I'm curious; how many of you have read the FEI's rules of dressage? OK maybe not every single page or every single rule, but what about the section devoted to the specific requirements and descriptions of each movement? Surely that's something every dressage rider has read...or not.
To be honest, it's not something I had given much thought to until the barn where I board hosted a clinic with renowned trainer Jeremy Steinberg last year. Several participants asked for help improving their piaffe and Steinberg went into a lot of detail about what makes a good, correct piaffe.
The FEI description is very clear:
1. Piaffe is a highly collected, cadenced, elevated diagonal movement giving the impression of remaining in place. The Horse’s back is supple and elastic. The hindquarters are lowered; the haunches with active hocks are well engaged, giving great freedom, lightness and mobility to the shoulders and forehand. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with spring and an even cadence.
1.1. In principle, the height of the toe of the raised forefoot should be level with the middle of the cannon bone of the other supporting foreleg. The toe of the raised hind foot should reach just above the fetlock joint of the other supporting hind leg.
1.2. The neck should be raised and gracefully arched, with the poll as the highest point. The Horse should remain “on the bit” with a supple poll, maintaining soft contact. The body of the Horse should move in a supple, cadenced and harmonious movement.
1.3. Piaffe must always be animated by a lively impulsion and characterised by perfect balance. While giving the impression of remaining in place, there may be a visible inclination to advance, this being displayed by the Horse’s eager acceptance to move forward as soon as it is asked.
1.4. Moving even slightly backwards, irregular or jerky steps with the hind or front legs, no clear diagonal steps, crossing either the fore or hind legs, or swinging either the forehand or the hindquarters from one (1) side to the other, getting wide behind or in front, moving too much forward or double-beat rhythm are all serious faults. The aim of piaffe is to demonstrate the highest degree of collection while giving the impression of remaining in place.
I will likely never be a Grand Prix rider, nor have I ever trained a horse to GP, so my knowledge regarding what a "correct" piaffe looks like relies 100% on the above description. Jeremy is both a successful GP rider and trainer, however, and he is adamant that where piaffe is concerned, the movement often seen in the ring (and often receiving high scores) does not necessarily match the FEI's description.
Instead of a lowered high end, he regularly sees bouncing croups. Instead of forefeet being raised higher than the hind feet, he frequently sees the opposite. Why the disconnect between what is supposed to be the ideal, and what is being rewarded by judges in the ring? Do the FEI's top international judges need a refresher course or does the FEI's description of piaffe in the rules need to be updated?
I had the pleasure of working with Jeremy to write an article for Horse Sport magazine on this very subject, including many of his helpful tips for introducing and improving the piaffe. Enjoy!
About the author
I'm a middle-aged, overweight, rusty re-rider who refuses to let any of that get in the way of my passion for dressage.