Classical Riding and Transitions: Canter and Canter Pirouettes in Relation to Collected Walk to Collected Canter Transitions


Much of the value of the classical exercises combined with transitions lies in

• requirements for relaxed focus on the part of horse and rider,
• incremental improvements in tempo, balance, coordination and relative elevation.
• combinations of balance and coordination that develop the gymnastic capacity to maintain cadenced tempo.
• cadence as prolonged contact time of each limb permits critical periods of limb OVERLAP to enable fluent, prompt and balanced transitions.
• the walk to canter to walk transition is valuable for teaching the canter needed for pirouettes because it accesses the lower range of stride rate for canter (extended canter is about 105 strides per minute and pirouette canter is about 65 strides per minute).
• as the stride rate of canter changes, gait intervals between hoof beats is altered, with the moment of suspension being absorbed into times when two or three legs are grounded (stabilizes the gait as its velocity and frequency slow)
• the dual need to rotate and stabilize the canter leads me to prefer less rotation per stride and opt for 8 stride pirouettes rather than 6 stride pirouettes

Transitions in cadence continue to develop throughness (substitution of BALANCE for resistances caused by leaning on locked or stiffened sections of the body for support). The movies on the linked page at the bottom of this page are examples of work on square voltes combining walk and canter. The horse in the images is the Morgan gelding Raynyday Maximillian.

ABOVE LEFT: The moment of left hind toe-down in collected walk. I would like to have my shoulders more level. ABOVE RIGHT: The walk moment of left hind toe-down begins TRANSITIONAL stride. Max has already increased his relative elevation in response to an upward stretch in my body. A transitional stride has its own pattern, different from the preceding or following gait, and this can be seen in EACH of the limb positions for canter and walk at the comparable moment of left hind toe-down.
ABOVE LEFT AND RIGHT same frame with and without text: Mid transition on the diagonal pair opposite the diagonal pair of the canter lead. The RH-LF diagonal pair opposite the diagonal of the canter lead establishes Time One (outside hind, in this case the right hind) of the canter lead. Overlap of limb contact (the horse is on two or three legs in the ENTIRE transition) makes it balanced, fluent and prompt. Timing for dressage transitions is crucial to success. The low stride frequency of collected walk is translated into the first canter strides, preparing the horse for the canter of pirouettes, which operates at the lower end of frequency for canter.

Movie of the transition from collected walk to collected canter. Once the movie has played, step through its frames with the controller to find selected still frames displayed above and below the movie.

FEI Dressage (1999) Rules: Article 413 The pirouette and the half-pirouette

1. The pirouette (half-pirouette) is a circle (half-circle) executed on two tracks, with a radium equal to the length of the horse, the forehand moving round the haunches

2. Pirouettes (half-pirouettes) are usually carried out at a collected walk or canter, but can also be executed at piaffe.

3. At the pirouette (half-pirouette) the forefeet and the outside hind foot move around the inside hind foot, which forms the pivot and should return to the same spot, or slightly in front of it, each time it leaves the ground.

4. At whatever pace the pirouette (half-pirouette) is executed, the horse, slightly bent in the direction in which he is turning, should, remaining "on the bit" with a light contact, turn smoothly round, maintaining the exact cadence and sequence of footfalls of that pace. The poll stays the highest point during the entire movement.

5. During the pirouette (half-pirouette) should maintine his impulsion, and never in the slightest way move backwards or deviate sideways. If the inside hind foot is not raised and returned to the ground in the same rhythm as the outside hind foot, the pace is no longer regular.

6. In executing pirouette or the half-pirouette in canter, the rider should maintain perfect lightness of the horse while accentuation the collection. The quarters are well engaged and lowered and show a good flexion of the joints.

An integral part of the movement is the canter strides before and after the pirouette. These should be characterized by an increased activity and collection before the pirouette; and, the movement having been completed, by the balance being maintained as the horse proceeds.

7. The quality of the pirouette (half-pirouettes) is judged according to the suppleness, lightness, cadence and regularity, and to the precision and smoothness of the transitions: pirouettes (half-pirouettes) at canter also according to the balance, the elevation and the number of strides (at pirouettes 6-8, half-pirouettes 3-4 are desirable).

ABOVE LEFT: The moment of left hind toe-down as the TRANSITION from collected walk concludes. Note the slight positive disassociation of the LH-RF of the developing left canter. ABOVE RIGHT: The moment of diagonal pair formation as the left canter continues after the transition. The canter is uphill, but the inside fore does not reach to the left, as it would in the rotation of a pirouette.

RIGHT: This is the same moment in a canter stride as in the frame above it. Max has both increased his bend in the rib cage and is reaching to the left with his inside foreleg to accomplish some rotation. This frame is repeated below to show selected frames from a movie of canter stride sequence in canter pirouette left.

ABOVE LEFT: A canter pirouette stride shows the lateral repositioning of legs to accomplish rotation. The left foreleg, inside shoulder and bend act together to reposition the leg for part of the rotation of the pirouette. ABOVE RIGHT: With the inside fore (left fore) down (Time 3 of canter), the outside hind is lifted and begins its flight to land under the outside hip (next image, below left).
ABOVE LEFT: With the inside fore down, the outside hind lands, forming a transient diagonal pair characteristic of collected canter (canter suspension has been absorbed into long contact times for each leg). The longer contact times benefit the stability of the gait, but restrict rotation when more than one leg is grounded. ABOVE RIGHT: Rotation continues as Max lifts himself left with the right hind in contact (Time 1 of the collected canter). His inside hind has shifted a bit too far left because I am too far to the left. Frames from a better pirouette is here, where I am better balanced.

A canter pirouette that retains the foot fall sequence of the canter adjusts the need for stability with the need for rotation. Because of these competing demands on the pirouette, I prefer less rotation per stride, opting for a pirouette of 8 strides rather than 6 strides.

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