Article by Philippe Karl for “Ridsport” (Sweden), spring 2008
Reply by Philippe Karl to the article “Få pejl på piaffen” in the Swedish riding magazine “Ridsport”, in which Eric Lette, former Chairman of the Dressage Committee of the FEI, comments on the perfect piaffe.
In his comments on the piaffe of Wilson, Mr. Lette wrote: “To go into the subject of piaffe in detail, I should need to write a book.” By the following analysis of his article I am going to exempt him from such a useless work and rather advise him to read some masters´ books.
1. Dressage cannot ignore the dictates of balance
As demonstrated by many experiences, a horse standing in natural position is on average carrying 5/9 of its weight on the front legs… plus 2/3 of the rider´s weight. Example: 450 kg horse + 75 kg rider, means 75 kg of extra weight on the front.
Following some simple rules of physics:
Wf x GF = Wh x GH,
it is easy to locate the dropping point of the center of gravity (G) into the support polygon.
2. Piaffe is supposed to correct the natural balance (at least)
By shortening its support polygon from behind (by 1 point), the horse is improving his balance:
Wf x 3 = Wh x 3 → Wf = Wh = 262,5 kg
The horse is then in horizontal balance.
By raising its neck to the full, the horse transfers ≈ 1/20 of its weight to the hindlegs (≈ 22 kg):
→ Wf = 251,5 kg and Wh = 273,5 kg
The horse thus starts to balance towards its quarters: the minimum conditions for a correct piaffe are brought together.
If the hindlegs were brought 1 point more under the body:
Wf x 3 = Wh x 2 → Wf = 210 kg and Wh = 315 kg
Raising the neck would then lead to:
Wf = 199 kg and Wh = 326 kg
By such a super piaffe, the balance of the horse could lead to a levade.
3. The fashionable piaffe of Wilson
- The support polygon is shortened by two points from behind... but also from the front:
balance of the horse: Wf x 1 = Wh x 2 → Wf = 350 kg and Wh = 175 kg
- The overflexion of the poll and lowering of the neck are at least transfering 10 kg to the front:
Wf = 355 kg and Wh = 170 kg.
So, the extra weight on the front is 185 kg.
- The motion confirms the balance status: no elevation of the front leg in the air.
We have now objective elements to estimate Mr Lette´s comments:
The piaffe of Wilson is not “rather good” (7 of 10 points), as it multiplicates the natural extra weight of the front by 2,3! It does not even deserve the mark “very bad”. It is the absolute contrary to piaffe: a perfect denial of collection!
Mr. Lette says: “Levade has no interest”. We could explain why… out of incapability.
If dressage goes on this way, one day “Rollkurade” could replace Levade!
- Mr. Lette asserts that piaffe has to result from many years of training the basis and the collecting lessons. He is fully right. That is the reason why such a pervert piaffe reveals a disastrous training system.
Among the “against nature” dogmas of official dressage leading to such a status are:
- obsession of flexing the poll and no respect to the mouth
- constraining tricks such as side reins, running reins, tight nosebands, etc.
- low hands... inevitably retro-active, leading to overflexion and Rollkur
- simultaneous use of pushing aids and refraining aids... leading to compression of the forehand instead of collection (i.e. lightening the forehand to balance towards the quarters)
- obsession of showy gaits and flying changes a tempi
- disinterest for collection
- and so on…
- In spite of Mr. Lette´s convictions, it is obvious that dressage riders, trainers and judges came to a grave misconception of piaffe and collection.
- Mr Lette says that people concerned by classical riding (including Philippe Karl) “only understood a part of the art of dressage…” Not considering the “complete” horse moving freely in all the gaits
with elasticity and “Schwung”. What is this “complete” dressage horse?
- over talented horses, exorbitantly priced (excellent conformation, fantastic gaits, nice character)... It helps!
- most of the time ambling (lateral walk) by way of collected walk. But from St. Georg to Grand Prix Special, the walk represents 5 to 10% of the points... It helps!
- making overflexion a principle, though all masters denounced it as a gross fault and even a defense... It helps!
- piaffe collapsing the horse on the shoulders, getting 7 or 8... It helps!
- an unbelievable proportion of this overtalented horses being ruined or unrideable within the first years of their career... but no comment!
In brief, this “complete” dressage horse concept is turning to a real disaster for the equestrian culture. It is surely a huge business, maybe a sport, but obviously not an art any more!
- Mr. Lette believes that refering to P. Karl will not help the dressage sport. I fully agree. The dressage authorities are too dogmatic, impregnated by so many misconceptions and twisted truths that they are unable to put themselves into question.
- I am only helping clever riders to get rid of these official impostures. I try to teach them a “complete” natural way of schooling, based on the respect of the horse and the best masters. My most advanced students are able to bring nearly any horses to correct flying changes, piaffe and passage... including jumping... Is this “complete”?
This is my critical answer to the original question: the piaffe of Wilson.
The readers will find my complete concept of schooling horses in the English version of my last book “Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage”.