Erik Herbermann's Piaffe Clinic

I think I started the rot by asking Erik if he would do some piaffe work with Sue Adams and (my) Icaro as although Icaro does piaffe easily from the saddle, he gets a bit confused if I ask him from the ground with someone else riding him. Then of course Joy said that piaffe would really improve Milo, and of course I can’t resist the challenge of “I-don’t-do-piaffe-Meastro”. Johann couldn’t be left out and neither could Russia so there we were - one horse that could do it, one that had no hope of doing it, and 3 horses that had been put under so much pressure from previous trainers that there was no way they would ever do it again! Thus we had a challenge on our hands.

Icaro gave Sue some nice feels and showed us all how easy it could be. Erik rode Milo several times then I rode him and then Joy rode him and between the three of us we had enough energy to inspire him to greater things. The result was that Milo learnt to stay between the driving and receiving aids, (the main object of the exercise), and did a few good steps. Joy was floating about a foot off the ground for days…!

Meastro was not so obliging. He knew about trainers with whips and new just how to deal with them. As Erik commented, “ One can’ t imagine what they did to him to make him react in this way” and then added ruefully “.. mind you I bet he has intimidated a few trainers in his time!” By mutual agreement Erik stayed somewhere near the centre line while I kept Maestro on the track in shoulder in with a good bend “ for everyone’ s safety”. With this very patient, sympathetic work, Maestro accepted the aids and produced a few steps without going airborne. I cannot think of anyone other than Erik whom I would trust to do this work with me and Maestro even though there were still some very dodgy moments.

Johann’s tactics were very different, he just went slowly into reverse with a few disdainful kicks at the whip. Again, it took very tactful work to gain his trust so that he would offer a few steps. Erik was very clear about the use of the whip and mostly just stroked it down the horses leg with no more than a very gentle tap at most. Sometimes he just lifted it and let it fall and at no time was there any of the frantic shuffling and whacking that one sees so often. On the other hand, when Rusisa reverted to “pause mode” a well timed flick with the lash was just what was required and I had some lovely trot work as a result!

However, it wasn’t all about piaffe and here are some points which I felt were particularly useful.

  • The “One chunk theory” - from just behind the saddle to about 18 inches in front of the wither must be like one chunk and whether it is straight or bent, it must be completely immobile. This confirms correct alignment and I found it very helpful for “keeping the neck the same” while steering.
  • If you have to hold the outside rein you have already lost the alignment. Likewise, your inside rein is not the corrector of your horses problems.
  • An untrained horse is like raw gold whereas a trained horse is gold fashioned into a beautiful object
  • Adjust and trust
  • Slowing the rhythm - don’t half halt, just “dwell”, “go against the water” for a bit until you get the right rhythm, then drive.
  • The school figure pre empts everything - forward and down while letting the horse drift off the circle is a waste of time.
  • Aid ahead of time, for no apparent reason. It is like putting money in the bank for some future purpose.
  • Always bracket your two track work between good helpings of single track work.
  • If you feel like you have to use a lot of rein it is likely that there is not enough energy.
  • Running is never forwardness
  • Horses read our hearts not our actions
  • Serenity, feeling, participation, harmony
  • If you have good attitudes and good technicalities, the good feels will come.
  • The inside leg says three things - go forward, move off me and it is the pillar around which the horse bends.
  • Dressage is the return of freedom to the horse under saddle.

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