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Piaffe and Passage

Cynthia F. Hodges, JD, LLM, MA


The passage is a very collected and suspended trot. The horse jumps off of the ground with very cadenced strides. The piaffe is a passage in place. The rider balances the horse between the hands and legs. De la Gueriniere describes the piaffe as follows:

Piaffe (piaffer) is the action of a horse who executes a passage in one spot, gracefully bending his forearms and lifting his legs without bending incorrectly, moving forward, nor moving backward, and remaining obedient to the rider’s hand and legs. (de la Gueriniere, 17-18).

Once the horse has mastered the fundamentals, he's ready to start upper level movements. Briefly, these are:

• obedience
• relaxation
• rhythm
• suppleness
• swinging motion (Schwung)
• steady contact
• throughness
• straightness
• impulsion
• collection
• balance
• self-carriage

In order to achieve these goals, one can lunge, work over cavalettis and jump. Canter-trot transitions will help his looseness; circles, voltes and lateral movements will increase his straightness; halts, half-halts and rein-backs will improve his collection; and turn on the forehand will work on his obedience.
Piaffe is basically balancing the horse between the rider's hands and legs. How ever, it is best to do it in-hand first. Begin with the horse on side reins (snaffle bit) and with a lunging cavesson. You'll need someone to stand at the horse's shoulder and hold the lunge line. You in turn, will stand so that you can use a dressage whip right above his hock. The horse should walk first and then trot a few steps, which should be short ened until he moves into piaffe. Make sure the horse remains straight, and to maintain the forward motion, allow him to move about one hoofprint forward. Once the horse does this quietly and easily, you can do it alone using a dressage whip. Hold the reins over his withers (facing the horse) and use the whip above his hock (click, too).
Washington Animal Law


You can start him under a rider first by going back to the cavasson, lunge line and side reins. The rider should just sit very quietly without touching the reins to allow the horse to get use to his weight in the piaffe. When the horse is comfortable with the rider, you can pick up a light contact with the reins. With your legs and seat, shorten his trot strides until he takes a few piaffe steps (trot-halt transitions with ever decreasing trot periods are useful). The rider must sit relaxed in the saddle, with a bit more weight in the stirrups so as not to interfere with the horse's hind leg movement.
To learn passage, the rider can make transitions from working trot to collected trot, trying to keep the energy while the horse puts more weight in his haunches. You should use small, rhythmic half-halts and collect the horse with the legs to keep the trot. From the piaffe, the horse can be urged forward using a more driving aids. He should keep his balance for a few steps, then ride into a collected trot. Piaffe from collected trot should be practiced until he can move from the piaffe directly into passage.

The following is an excerpt from Louis Seeger's book, System der Reitkunst (pp.308-312), which has never been translated into English. (Source: http://www.classicaldressage.com/articles/seeger.html, Thomas Ritter.)
 
All well conformed and balanced horses can learn the piaffe, but only horses with much energy can learn the passage. It is therefore necessary to train horses according to their abilities and never force the passage, since otherwise the purpose would not be completely fulfilled, and consequently the correct tempo of the school trot is usually compromised. The latter is so valuable, however, that it must be preferred over the passage which is rarely seen executed correctly.

The horse advances only circa one foot with each stride in the passage.

If the hind legs step too close and too short, or too far forward, the front legs are raised too high, but lacking in the beautiful knee flexion, and the rein hand lacks the correct contact. One must then not be fooled by the high shoulder movements with extension of the entire front leg. The horse is either behind the bit or too hard on the bit and goes incorrectly. If the horse advances too far with each step, the action is more conspicuous, of a hovering and swimming nature. It is therefore also called "swimming step". But since this movement is possible only with rigid haunches and the horse has to lean onto the rider's hand, it must not be called passage and must not be counted among the airs.

The horse that is being trained in the passage must not lose the good school trot he had learned earlier. If this happens, however, one must return to the school trot.
It takes a great deal of skill on the rider's part to develop the horse's trot related movements into the correct school conform trot variations, so that he can ride the passage, the school trot, and the trot in balance at will.

The same exercises that were recommended for the school trot must be practiced in the passage as well. The aids have to be applied in such a way that there can be no interruption of the rhythm. This requires the rider's utmost concentration, especially in turns, and he has to direct all his thoughts into the horse. As soon as the haunches have acquired this complete flexibility, the rein contact alternates only between the soft and the light one, and can often be replaced by the weight of the reins alone, when it approaches perfection. This light rein contact that has been derived from the firm and the soft contact with so much effort is either completely unknown to riders who have never trained horses; or they interpret it incorrectly. They are so used to the firm or the soft rein contact, or no contact at all, they confuse the light rein contact of the perfectly balanced school horse with being "behind the bit", or they confuse it with riding "on the buckle".

Since the light rein contact is only the result of perfectly flexed haunches, which can never be maintained as long as the horse is able to approach the naturally crooked position, and since it is mainly the inside leg that prevents this, the application of the inside leg deserves undivided attention from now on.

The horse is less inclined to bulge against the outside leg in the passage, i.e. to fall out with his croup, rather than to bulge against the inside one, in order to make himself crooked, since this make it easier for him to regain his natural trot. Therefore, the inside calf predominantly maintains the passage. Its dominating effect applies not only to the passage on a single track, but also to the passage on two tracks, with even greater precision in its application, especially in the travers, in which the horse is more inclined to become crooked than in any other movement, due to its oblique position.

We already mentioned the importance of the inside leg in the half pass, in order to achieve the correct bend of the entire horse, emanating from the haunches, and thus to maintain the correct school tempo. In the travers-passage this counter-action of the inside leg is more subtle, stepping more into the stirrup on that side is often enough. It is indispensable, however, every step of the way, because otherwise the regularity of the gait and with it the light rein contact ceases.
 
This next passage is by Gustav Steinbrecht, a student of Louis Seeger's:
The true moment for beginning passage work has come if the horse is able to move fluently and in a clear rhythm in a highly collected trot according to its own particularities, that is, in the school trot, on one as well as two tracks, in any desired bend, and offers, when the collection is further increased, suspended steps on a straight line. Only a horse that performs its trot lessons perfectly securely and without constraints is sufficiently prepared for the passage and can be worked to advantage in this movement. The steps which it then offers upon asking for even more collection are free of painful tension and may be accepted without qualms. But those steps that it shows from time to time during the trot work, before the exercises at this gait are firmly established, have significance only to the extent that they demonstrate the horse’s ability to perform suspended steps. They are produced only because the horse is stiff somewhere, usually in the back or the hindquarters, and always involve some holding back; the must be suppressed under all circumstances. Since these tense steps furnish proof that collection was increased at the expense of suppleness, their eradication and the re-establishment of the pure pace can occur only by loosening the horse completely through correct forward riding.
G.Steinbrecht (1884, in: 1995, 268f.). (Source http://www.classicaldressage.com/articles/steinbrecht3.html)

References

de la Gueriniere, Francois Robichon. Ecole de Cavelerie. Part Two. Xenophon Press. USA:1992.
Hedlung, Gunnar. REITEN Dressur, Springen, Geländeritt. Mosaik Verlag. München, 1979.
Seeger, Louis. System der Reitkunst. Olms Presse. Berlin, 1844.



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