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Mexican "dance"
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rebecca g
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 Posted: Tue Sep 4th, 2007 04:42 am
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 Hi! I am new to posting to this forum, but have been reading it on and off for years. My question is in requard to a movement that my teacher teaches the horses that he calls "the dance". From what I understand this is traditional with the horsemanship of Mexico. The movement looks like a fast piaffe, but without the suspension. It may be done in place or moving forward slightly or in sidepass. The tempo can be varied by the intesity of which the leg cues are given, therefore matching the music.  My teacher is originally from Mexico. He boards and trains horses here at my farm. His way with horses reminds me a lot of what I read here. "Little by little" and "stop and pet him" are his two most common phrases.  I am wondering how this "dance" originated. A dressage friend of mine refers to it as a degenerative piaffe. My horse is at a point in his training where we can begin to introduce this or the piaffe. My teacher tells me that I need to make a choice because the cues are so similar. What I am wondering is one more likely to contribute to soundness or unsoundness more than the other?  My horse is a 7yo Colonial Spanish gelding. 

DrDeb
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 Posted: Tue Sep 4th, 2007 07:32 pm
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Rebecca, the "Mexican" dance is not really Mexican, but common to all the countries of the old Spanish Main. It is the same as the "fino" gait of all the Paso breeds.

There are four forms of piaffe-like movement. To call one of them "superior" and any of the others "degenerate" is the very voice of Germanoid dressage. From the Germanoid point of view, only a few things are "korekt". This kind of pronouncement, wherever it may be heard, is signatory of a mind that has been ruined through being propagandized. From the horse's point of view, there is no such thing as correct or incorrect, and any movement is just moving -- the very thing that horses live to do.

From our own point of view, all movements are just fine too, except those that can be demonstrated to be harmful to the horse when we ask the horse to perform them, especially repeatedly (an example of this would be the horse moving with a broken neck posture, or with a hollow back).

The four forms of piaffe-like movement are:

(1) piaffe proper, in which the horse trots in place with a medium to low amount of energy, ideally with great relaxation and balance. The cadence is one-suspension-two-suspension, and the tempo is medium to slow.

(2) the paso fino, in which the horse moves in place or advances very slowly, with high to very high energy, again ideally with great balance although less able to be relaxed given the amount of effort being put forth. The steps are very short. The tempo is rapid, even blurringly fast. The gait in which the horse normally performs paso fino is not trot but an evenly-cadenced four-beat gait.

(3) the balance (there is an accent over the last "e", so the word is pronounced "bah-lan-CEY"), in which the horse trots as in ordinary piaffe but moves the hind legs more than the front legs, and typically spreads them somewhat, so that there is a perceptible movement of the rump from side to side. Albert Ostermaier used to say that this movement was more difficult for the horse and a greater achievement than ordinary piaffe. I think in fact that some horses have a tendency to produce balance rather than, or in preference to, piaffe, and I agree with Ostermaier that this is not an "evasion".

(4) paced piaffe, which looks exactly like an ordinary piaffe except perhaps with even greater lowering of the haunches. I should say it "looks exactly like" an ordinary piaffe until the observer looks twice. Then she will see that the animal, instead of trotting, is pacing (i.e., moving the limbs unilaterally instead of diagonally in unison). Otherwise there is no difference between this an ordinary piaffe.

How you decide which of these movements to teach the horse is by asking the horse. Every horse that is shown how to begin any of these kinds of movements will show you what his preferences and talents are. Regard whatever he offers you as a talent -- because unless you trust him and like him that much, neither you nor he is really in the right place to begin this kind of work. You have to be willing to ask him what he would like to do, rather than demand that he do just what you want.

There are a million horses, and you may very well have the chance to work with more than one that is willing to perform the more demanding movements. There is thus no need to worry about what is correct. Just worry about being a horse-woman, that is to say, someone who cares about her horse more than what anybody else says.

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb

rebecca g
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 Posted: Wed Sep 5th, 2007 05:37 am
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Dr. Deb, thank you for your explaination. I now have more questions. Is this differences between the above four movements a result of conformation or the horses innate energy level or both? If a horse ambles as well as trots which of the movements is he more likely to present? Within the Andalusion breed I have seen horses do piaffe, fino, and balance. Was the fino a result of pushing  a horse doing the piaffe to a higher level of energy? My own horse trots nicely when we do our arena work, but as soon as we hit the trails and his energy level is really up he goes into a nice amble which we both enjoy. How much is shaped by rewarding what feels good to you as a rider ("stop and pet him")? My horse has offered different rythyms (I'm not sure if that is the right word to describe them) when he really collected up and I am not sure what to keep (reward) and what to phase out.  I don't want to force him into something just because a certain discipline or tradition dictates that it be that way, yet I do want to bring out in him his own "piaffe" that I can eventually ask for when desired. How do I approach finding what is his true "piaffe" and developing it? He is a very willing fellow who tries to please and really appreciates praise. Thank you again.

rebecca g
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 Posted: Mon Sep 10th, 2007 05:19 am
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Dr. Deb, my teacher maintains that my horse can be taught both the piaffe and the fino gait. Indeed I have seen him in both. In the long lines when he is collected he does a very diagonal although not very elevated "piaffe". Under saddle with my teacher I have seen the "fino". To further confuse me he has offered yet another collected movement . We were riding outside the ring and he was feeling very good and offering his "ambling" gait. I collected him further and he began a movement that had a very slight forward movement and was smooth, not at all like the motion of the piaffe (not that his piaffe feels rough, but it has definite motion to it). What confused me more is that my husband took a photo in the moments before this and both legs on the off side are up in what looks like a compressed pace. I have ridden a standardbred pacer before and his gait does not feel like that. I never have had a horse before that had other gaits in addition to the usual walk, trot, and canter. I am actually confused about his other gaits. My teacher maintains that since my horse has this additional gait that he can do the piaffe and then if asked for more energy switch to the fino. I have seen both a quarter horse and a percheron/quarter horse cross that he has taught the fino gait and and an andalusian that he has taught the piaffe. I just want to do right by my horse and not force anything. He is a willing fellow and has taken all my experimenting in stride. With him what I paise is what I get. I just want to be sure that I am praising something that I will want to keep in the long run. I have competed with him at training level dressage, however dressage competitions are not my goal.  We enjoy exhibitons (usually set to music) both at liberty and under saddle. Also, where can I find more worth while information about the different kinds of ambling gaits? Thank you again - Rebecca 


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