.
So I thought It would be interesting to tell everyone a little bit about my various partners that I get to work with on a daily basis! I have quite the string of horses currently and thanks to my friends and DHH breeder I always have an inflow of new horses. So here is a bit about the massive 11 horses currently in my barn!
Coulee Bend Harmony, known around the barn as "Mae" or if she is in a mood -- Cow B****. She is 17 this year, and it is likely it'll be her last year competing. My family purchased her from Coulee Bend morgans in 2002 when she was a weanling to be my dads next reining horse-- that didnt work out because she kinda hates my dad(Lol). She kinda just got light training and wasn't shown much for a number of years-- My sister and her competed in some local open shows and dressage shows. I took over the ride in 2013(?), and absolutely hated her. There was a solid 2-3 year period where we were in an on again off again relationship including a pretty score of 52% in our first 3rd level test. I started competing her 3rd level and FEI Juniors in 2016 to some better success, but even then the whole team feeling wasnt really there. In 2017 our scores improved and so did our relationship, finishing the year on a 67% at 3rd level. Unfortunately in 2018 a unusual ouchiness presented itself and took her out for the entire season-- but now after some steep vet bills she is back in action helping me hunt down PSG and I-1. She is now become my "steady-eddie" and we have a very workman like relationship-- she does good she gets treats lol!
We will continue in an age order I guess! Next-- the King of the farm, Wouter. My parents and business partner purchased him on a whim last march. He is a 16 year old KWPN imported Stallion, sire of around 600-700 foals. He made it through to the 2nd round of KWPN stallion testing but was never licensed or approved unfortunately. Wou is the grandsire to a number of my other horses and is something amazing to own. He has a very keen attitude with outstanding movement even after years of not helpful training. He is a very "talkative" kinda horse-- always snorting or making noises of other kinds to ask you questions. We look forward to seeing what foals he put on the ground for us and are happy to give him the retirement home he deserves.
Onward! Now for Forrest. A 12 year old gelding whom I purchased a few years ago and is now kinda the baby horse- baby sitter. I purchased him with the hopes to make him a high level dressage horse, but neither his brain or body agreed and after a year of training I decided that he would be better suited to the lower levels and lighter work. With that being said he is really the awkward clown of the barn! He is sweet and funny and fairly easy to work around. Now that I have such limited time due to school he has taken on the life of being the young horse baby sitter in the field. I believe he would make someone a great horse-- but until the right person comes along I guess he can enjoy the lazy life.
Okay now for one of My favorite munchkins! Spencer-- Big Indian Creek. I was looking for a project pony and ended up with a crazy pony sit machine. Back In 2014(?) I posted an ISO looking for a young morgan pony, I got a message back from a trainer of a top morgan horse barn. She told me about then-- Arnold-- and how he was a twim and because of this would make him too small for a top morgan show horse. Well, dont mind if I do! Needless to say we went and tried spencer and he came home with us that same day. Now things with spencer have not been all rainbows and sunshine, I became frustrated with his canter and gave him to my parents for awhile, took him back and earned varying scores in his first year of competition. Keep in mind this was my first young horse! Our second year of showing started out with him pulling a muscle and missing the first show we had planned for, but the comeback was sweet-- earning top placings in big regional championship classes with respectable scores. But I had never planned to keep spencer. My mind changed when one day I asked for a half-halt and I got a half step on passage-- WHAT!? this pony with front legs inches shorter then his hind legs and a back that could be considered long can sit? Thats what I like about spencer the most-- he is an underdog, everyone laughs at him because of this size, build, and natural movement, but he is truly an overachiever and given the opportunity to surprise people, he will. Okay, he could passage and piaffe-- but can he change and pirouette? Gosh the changes have been a struggle, but when they are good, they jump in the front and sit on his pony butt. We have begun multiple changes this last fall/winter, and apparently his favorite way to school them is on a circle-- Okay overachiever...... And Pirouettes? Just wait, we are only at working pirouettes now but when he has the strength for real, big horse pirouettes he is gonna give those 6-figure warmbloods a run for their money. Spencer isnt a great horse because he is naturally talented like lets say leading stallions Revolution or Totilas, but because he has the heart to do Dressage. So in conclusion, dont overlook something just because it looks like nothing, that nothing may teach you the most and take you to the most incredible places. Enjoy a slideshow of my Pony friend below:
Wow-- we are going to take a huge jump in age group to my coming 5 year old, Illuminator. This horse is the love of my life, my heart horse or whatever you wanna call it. He goes by "lumie" or "fruit-of-the-loom" or "Richard" or "Twisted Steel and Sex Appeal" depending on the day. I fell in love with illuminator at first sight, in 2016 at a horse auction I was attending-- I was a 16 year old girl and he was a 2 year old black stallion, need I say more? But there is a plot twist, we didnt buy him. Instead he sold to someone else and we got the opportunity to meet our business partner and good friend who had bred him. Flash forward a solid 6+ months, Johnny(my business partner), who had been listening to me go on and on about Illuminator for awhile called us and explained how he was available. But when my parents went to go see him he wasnt the horse we all had remembered, ribby, dead eyed, and obviously very sick, he was completely 3 legged lame. My parents obviously couldnt take on the liability, and I was devastated. Johnny sent a vet out( to a horse he didnt own) following this and we found out that he had an infected castration wound and extreme thrush. We had planned to go get him following this, but the night before we were supposed to get him he had a catastrophic colic. Thankfully he pulled through. A few weeks later Johnny tells me that he has a "Christmas Present" for me and it was none less than illuminator. After a few months of rehab I started him undersaddle. Lumie is extremely intelligent, easily the most intelligent horse I have work with, and therefore he learns things very quickly. He has had some up and downs with his competition year last year, honestly I can't tell if he is just bored with training level or if he is just very naughty. I have so much fun with this horse-- he is an absolute kick to live around. He has got such easily lateral work for a not even 5yo and he is just a super horse. I look forward to working with him for many years to come and hopefully making him an FEI horse.
