In a pirouette, the forehand of the horse draws a circle with the haunches-in
around the hindquarters. The outside hind leg turns around the inside
leg, which continues to leave the ground and land on the same spot,
maintaining the sequence of the canter throughout the entire Pirouette.
The Pirouette can be done at the walk, Piaffe or canter.
The canter Pirouette is a difficult exercise. It requires a lot of energy, limberness, submission and a great deal of collection from the horse.
Like for the Piaffe, Passage or the tempi changes, the Pirouette can only be taught to an already advanced and collected horse.
When a Pirouette is executed in harmony and lightness, it underlines the strength, limberness and balance of the horse. It requires a receptive horse who is focusing on the rider's slightest wishes, and a great intimacy between the horse and the rider.
The "fast pirouette", called a Spin, is an easier exercise for the horse requiring less strength and less collection.
The ideal Pirouette
The horse moves with fluidity and is light in his posture. He executes the Pirouette with ease and harmony.
The horse is consistently on the bit, and the angle between head and neck is very stable.
The bend (on the side of the Pirouette) of the entire spine (more or less pronounced depending on the horse) stays harmonious but is clearly visible.
The inside hind leg serves as a "pivot" to the Pirouette. It distinctly leaves
the ground and lands at the same spot at every stride.
The outside hind leg draws an even small diameter circle around the inside hind leg.
The horse's shoulders draw an even circle around his haunches, without putting more weight on either shoulder.
The rhythm of the canter is particularly slow and must stay absolutely unchanged.
The horse starts his Pirouette in a given cadence, executes the Pirouette without changing this cadence, and comes out of the Pirouette in a strictly identical cadence.
The horse gives out an impression of easiness, although the difficulty is real and the physical effort is major.
A perfect Pirouette is always a sign of good training and the signature of
a high level rider…
The aids for the Pirouette
Further back as in a collected canter, slightly turned in the direction of the pirouette, meaning parallel to the horse's shoulder. It is the chest that essentially defines the Pirouette… not at all implying that you can see it move in any particular way.
A little further back than the inside shoulder to control the movement.
Well upright, slightly moved back and looking over the shoulder into the direction of the inside haunch of the horse.
Slight twist of the belt (waist) toward the inside to position the horse's shoulders.
The center of gravity of the seat, which is rather on the outside buttock at the beginning of the Pirouette, gradually moves toward the inside buttock.
The buttocks are evenly flat, in the axis of the horse.
The lower back softly follows the movement.
Acts at the girth, supporting every stride of canter (every quarter of the pirouette), keeping the horse from leaning on the inside shoulder.
It maintains impulsion and overall bend until the end of the Pirouette.
The importance of the inside leg is critical.
The outside leg is more or less moved back, acting at each stride, controlling the haunches for the haunches-in, but without pushing them inside the circle.
It acts with contact but no pressure, and only when needed.
The outside leg must stay very relaxed, moved back to "seat" the horse, but without squeezing him on his haunches.
Gives the bend, positioned rather low. Passive.
Controls the movement of the horse's shoulders and may act in different ways.
By moving it toward the inside shoulder of the horse, the rider can control the trajectory of the horse's shoulders, while still controlling the haunches.
When the outside hand is positioned higher and slightly toward outside, it slows down the speed of the shoulders.
It is nevertheless the actions of the rider's two hands that control the horse's bend and the trajectory of the horse. And the determining factor still is the chest….
If the Pirouette is well prepared and if the horse is well balanced, the Pirouette can be executed while giving in with the reins (lowering of the hands). If the balance is not perfect and if the hand must intervene too often, the horse will execute the Pirouette with a rocking movement of the neck and head.
If the aids are used roughly, the Pirouette will be jerky, lack rhythm and the neck will sway. The movement then becomes ungraceful and looses all it's value….
If the aids used are smooth and precise and if the horse is well prepared, the Pirouette will be rounded, limber and harmonious.
How to teach the Pirouette
If you are very skilled, you can obtain a canter Pirouette straight from a
small canter circle with the haunches in.
But you will avoid a lot of future complications if you proceed progressively and methodically.
What the horse already needs to know:
His canter must be excellent, round, full of impulsion, straight, cadenced,
light… in short, very collected and well seated.
See the four beat canter on the haunches and the School canter (galop d'ecole).
He should be able to slow down the canter until he almost canters on the spot. If possible canter a couple of strides without going forward at all.
He must master all two-track exercises in all three gaits: half-pass and shoulders-in in all their different forms.
He must maintain his cadence unchanged by half-pass, Renvers, Travers, circles with shoulders-in, small circles… always staying round, always with impulsion.
The horse must be "placed on the bit" with no fault, never coming out of it for any requested exercise.
The horse must be reactive and focused on the riders' demands.
Meanwhile, the rider must be particularly well seated when cantering, always in balance and with his legs straight down and relaxed. He must master the canter with excellence, especially collected canter. He must "sense" his horse and have well timed quick and light reactions.
Ridden by such a rider, the horse is ready for a canter Pirouette.
Teaching the walk Pirouette:
First teach your horse a very collected walk Pirouette.
Always start on the side the horse feel more at ease.
Establish a good, rounded and relaxed walk, with your horse well placed and soft on the bit.
Then, ask for a circle with the shoulder-in without loosing cadence. Same thing with the haunches-in. Then, alternate the two exercises, giving particular attention to the transition's smoothness.
With the haunches in, shrink your circle to a very small diameter.
