Alfredo is a character. Six feet or more of imposing Spanish presence, his english excellent but the accent strong (occasionally briefly incomprehensible with comic results). He has Personality and Presence with a capital P. The horses stand up straighter when he comes nearer, and if they don’t, he makes sure they do and they don’t forget it. Justice is swift but very fair and clear.
My lesson began with work on the 20 m circle, collecting the horse, then letting him trot bigger. Most of the work was quite collected, as we were warming up and suppling the horse. Alfredo made the point that this is not the trot you would use in a show, but that it is an excellent training trot as it spares their legs the pounding of the bigger gaits, building strength in the topline and abdomen. Lots of transitions within the gait, shoulder-in for a quarter of the circle, then straight for a quarter of the circle, then shoulder-in again, etc. Occasionally when I got it right I got the praise of
“Good Girrrrrrrrrrl! Thas right! You got it!”
Then it was on to Piaffe! Anxiety kicked in. Would I do it wrong? Would my horse freak out? Would I fall off? Would I cry and make Alfredo mad? Would I be able to earn a “Good Girrrrrrrrl?”
In the end, it was all pretty simple. Put the legs back a bit behind the girth, sit lightly and quietly, keep the horse on the aids. Alfredo taps him with the whip. BAM! LEAP! That’s not piaffe, that is an evil leap and buck! Wait a minute, Finn just objected to that big time. Kicking out, bucking, backing up. Stop, move him forward, do it again, and BAM! No, Finn, that is NOT the right response!
“You’re kiiiidding me,” exclaims Alfredo. “You’re kiiiidding me!” and keeps the pressure on, while I try to keep Finn in position, thinking to myself (sit deep, keep his head low, back up, legs back, don’t grip, don’t hang, relax – ha ha ha!), and then….
PIAFFE! My pony did Piaffe.
Good! Pat him and free walk. And Alfredo says,
“No, that was too easy. This pony has already been trained in this. It’s never that easy. But let’s do it again.”
We did it again, and again a couple of times, and the pony has a pretty nice Piaffe. Turns out the former owner had done some Piaffe work, but hadn’t mentioned it. Yay, saves me some effort! So Finn knows how and he’s pretty good at it, too, once he gets over his initial objection to having to work that hard. He is, as Alfredo puts it, “a little Napoleon.”
And let me tell you, Piaffe is FUN. I want to do it again. Unfortunately, Finn and I don’t yet know how to do it without someone helping us by standing there with a long stick clucking and occasionally tapping. But give us time, we’ll get there. Piaffe shall be mine!