This article was written years ago and although I changed focus, I thought it was an interesting one to bring over to the new website.
Funny, the bridle-less piaffe is still tickling along in the back of my mind. Maybe all Peggy Cumming’s Connected Riding work that I have been learning is one of the baby teps that I needed?
Certainly all of the baby steps that I have listed here have improved, sometimes dramatically!
Here’s that article…
Bobby and I have gone back to bridleless. We’ve been working on the pre-requisites (what has to happen before it can happen) for getting piaffe bridleless. I’ve seen Philip Nye do it with just a little piece of rope in his horse’s mouth, so I think it’s possible. (Phil is a mega more talented rider than me though!)
Piaffe is a dressage movement where the horse is dancing up and down on the spot, at the trot, very gracefully, very controlled, very powerfully.
It’s been fun exploring with Bobby all the elements that will eventually add up to being able to do piaffe bridleless – that’s nothing at all on his head, no bridle, no halter, no nothing.
The first element is a really good self carriage, with a long and low’ish head carriage at the beginning, a lengthened spine, a strong, elevated back, a soft and rhythmic stride. For those of you who do not know what all these words mean, have a look at the photos on this website header – all three of these horses are in various stages of self carriage – and all on long reins.
So why do we need self carriage for a good piaffe? You can get a piaffe without self carriage, by putting your horse in the right “frame” with legs and reins, but it will be weak in the power of the dance and it will most likely lack most of the elevation that is possible from that horse – and it will certainly be missing the joy and expression. You have to be a really good rider to get a piaffe that is forced by leg and rein and it is a pale imitation of the real thing.
From self carriage to piaffe is quite possible for the medium ability rider when you use Bobby’s Way of being with your horse. Yep, you read that right. you don’t have to be a great rider to get a piaffe when you use Bobby’s Way of being with your horse.
You do not “do” anything to put your horse into self carriage. By definition the horse is carrying himself. A horse who is not in self carriage is not in his comfort zone. When I got this from Bobby, I was astounded – and it IS that easy.
Over and over again, we help people bring their horses into glorious self carriage just by helping them find their horse’s comfort zone. And it is easy using Bobby’s Way of doing things that I wrote about in Zen Connection with Horses and Bobby’s Diaries – Straight From the Horse’s Mouth to You.
Bobby is giving me the self carriage – and giving it to me bridleless – with absolutely nothing on his head. I’m telling you that it is the most glorious feeling to be having such fun on this horse!
So we have the first element for bridleless piaffe.
You can have self carriage with your horse quite easily too, when you understand how. You can make a good start on that with the completely free gift lessons The Six Keys to Happiness with Your Horse. You can get those awesome insights by registering at the top of this page on the right hand side.
But back to the piaffe…
There’s a lot of power in piaffe, so we need some good muscle development over the back and through the shoulders and hindquarters and hocks – that’s the next element that we need. We’re getting more muscle tone day by day as Bobby gives me really nice self carriage for just about the whole ride. It’s quite rare for him to come out of self carriage now – he’s almost always in some degree of it.
To develop muscle power over the back and hindquarters in your horse, it is only necessary to do the correct excercise every three days – a couple of times per week. Muscles build up and grow easily when we stress them a little, then give them about three days to recover. If we stress the muscle day after day for too long, the muscle will get sore and will find recovery difficult. The correct excercise that will start this building of the back muscles is … you guessed it – self carriage again! The key is to not ride them for too long at the beginning when they are suing their back properly for the first time.
I found with Matt, who had no back muscle on him at all, that starting with just a few minutes of carrying me differently and riding for just a little longer each day, was enough to grow his back muscle really dramatically in just three weeks (six or seven rides).
So for us, Bobby and I, the muscle power element is coming along nicely.
The next element that we need for piaffe is for me to be able to control Bobby’s “stop” and “go forwards” and “how fast?” with my seat and my energy alone. That element is coming along beautifully.
You need to get your “stop” happening with your seat and body – no hands. Your “go forwards” and “how fast” with seat and energy alone will come from the first step of never kicking your horse to go again.
Bobby and I can change speeds within the walk and trot just with energy alone and we’re working on the canter at the moment.
I still have a little sticky spot in my back as I ride softly down a transition (that’s a change in speed, for example from the trot down to the walk), but with a technique to fix it that we have in the book (yes, Bobby’s Diaries again – it is full of really excellent stuff!), that’s improving quite quickly. Bobby will drop his backside and do sudden, sliding type stops really easily, with nothing at all on his head, just from my seat signal. I need to change that sudden stop to dancing to a stop step by step.
So, there’s a couple of things within that next element that we’re still improving, but I can see where we are going with that.
The next element for bridleless piaffe is be able to tip his weight back onto his hindquarters. Maybe we could do that just by tipping MY weight backward – if we were REALLY together… Hmmm…
We need to get his weight tipped back so as to lift up the front end for the front legs to be able to dance up too. So this element, whilst at the early stages, looks like it is possible.
The next element of bridleless piaffe that I think we’ll need is to be able to ask him for more elevation, more lift in his stride, without going faster.
We have the definite beginnings of that. When I drop my ankles in and under his body he pretty much always gives me more elevation. We’ll need a lot more elevation than that for piaffe, but what we have is a good start. We’ll keep improving on that.
The last element that I can see is to be able to ask for the combination of more elevation whilst at the same time asking him to lift up instead of going forwards and do that with my body only. That’s going to take some work, but we’re sure going to have fun doing it!
Now why the heck would I want to be doing a piaffe with nothing on my horse’s head?
Firstly to prove that just about everything you want to do with your horse comes from your body not your reins. Bobby was seriously sick of me pulling on him!
Secondly, cos’ I always did like to have go at stretching the boundaries of possiblilty and do reee…ally difficult things. The funny thing is, though, that so far it’s not difficult at all. It’s going to be interesting to see how hard those last steps are.
Thirdly, cos’ you guys will see that an overweight, middle aged, learnt to ride as an adult, not a great rider, can do this amazing stuff with her wonderful horse’s willing co-operation. Then you will see that Bobby’s Way of doing things really is a path to getting the results of the gifted rider.
It’s the old “if I can do it, anybody can!” Come and join us on the wonderful journey of a life time. We’ll either make it, or not – but we’ll sure as heck have fun trying!
And if you haven’t gone and gotten your amazing gift yet – pop on up to the top of this page and register for it now! You can also read about WHY I am making such an awesome gift, if you go into The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse from the Training Programs page.