Next we have Jeriah. He is also a coming 5 year old. My parents purchased him as a, TINY 2.5 year old. I mean I doubt that he was more than 14.3H. Regardless we brought him in not knowing much about his bloodlines, he comes from a imported STER mare and sired by a Patijn son. He has absolutely super gaits that are a dream to ride when they are good. I started him as well, but about 2 months into his training I decided to hand him over to my dad for strictly "chill" work because his brain was not ready to take on dressage training. At this point an for the fall of his 3 year old year I was not a huge fan of him, he was a bit reactive and tedious to train at the beginning. With that being said when I took him to show this past spring he took to the environment and held his brain so well I couldn't believe he had never been shown before! Torrential rain, crazy weather changes, and blowing tarps didnt fluster him and his high score this season was a massive 75+%. As most young horses he has been on a bit up down with how his training is going, but he is such a treat with the talent and ability he has to work with. He is another one I feel very lucky to be bringing up the levels.
Onward to a taller beast, JND's Paul George aka Ringo. Ringo came to us in 2016, and he was absolutely completely FERAL. And BIG. Which let me tell you, that is a mildly concerning combination. Regardless, Ringo has such a kind soul, absolutely will try so incredibly hard for his person. I have put my mom, my dad(regularly hacks him out), my sister, and a young rider on him and he is such a baby sitter in some way-- or as much of a babysitter a baby horse can be. He learns quickly and takes the training pretty well. Did I mention that he also jumps? Yup-- he loves to jump and packed me over an almost 3ft fence. I hope to see him off to an event home because I believe that is where he will have to most fun and be the most fulfilled in his career.
Another, massive 17H beast that we have is Jamora. I suspect few of you know much about this one as I have not shown her yet. She is a coming 5 year old and is a KWPN STER registered mare. My parents purchased her last June, and she marks being the first mare in which we have purchased since doing dressage. My parents and I have a lot of controversy on the mare topic-- but thats for another day. "Jama" is a very very opinionated Gal. I have just started riding and training her over the last few months and she is remarkably balanced green bean. Sorry-- I dont have too much else to share about her yet!
Now for the singular 3 year old(well coming 4), Kidrock. This almost 17H dork is one of my "keepers". I have had my eye on him since he was a yearling, and he came into our barn in June of last year and has basically been getting lots of time to grow-- I am not sure exactly how much taller he has gotten, but he is currently decided to only grow up and not out. He is definitely a late bloomer and my parents like to call him Melman after the giraffe on Madagascar because of how awkward he is. Poor Kid! I have sat on him a few time and walk him once, but he has not begun full time work because even though he will be turning 4 in a few month he has the maturity of a 2 year old. With that being said he is an absolute sweetheart and definitely a bit on the sensitive side-- Jeriah is his Uncle(half brother to Kid's Dam). I picked kid primarily for his outstanding gaits-- his walk is clear and has a little toe flick, his trot bio-mechanically is super clean and shows a lot of potential for future expression, and his canter displays good jump. I also quite like his sloped hindquarter/croup, it is a bit more unusual for a sloppy croup in the harness horse lines. Overall I can't wait to see what this guy is gonna turn into-- but for now we are kinda just taking it easy and letting him grow.
Now for Legacy. This is not a horse I own, instead he is in to be sold. He is owned by my business partner, and he is also a bit unusual for us to have because he is 1/2 Dutch and 1/2 Standardbred. We typically prefer purebreds or as close to it we can get, but I have quite liked this guy since he was a baby. He floats when he trots-- it incredible. And did I mention his color? Flaxen chestnut with tons of chrome and then a lot of wild white throughout his coat. So when his owner said he didnt know what to do with him I took him on because someone has to see what I see and not just simply what his papers say! Did I mention he is a snuggler? Absolutely such a friendly, sweet young horse. I hope we can find him a person who will appreciate him as much as we do!
Okay, #11. Here we have Mcqueen. He is a coming 2 year old KWPN gelding. My mom and I purchased him last fall-- went halves on him. He is also a unique pedigree, Jeriah is his Uncle as well(on the dam side), and Wouter is a brother to his grandsire. Mick got the Patijn/Whiskei looks-- this horses are drop dead gorgeous as far as their eyes and head is concerned. He is the "baby" of the barn and honestly I think we let him get away with more then he should. But regardless Baby Mick gets another year of living the lazy baby life before he begins his full time work. I'll be curious to see how he develops out.