Classical Riding and Voltes
Classical exercises on voltes, square or round, has many benefits for suppling horses. This page has material for riders to consider when training horses for the High School. I wish only to point out the relation of collected walk to these exercises, which connect collected walk to piaffe, passage and pirouettes. To this end, there are movies that show the classical exercises in walk ridden on a Morgan gelding. I hope, as time goes on, to add movies of another warmblood gelding to the set of movies. I will also, as time and digital video opportunities permit, add work in trot and canter on voltes. Much of the value of the classical exercises lies in
requirements for relaxed focus on the part of horse and rider,
incremental improvements in tempo, balance, coordination and relative elevation.
First, I would like to present two examples of voltes from classical treatises La Guérinière's Ecole de Cavalerie: Tome Premier (1769) and Saunier's L'Art de la Cavalerie Gaspard de Saunier (1663-1748). François Robichon de la Guérinière (?-1751) used different geometries combined with lateral movements to supple and balance horses. Work on these figures is a combination of the demands of the volte geometry plus lateral movement. The particular stepping in the la Guérinière diagrams specifically requires that the horse be able to step under his inside hip in the corners. For some horses this can be extraordinarily difficult and riders should not force these exercises if they prove stressful for a horse.
|As the above (left) engraving from Saunier's L'Art de la Cavalerie indicates, the classical seat and requirements for relative elevation are somewhat different from a modern version of dressage seat. Saunier was particular about the rider's position and gave detailed instructions concerning equipment and the holding of reins. His whip is held upward in his left hand.
The text below the engraving reads "Posture of a rider beginning to teach and who is without spurs and stirrups." This reflects his concern for training without violence. Lacking photographs, the horse's neck on the engraving seems quite short, but some of its body proportions might represent artistic convention. Given the positions of the hind legs, the horse could be performing piaffe advancing. Even though today's seat and tack are different, the ancient exercises are still relevant to training horses.
As the above (right) engraving from La Guérinière's Ecole de Cavalerie: Tome Premier indicates, the classical seat and requirements for relative elevation are somewhat closer to a modern version of dressage seat.
The rider's position, tack and the holding of reins is similar to Saunier, although stirrups and spurs are worn. A whip is held up in the right hand. Lacking photographs, the horse's neck on the engraving seems less short than in the Saunier engraving, but some of its body proportions might represent artistic convention. Given the positions of the hind legs, the horse is performing piaffe.
The line from the rein into the rider's forearm is different from Saunier and from mine. This is an issue I decide pragmatically on a horse at the High School: let the horse choose a comfortable contact.
The image at right shows the author on the Morgan gelding Raynyday Maximillian. He is performing piaffe on a given rein held in one hand (La Guérinière's "rein guided by gravity"). Instead of the curb of classical equitation, he wears a snaffle bit, cavesson adjusted to allow soft chewing (note this in the movies), stirrups, spurs (not used, but worn), whip (inactive & across my right thigh), a treeless saddle with an all-elastic girth. His right fore could be more vertical.
In contrast to the Saunier rider, I am balancing on the balls of my feet to lighten my seat (the aid for piaffe on this horse). Although he shows less relative elevation than Saunier's model, he is stretched into the contact, has lifted his withers to accept the saddle by adjusting the curve at the base of his neck and has placed his head with his face near the vertical.
Movies of exercises on square and round voltes (10 meters on a side or 10 meters diameter)
The movie below is a sample of work on the square connecting walk, collected walk, school walk and piaffe. The square volte, where the way a horse passes the corners (haunches-in), diagonalizes the walk with a demi-pirouette, setting up a fluent transition into collected walk, which becomes the fully diagonal school walk (note the soft "bounce" as the diagonal stance pair reach mid stance simultaneously), then school walk sets up a transition to a few steps of piaffe advancing, then back to school walk, collected walk and haunches-in in the demi-pirouette of the next corner.
In all the work, the TEMPO is the same (about 51 strides per minute): as the classical masters said, "the walk contains the piaffe." This classical statement refers to a combination of TEMPO, BALANCE, COORDINATION and RELATIVE ELEVATION. Another feature of this work is its emphasis on fluent transitions into and out of movements with different step sequences and stride lengths.
|The school walk and half steps in piaffe advancing.|
Below is a list of more movies with their explanations: there is work on both square and round voltes in shoulder-in, haunches-in, and piaffe.
Shoulder-in on square volte
Haunches-in to shoulder-in on square volte
The importance is not only the sides of the volte, but how the corners are passed without varying tempo (different step lengths and maintenance of shoulder position in relative elevation are the challenges at each corner).
Piaffe on small circular volte
Here performed in slight haunches-in.
There is a prompt transition to free walk at the end of the exercise. The slight lateral position helps keep the hind legs from tracking too far under ("goat on a mountain" piaffe). It is not uncommon for a horse just learning piaffe from piaffe advancing to have one hind leg advance slightly farther than the other when asked for piaffe on the spot. Performing piaffe with a bend to that side is often helpful in regulating the position of the hind legs while maintaining relative elevation ("up through the withers').
Piaffe with Rio, who does not know the school walk.
Swing or schaukel on one side of square volte
Halt, reinback 4 diagonal steps, forward walk 6 steps, reinback 4
Max is asked to perform different numbers of steps each time because he is a bit too clever at counting steps.
Pirouette in walk (on small circle)
The circle helps maintain activity of the hind legs.
Free walk (15 meter circle)
Max is stretched into the contact and maintains the same tempo as in the work on the squares or circles.