In Hand Work with 'Ted'.
This is a video of Ted, 6 years old at the time of the video. Apologies that the clarity is not brilliant will hopefully be getting a better camera and then will have some more videos to show. The great bit was that he was so anxious when I first started working with him but over time the trust really grew to the point shown in the video he is piaffing without me having to hold. It shows a brief glimpse of the work in hand that builds the suppleness and energy to the point where the horse offers the work including the piaffe.
The video link: Ted in-hand
Basically I put the in-hand work into two catagories. The Spanish Riding School (SRS) style, preformed with roller, side reins, cavesson, bridle and lunge line and the Iberian style, which is basically working with just the bridle. I personally think there are plus's and minus's to each system.
I normally work with more the SRS style however when Ted was first presented to me (I was already in the school having just finished working with another horse) I could not get the roller near him for love nor money. He was already backed and broken and working very well at this point but this showed his dislike to anything out of the ordinary. So instead of making an issue I worked him just off the bridle. As time went on I seemed to favour this way with him although I have, for his comfort point of view, shown him that the roller was not a fire breathing dragon!
I started with the basic structure and then I slightly vary my hand position depending on what I feel I need to help the horse with most. Being 6ft 1in I suppose I do have the advantage that I can place my hands really where I wish. I also think its good and a test of "on the aids" for the horse to feel comfortable with some variation from me however its more of a test of my aids than the horses response.
To start with I simply helped Ted to get used to me. He needed to trust me from the ground, which initially he did not. This is not reflection at all on his previous handling. However I firmly believe that true calmness and trust come through succeeding as opposed to wrapping a situation in cotton wool. So I asked Ted questions and through praise and release we started to bond. The questions on day one were very simple - walk with me, not ahead, not behind. Stop when I ask, go when I wish. That is all I did. However when one thinks about what this entails it was indeed the basis for everything else to come.
If I was always having to "pull him along with me" it would indicate a total lack of forward urge. If I could not release the aids and have Ted walk along side me without him rushing past then I would never have the soft control of power with the rein aid release. In essence for the piaffe I need great energy (the want to go) and the soft half halt (the staying with me).
This was established quite well and now I needed to work his body to such a position whereby I felt he could offer my long term request. Suppleness was my first theme and it is always based on two aspects - over the topline tail to ears and left/right sides. Ted has quite a high head carriage and this restricted the flow over the back and thorugh transitions he would brace the neck slightly. So although he was comfortable stopping on request the quality / mechanics of how he halted needed addressing. So I patiently worked with the walk halts such that Ted would halt softly but with his neck draped. When this started to happen he would halt with his hindlegs staying stepping up into the transition. Thus they would allow for an increased crispness to the upward transition. Inbetween short periods of this work I would let him long and low - another reason for using the Iberian style rather than the SRS method.
Then I had to work the suppleness through the sides. Starting with leg yield, giravolta, shoulder-in and so forth. Looking not just for him going through the motions but rather that Ted kept the softness to hand, the crispness forwards, the length of step through etc.. This was interspersed with periods of work in the trot and trot walk trots following the same principles.
Gradually all this work came together such that Ted felt supple, straighter, more balanced and more energised but with a softness to the hand. He felt contained yet soft, he was light to the hand yet energised - the piaffe steps came next. This is maybe a little hard to put into words but when worked this way the horse almost offers the half steps as the energy has been built up through the work previously. For example with extended trot the rider should feel much more like they are releasing the horse from the collection into the extension. You should never have a feeling of trying to get into the extension by simply driving forwards. In a similar way the transitions, rein back and lateral work, with the focus on how its done and the relevance to the individual horse results in a stored enery that the piaffe almost appears from.
I end up with the hand holding both reins by the withers for the piaffe as I feel the reins at this point should be light and soft and a mere channel forwards for the energy to the contact. If there is too much lateral deviation then I best come away from the piaffe steps, work on the relevant issues and then either finish for that day or return to a step or two.
It is never the question of taking the horse to the fence and saying "today we work the piaffe".
This attitude, in my opinion, leads to all manner of difficulties. I suppose another thought
to back up my thinking is quite a simple one. Leg yield is a movement - and to a degree, needs
to be started at some point. Piaffe is a trot with tremendous energy and poise - and those aspects
are the key, not the piaffe. Chase the piaffe and you will be in trouble; work the ingredients and
let the piaffe work come to you.