Rx for Pirouettes

(continued from last month)

If you are having trouble with canter pirouettes, the solution is usually not to do more of them. The question, however, is what to do instead. My answer is to list all the elements of the relationship with your horse which you need to perform a pirouette correctly. Then remembering the Vending Machine analogy from DRESSAGE Unscrambled, devise specific exercises which test that each of the reactions you need are present in him.

First of all, is he really on the bit and does he stay there?
Next: transitions – all of them – Are they prompt? Beginning with the simple ones – walk to halt and halt to work – and on up through simple changes, canter directly to walk (in balance), and canter departs directly from the halt.

Work in the walk – Do all of the lateral movements work? Can you start them and stop them at will? Are the turns on the haunches prompt and active? Can you turn the shoulders quicker than you would in a performance movement? Can you interrupt the movement at any step and either halt or trot directly forward whichever way you’re facing. Can you spiral a leg yielding in and out? Can you ride a controlled travers on a small circle – even as small as four meters without your horse anticipating?
Now be able to answer all the same questions in the trot. Can you put each of his parts anywhere you want, beginning and ending the exercise at your pleasure?

And then be able to answer the same questions in the canter. Can you half pass in and leg yield out from a 20 m circle? Can you canter a 6 m circle without your horse falling in? How about a 6 m circle in travers, starting and stopping the movement when you like? Then the same thing on a 4 m circle?
Will your horse canter nearly on the spot for at least a few steps without you having to pull on him to shorten him? Can you give the rein without him falling forward?

Then it’s time to work on partial pirouettes, mostly quarters but sometimes halves. Again, can you start them and stop them or switch to another variant of the exercises if he’s getting ahead of the aids?
Never lose sight that the goal is not just to get him somehow through the movement! Keep him honest. Keep him up. Keep him light. And keep him thinking. Be able to ride every stride individually and you will have a real pirouette.