I’m training piaffe in-hand with a horse I have at the moment and am curious if anyone here is experienced in piaffe and would have a solution to a horse bouncing the croup up and down rather than sitting and engaging their hindlimbs? The horse in question loads her forelimbs instead of lightening and lifting through her thoracic sling. She is developed enough as far as strength and other in-hand work, postural training, engagement, etc (albeit all work in progress). We have been working for a year on piaffe (along with many other exercises) and she is not talented. I’ve achieved brilliant piaffes with Quarter Horses but she struggles significantly so any advice you have is appreciated.
Get rid of “lightening and lifting through her thoracic sling” and “postural training” and go ride the horse through many, many transitions until she truly is developed enough. Loosen her shoulders dynamically with loads of bending and counter bending.
Clearly, she is not yet strong enough or balanced enough to give you what you’re after. When you can pause in the middle of a down transition for 1 stride, 5 strides, just about forever without her falling on her head or bouncing her croup up, or you feeling like you’d better let the transition finish or something bad (falling on head, rushing off, tantrumming, etc.) then she will be strong enough.
This all assumes that the horse is sound in all hind limb joints and doesn’t have dreadfully straight-legged conformation and is not impossibly downhill.
It’s not magic, it takes a LOT of strength, what I call a cross between ballet strength and weightlifter strength to make even a few good piaffe steps. Take her back to the gym/studio for a whole lot more reps
Meanwhile, carry on in hand with hind leg raises, shoulder in, etc. and make sure she wants to go forward at all times. You’re not going to develop sitting ability from a horse that is stuck. It’s the ones who always want to go forward that will find their way to sitting when they are asked to go and not go at the same time. The ones that are phoning it in will put you on hold with The Worst muzak ever.
Good luck and good patience.
This is perfect, and totally accurate
One of the best paragraphs written on COTH.
My Trakehner mare piaffed of her own volition if you didn’t allow forward motion when she was 3. She simply wants to DO all the time, and has the right conformation for piaffe / sit behind. That was certainly no FEI test worthy piaffe, but clear diagonalization in place. We didn’t school it as a movement until she was 7, but that desire to go forward and to offer more was the key.
It takes years to develop a good sitting piaffe. What you are getting in a years worth of time, especially the first year of schooling it, may very well be on par with what one should expect. Think of developing it over the career of the horse versus a short period of time. You usually start to see good piaffes after about 4 years of development IMO.
Thank you. I understand it takes time. I want to make sure I develop her properly and the fact that she is bouncing her hind legs up and down makes me think I’m doing something incorrectly. She is getting a lot of other work to strengthen her at the same time. But she does struggle quite a bit with lifting her forehand.
My TB will piaffe during a downward transition after jumping a big fence😀. He’s so much fun!
Not enough proper suppling and strengthening work under saddle. If she has never been asked to take weight behind and sit through transitions, the habit isn’t there and the strength isn’t there even for piaffe in hand.
Either that or she is lame somewhere behind that is preventing her from sitting which prevents her from “lifting” her forehand. No matter what the woohoo nutjobs try to tell you, you cannot get proper lifting without proper sitting. The forehand will not just magically lift itself. the strength and suppleness and balance of the hind end needs to be there to support the weight shift.
A year of in-hand piaffe and the horse is still bouncing should be a red flag that something is going on in your overall training/the health of the horse. We start in hand so that it is easier without the burden of the rider’s weight, so a year is a significant amount of time to still be at baby steps in hand.
Go back to basics in hand and especially under saddle to make her stronger, more supple and help her understand she can bend her hocks and carry her weight in a more rearward balance.
Make a little experiment - bend over so you have your weight on the balls of your feet and your fingers. Experiment with different methods of balancing and different postures of your spine (in yoga speak - cow and cat), with bending your knees more or straightening your knees more, with engaging your lower abdominals or leaving your abdominals as slack as possible, arch just your lower back, curl your tail bone under, etc. Play with these things to find out which makes it easier to lift your fingers and place them back softly. Unless you’re super coordinated, your “hind legs” can stay motionless in each position, that will give you enough of an idea of the exercise of finding muscle groups that support a light front end.
