The Canter Pirouette
Cynthia F. Hodges, JD, LLM, MA
"The pirouette is a kind of volte except that it is performed on one spot and does not exceed the length of the horse. The croup stays on the center and the inside hind leg serves as the pivot around which the horse turns, the forelegs moving much more than the outside hind leg." (de la Gueriniere, 30).
In the canter pirouette, the horse should rotate around his inner hind hoof, which he picks up and puts down on nearly the same spot with each stride. It is important that the horse stay quiet and in the same collected rhythm, as well as maintain the bend in the direction of motion. The horse must be loose and straight before the pirouette should be attempted. The pirouette can be three sizes: the half-pirouette is 180 degrees and consists of 3-4 strides, the three quarter (270 degrees) pirouette consists of 4-6 strides, and the full pirouette (360 degrees) can be completed in 6-8 strides.
Before trying to do a pirouette, collect the horse as much as possible. Some very effective exercises are shoulder-in at the canter (plie), canter-walk-canter transitions, and canter-halt-reinback-canter transitions. Utilizing the correct timing for the half-halts is invaluable. Transitioning between collected, working, medium and extended canter will also improve the rider's control over the horse's canter.
The easiest ways to teach the horse the pirouette are from the travers and from the volte. From the volte, the circle size is decreased until the horse is so collected, he is stepping into his own hoofprint with his inside hind leg. One can also decrease (in steps) the circle size by riding "in" in travers. The horse should strive to go forward, and should be able to canter straight ahead at any moment.
To teach the horse the pirouette on the straight line, ask him for counter canter and ride the long side staying about 4 meters from the rail. Just before the short side, the horse should be collected to the point where he is almost cantering in place, and then ridden in half-pirouette against the corner, later into a 3/4 pirouette. The horse must master the half-pirouette before work can begin on the full pirouette. Utilize the rail to persuade the horse to "sit down."
The aids for the pirouette are very much like those for the travers. Sit a little more heavily on the inside seat bone, with the inside leg at the girth and the outside leg behind the girth. The inside rein leads the horse into the turn. The inside leg keeps the inside hind leg from going in, and maintains the canter rhythm. The strong outside leg keeps the forward energy and turns the horse along with the inside rein and rider's weight, and prevents the haunches from falling out. The outside rein regulates the bend and prevents the horse from falling in with his shoulder.
Perhaps the toughest challenge in performing the pirouette correctly is deciding on the proper tempo. If the horse is too fast, his hind legs will not have a chance to come up underneath him; if he is too slow, the rhythm can be destroyed and the horse will lose the three-beat canter. It is worse if the horse turns on the correct spot but stops cantering. It is preferable that he make a bigger pirouette than is desired, but maintains the rhythm.
The more the horse carries himself through the pirouette, the lighter he will become in the reins. He should not be overly restricted by the hand, but plenty of half-halts should be given to maintain the collection. The haunches should not be overburdened by the rider leaning back.
Generally, it does not help to drill the pirouette, because the horse must stay loose and "through." By riding forward in medium and extended canter, the horse can be brought back to an energetic, rounded canter. When the horse is more relaxed, the pirouette work can be resumed.
Brandl, Albert. Perfekter Reiten. BLV Verlagsgesellschaft mbH; München, 1974
de la Gueriniere, Francois Robichon. Ecole de Cavelerie. Part Two. Xenophon Press: USA. 1992.
Hedlund, Gunnar. REITEN. Mosaik Verlag; München, 1979