Canter Pirouettes and Working Pirouettes

Riding good canter pirouettes takes time and skill to develop.  Let’s take a look this month at understanding a little more about all of the factors that go into striving for a higher score in your pirouettes.  In our last article we discussed the walk pirouettes (and turns on the  haunches) which lays a good foundation for the same work in canter.

The definition in the USEF Rule Book for CANTER PIROUETTES begins the same as the definition for walk pirouettes.  “The pirouette (half pirouette) is a circle (half circle) executed on two tracks with a radius equal to the length of the horse, the forehand moving round the haunches.  The forefeet and the outside hind foot move round 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.  The horse should be slightly bent in the direction in which he is turning and should remain on the bit with light contact with the poll the highest point.”  The HALF CANTER PIROUETTE is asked for in the Prix St. Georges test, and FULL CANTER PIROUETTES are asked for beginning with the Intermediate I test and through the Grand Prix.

By comparison, the WORKING PIROUETTE (HALF WORKING PIROUETTE), has the same requirements except that the diameter is allowed to be approximately three meters.  The WORKING and HALF WORKING PIROUETTES are asked for in Fourth Level tests.    If they are executed on a smaller diameter (and done well!), then they should be scored with full credit.  Of course if the attempt to ride a more advanced pirouette fails, it could be more costly in marks. As with all movements correct execution depends on the rider’s skill and feel to sit properly in order to give the horse correct guidance.   The rider must sit in a relaxed manner with correct alignment over the horse but through the turning of pirouettes weight aids are placed a bit more on the inside of the bend.

As with the walk work, the quality of the gait is always of utmost importance.  For the canter work, we must have an established clear three beat rhythm with activity in developing the needed collection.  Before the turning (of any size) can be correctly asked for,  we must have adjustability in the canter stride……..making the strides shorter, asking the horse to carry more weight behind, while maintaining the 3 beat canter rhythm with good energy (activity of the hindquarters) and an uphill balance.


                *Quality of canter: Loses clear 3 beats

                *Hind legs jumping together around the turn

                *Haunches falling out

                *Hind legs not accepting and carrying weight through the turn and falling onto inside shoulder

With all of these possible flaws it is important to always go back and check in with the basics.  Can I lengthen and shorten the canter while maintaining lively canter jumps?  Does the neck stay under control within these transitions?  Is the contact properly maintained?  Can I turn a quarter pirouette easily and maintain balance, activity and suppleness?  To move onto half and full pirouettes before the prerequisites are fulfilled will only add more problems.


  In our work over the years with Mr. Schumacher, the following exercise is one of his perennial favorites in developing the balance and control needed to ride good pirouettes. Place 2 jump rails on the ground at a corner of the arena describing the boundaries of a 10 Meter square.  Leave just enough space on the rail to pass through as you enter and leave the square. being able to enter and turn through this 10M square will tell you if you have sufficient collection as well as stride control.  In this 10M square you must still ride deep and proper corners.  Another exercise that we like to use is to place a cone on the diagonal where you would want to execute a HALF PIROUETTE as in the PSG (or as in the working pirouettes in Fourth Level).  Develop the increased collection on the approach and then place the half pirouette around the cone.  You would want to stay as close as  possible to the cone with the haunches.  If the haunches were ridden sideways then the cone would be tipped over telling the rider that there is a loss of turning control.

In summary, becoming anxious and skipping steps to ride more advanced pirouettes before horse and rider are fully prepared, will most likely lead to an unsatisfactory score.  Take time and follow the progression of these steps towards the PIROUETTES to allow The horse to develop the carrying ability and balance needed to achieve a good score in the show ring.

See you on The Centerline!