With your chest and a very subtle action of your hands, bring your horse to execute a quarter of a Pirouette (see "The aids"). Reward and walk straight.
Proceed the same way quarter by quarter, half Pirouette, three quarter Pirouette and finally entire Pirouette.
Work this way until you get a flawless Pirouette that is regular, cadenced, with the horse perfectly placed on the bit, yielding to your hands.
Teaching the canter Pirouette starting from the walk.
Here again, the preparation is very gradual and executed with great care.
Start with a walk Pirouette and ask for a couple of strides of canter during the Pirouette… transition back to a walk Pirouette.
Make sure to reestablish calm and lightness. Reward, walk on long reins, start over.
Always starting from a walk, slowly increase the amount of canter strides (one or two extra strides at each workout), until you manage the entire Pirouette.
When the horse executes the movement calmly, relaxed and with regularity, ask for the canter depart at the first stride of the Pirouette.
Work evenly on the right and left Pirouette.
Teaching the Pirouette starting from the canter.
First, confirm your canter half-pass:
- Obtain good half-passes: light, in balance, staying very parallel to the
- Gradually increase the degree of the sideways motion (a more lateral movement). Make sure to keep exactly the same rhythm when you get to the rail and straighten the horse.
- Half pass with the head to the wall and the haunches in on the long side of the arena, keeping the bend acquired in the corner of the arena. Straighten the horse before the end of the long side.
- Gradually continue in a half pass in the corner and the short side of the arena… Straighten or transition to a walk before the second corner of the short side.
- Increase your demands, take the second corner, then the second long side of the arena….
Reward a lot, stay light and never force the horse.
Once you acquired all this, increase the degree of the sideways motion again, until you get to almost ninety degrees (you should almost go perpendicular to the rail).
The horse must stay calm and at ease.
Not all horses are capable of reaching this sideways degree without stiffening
and hardening. Know when to moderate your demands so that you keep your canter
as short as possible. Also keep the canter very vibrant and very collected.
Depending on the qualities of your horse, you can almost go to cantering on the spot; the most important is to keep lightness, cadence and fluidity.
The horse is then four-beat cantering on the haunches.
The "School Canter" (Galop d'ecole, see in Themes, "The canter") is always the best preparation. Make smaller and smaller circles on very well flexed haunches. The horse's joints must be flexed.
Once this is acquired, you can ask for a Pirouette straight from the canter. But you must make sure the canter is balanced, well-seated, light and vibrant with light aids. The horse has to carry himself.
Move away from the rail and ask for one or two very small circles with the
haunches in. When you feel the haunches are lowered for several strides, that
the cadence is good, and that the horse is in perfect balance, ask for the Pirouette.
The Pirouette demands an extreme effort from the horse. Moderate your demands and above all proceed gradually. Do not be too demanding.
During the Pirouette, stay calm and relaxed. Breathe deeply.
While in a Pirouette, pretend you are going to do a second Pirouette so that
you keep the horse light and cadenced, and so that you do not rush the end of
Always finish your Pirouette with precision, exactly where you had in mind and in the same posture.
To obtain a Pirouette, always monitor the horse's balance so you can help
Do not force the horse into the Pirouette, the purpose of the Pirouette would be lost.
Avoid doing a Pirouette close to the rail. Choose the middle of the arena, the centerline or the diagonal.
When shortening the canter strides, always keep monitoring your impulsion and
how vibrant the horse is.
Do not forget: the slower the canter, the greater the impulsion needs to be.
The horse must not fall apart, but become rounded, taller and must be able to go forward again instantaneously.
Canter is succession of leaps. Every leap is the result of the previous leap and determines the next leap. In a Pirouette, every quarter of the Pirouette results from the previous quarter and determines the next quarter.
When teaching the horse, always start on the easiest side, the one on which the horse is always lighter.
Interfere little if you want your horse to manage a good Pirouette.
Useless movements and strong actions bother the horse.
Do not try to push too much with your inside leg, use it mostly to keep the haunches in place. If your horse tends to lean inside, support him with the inside leg.
Keep in mind that it is the curve of the entire spine that stops him from "falling" on his inside shoulder.
Do not pull with your hands.
Rather than trying to "carry" or "lift" the forehand of your horse, prepare your Pirouette well so that the horse "carries" himself, supports himself.
The less you do with your hands and the more you leave your horse free in his forehand, the better and more seated your Pirouette will be.
Do not bend the horse too much on the inside, or the haunches will slide toward
the outside very easily.
My horse falls apart during the Pirouette
Frequently encountered Problems
A Pirouette is a tremendous effort imposed on the horse. The horse falls apart, into a walk or a complete halt….
The are two major causes:
1) If the horse is able to perform a four-beat school canter on the haunches, the preparation for the Pirouette was insufficient.
Before asking for the next Pirouette, you must obtain a very seated, particularly vibrant and very "impulsed" canter in the strides preceding the Pirouette.
You must enter the Pirouette with the canter for the Pirouette…
2) The horse is not ready with his training, physically or mentally.
He is not collected enough and not limber enough when cantering. Before continuing to work on the Pirouette, work on getting a better canter (see in themes, "The canter" and in "The Pirouette", see "Teaching the Pirouette starting from the canter"). This can take some time….
Posture-position / Walk / Trot / Canter / Shoulder-in / Half-pass /Flying change of lead/ Tempi changes / The canter Pirouette / Piaffe
© Chiris 2005