Gained Gaits

High School Figures - Jumps

Besides the basic gaits (walk, trot, gallop) there are so-called “gained gaits” worked out by a systematic riding training. These are: school walk, school trot, school – short gallop, cross-over in walk and trot, traversals in short gallop, lead changes in gallop etc. The highest point of the riding perfection of the old classical riding art are figures of the so-called “high school”: piaffe, passage, pirouette, levade, pesade, courbette, croupade, ballotade and capriole.

Detailed sequence of the leg movement in the figures will not be described here, because it belongs in the book of the riding art and needs certain level and comprehension of higher riding.

This article will only show the general concept of the figures/gaits of the high riding school, which are still today practiced and shown in the famous riding schools: The Austria School, so-called “Spanish Court Riding School” and the “French High Riding School" in Saumur. Some of these disciplines were/are part of the Olympic dressage competition, but at the present age grossly deformed.

In basics the “high school” work - riding is divided on:

1.      “On the ground” – to which belongs besides the school walk, trot and gallop, the piaffe and passage.

2.   “Above ground” – in other words “school jumps”, which consists of mezaire, croupade, courbette, ballotade and capriole.










The levade is recognized as the transition from the work on the ground to the work above the ground. This is the highest level of collection (balance & energy) by which the hind legs completely lift the front legs of the ground

Work on the ground. The school-walk, school trot and the school gallop are theoretically fairly well known. The decisive fact here is not only the impulsion, through-stepping, but also a high collection, higher than in the campagne school. Further more belongs here:

 Piaffe, this gait - movement is often called by the general public, even though incorrectly – the trot in place or on the spot.

Passage, this is kind of “held up trot” in very high collection, in which the diagonal legs interchange in a longer intervals than in the trot (about one second) in a certain "inter-lapping" period during the lift between the pushing-off and the landing. The longer the intervals/inter-laps and the stronger the impulsion the better.

Pirouette, is turning the horse 360’ around his hindquarters in the gallop. It consists of four gallop jumps. Every gallop jump finishes one quarter of the turn/circle, during which all the phases of the gallop jump must be completed. The hind legs do not stay in place (no pivoting), but travel in a small circle and by the completion of each gallop jump set them selves up/under for the next one. Only during the pirouette the horse gallops in the so-called four beats with sufficient impulsion and regular cadence. This is due to the breakdown of the outer diagonal movement. The Pirouette cannot be confused with the school gallop.

Work (jumps) above ground is ridden in principle without stirrups and need an absolute “looseness/ suppleness” of the rider.

Levade – is the transition between the work on the ground and the work in the air (above ground). The angle of the horse’s spine forms with the ground about 45’. The condition for the levade is maximal flex in (setting under hind legs) the hocks, which carries the entire weight of the horse in a sort of “squat” like position, and the pulling up the front legs to the body. The execution of this figure is done from the piaffe and the completion is when the horse touches the ground again with his front legs and begins immediately the piaffe again.

 Mézaire is a repeated levade forward so, that by the completion of the first levade, after a short touching down of the front legs with the ground, follows a new setting under of the hind legs forward from which the horse executes the next levade. This sequence is repeated several times. It is a kind of sequence of levads, but of course not in place but forward, with light touching/landing of the front legs with the ground and a separated advancement of the hind legs forward and under.

Croupade. The horse pushes off the levade and executes a jump up-slanted, by which he pulls up his hind legs under.

Courbette is one of the most difficult figures above the ground. They are actually repeated croupades forward, without any touching - landing of the front legs with - on the ground. This movement can be divided in three sequences;

  1. Transition from a piaffe to levade

  2. Jump off by the hind legs from the levade

  3. Landing on the hind legs again in the levade

    According to the ability of the horse these jumps can be repeated two times to five times; after that he finally lands again with his front legs. For better understanding, one can imagine a dog standing on his hind legs, jumping for a treat in several jumps forward.

                Ballotade is similar to croupade but differs in the fact that the horse, when pulling his hind legs under, turns his hooves so, that his hind shoes can be seen from behind. The holding of the hind legs will give the impression that they are ready to kick out. The back of the horse in this jump is nearing the horizontal line. This jump is a preparation for the most difficult figure, the capriole.

                Capriole is the most difficult figure of the high school. With the enormous push-off by the hind legs the body is launched up-slant as by the ballotade and just before the body reaches the horizontal the horse shoots out his hind legs (kicks out) backward (downward slant). The most able horses can repeat the capriole several times. This highest caliber of collection (in an unusual closing of angles in the hocks and the hip joints) and the immense/complete release of power can reach only some of the horses trained in the high school. The error in this jump is, when the horse kicks out in or past the horizontal position of his back by which he will land first on his front legs.

The opinion of various riders that the training of the practical - useful (campagne) horse differs from the training of the high school horse, and that both should be separated because of the supposed difference in education during the initial gymnastic training of a young horse, is absolutely incorrect. It is important to clarify that only a well ridden/trained useful/campagne horse that has enough nerves/heart, sufficient gaits, correctly build body and a willing character for a higher level of impulsion, stepping-through and collection, is suitable for the high school training. The high school should not be only some type of trick riding, but it must be and it is the last link of a systematic training - riding of the useful/campagne riding horse.

           It should be also emphasized, that all the gaits and jumps of the high school are forms of natural movements of a horse adjusted to carrying the rider, which can be observed in the practical life by the unschooled horses as well. The young horse on a pasture (when spooked, joyful, playing etc.) can demonstrate various figures and jumps of the high school, like passage, levade, croupade, courbette even a capriole. Also a sensitive, temperamental horse in a carriage, when he is not allowed to move out immediately while feeling tight reins can out of nervousness demonstrate piaffe, or a loose horse in the yard out of joy/excitement being loose after several gallop jumps will transit into passage.

           In the circus (or for example the traveling Lipizzaners from Florida) the horses show only the form of movements and figures, which were trained by the use of various dressage equipment from the ground (mainly whips, lounge lines, side-reins etc.) and not by the rider through his riding. Even though such “extra gaits” and “extra jumps” fascinate the eyes of laics/public (non-horseman), they cannot be called or compared with the high school riding, because it is in reality only a parody of the classical figures of the high school. Sadly and unfortunately even the two riding schools in France and Austria are gradually collapsing and becoming like the circus/show horses, because their performance is mainly in the show for the public (laics), thus the proper education is often shortened and hurried up. Also the supply of good riders - horseman declined to almost none.

Written* and translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek
*The technical aspects of this articles is a translation from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.