There is a grand prix horse in my barn who started out this way - weight forward on the shoulders, butt bouncing. He clearly thought of piaffe as its own thing, not something that he had to fluidly move in and out of as part of trot. It took my trainer several years to re-wire him. She did not work it on the ground at all - but she did do thousands of trot transitions in the saddle, and I don’t think she piaffed more than two steps in a row in that first year (except in the show ring).
It might be that the horse thinks they are doing it right and hasn’t connected sitting with piaffe. Or it’s hard to sit so he just kind of moves his feet around and calls it good. What truly teaches the horse mentally to actively sit in collection is that he is thinking he might push forward in the next step so transitions, transitions, transitions as people have said. Probably always trot a horse like this out of half steps or piaffe and transition into a nice forward trot before stopping, don’t just stop in places when you are done.
It is also possible for a horse to be too strong in the glutes and not strong enough in the hamstrings or tight in the hamstrings which makes it hard to sit, especially mares (this same problem leads to injury in human athletes). Think of them as opposing muscles: hamstrings are for rearing/ kicking out and glutes are for jumping forward and up. A capriole is the extreme example but even when going from simple collected gaits to long gaits you are asking your horse to go from using one muscle group to the other and to make that transition smoothly and strongly they must have healthy muscles with a balance of power. Of course some of this is genetic, baroque horses and racehorses have probably the opposite in terms of inherent muscle dominance. But! there are many things you can do to improve this: muscle releases, stretches, exercises etc. A lot of “old school” exercises like the school halt were specifically to develop the hamstrings and we do less of that today in our training in general. I like to ask for rein back and walk raised cavaletti (you can hear my horses sigh when we do this like ugh, not again, so boring) and of course going up and down hills and steep banks especially is the most natural way to teach a horse to sit down on its hocks. Also remember- because they are opposing muscles it is important to not over-strengthen the glutes at the same time.
How old is this horse? How are her walk/trot/walk transitions? Walk/canter/walk transitions? Walk/halt/rein back/halt transitions? Do you do any cross training such a trails with hills (done properly), small jumps? If so, does she stay balanced on her own with all of that?
Just wanted to say that this is a great post. I was going to say similar, but I you’ve explained it well enough.
I love this advice!!! Also, piaffe should trained FORWARD, not in place, up until the horse has the strength. You are asking for trouble if you ask the horse to piaffe in place from the get go. Half steps for eternity until the horse is strong enough to carry it in place.
All of the above but will add
Where are you tapping her…??
I would make sure when I touch a hind leg with the whip just standing still, that I get the reaction in the leg that I want. In other words when I touch up the hind leg that the leg comes under and up and they can hold that posture before I include more energy into the question for the horse.
I’ve had one when we started him (at four) to lift the hind leg he pulled the hind leg out and back (his method of moving was such we needed to address ASAP before he learned all the work with trailing hocks)… we worked for one year just to get him to lift the hind leg and shape into a posture that had him folding the hind legs. One leg at a time, very quiet and relaxed and no pressure. Now he’s 8 and last year we started actual half steps and they are correct.
Some horses I tap up on the cannons… some the hock… some on the hip… some the croup. I have one special boy at GP that I move the whip around all of the above to keep him fresh because he’s lazy and gets zoned out if I stay in the same place and I don’t want to increase pressure by tapping him harder.
always go forward. piaffe is not about learning from a halt. it’s about turning a power forward trot into a trot on the spot. you can’t train it backwards.
also, tapping up on top of the croup i’ve found makes horses bounce up against the whip, where as off you though admittedly potentially problematic… the hocks or stifles they tend to sit more.
but really, once you’ve trained it from a halt, the backwards training is hard to undo. make sure you collect it from a real forward trot, and educate the folding of the hind legs by teaching proper half halts with correct timing and release
There are many roads. The really hot ones benefit from the quietness of learning it from walk or, in hand, from halt.
Same with whip placement. Some horses don’t read the directives sent to them. I currently have, and have worked several, that will absolutely sit more to a tap on the croup. Depends on their natural reactions and on previous training.