Grand Prix dressage trainer Matt McLaughlin shares his system for starting piaffe. This almost always begins with in-hand work along the rail so the horse can learn the movement without a rider. McLaughlin reviews what you need to start: a safe rail that your horse can’t put his foot through and gloves to protect your hands. He also explains the importance of taking off your spurs so as you walk backward and sideways during the in-hand work, the spurs don’t get tangled.
McLaughlin then shares how he first makes sure that the horse’s basic fundamentals work by asking him to go forward in-hand and then to back up. “They have to go forward and back,” he says. “Somewhere in the middle lies the piaffe.”
Next, McLaughlin demonstrates how he introduces piaffe. He explains how he alternates using the whip by tapping the horse on one hind leg and then the other to ask him to pick up and put down each leg individually. He also shows how he uses the outside rein to help keep the horse straight. With the whip, McLaughlin works his way up the horse’s legs to ask him to come forward and up with each leg. He eventually taps the horse on the belly to ask him to come forward. But with his other hand, he asks the horse to stay a little more in place to produce piaffe.
McLaughlin stresses the need to be quick with a reward throughout. If the horse initially gets a step or two of what he’s asking for, he stops, pets the horse, says “Good boy,” and then repeats the process. The process may take days, weeks or months. (The demo horse is experienced with in-hand piaffe.)
Watch the video below to see the process in action!
About Matt McLaughlin
Matt McLaughlin began studying dressage and the art of training horses at an early age. He has successfully trained many horses through Grand Prix as well as multiple horses in haute école including capriole, courbette and levade. He has earned the USDF bronze, silver and gold rider medals and is a U.S. Equestrian Federation “r” judge. Based in St. Cloud, Florida, McLaughlin travels throughout North America and Europe as a clinician.
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