In the summer of 2012, Beth Baumert visited Sarah and Morten Thomsen in Silkeborg, Denmark. “Their fantastic brick facility sported natural light and an aviary, and their lovely horses acted like they were special enough to belong there,” she reported. “The first horse I saw was ridden well, but when I saw him do a canter pirouette, I thought, Wow! That horse can really canter pirouette. Then I saw the next horse and he also had a rare talent for canter pirouette. Then, after the third pirouetting genius, I knew that it was Morten Thomsen who was the genius, so I had to ask him: How do you do that? Here’s what he told me:”
Trainers often introduce canter pirouettes by spiraling in from a large circle. It’s a common mistake, in my opinion, because horses started this way don’t really know what you want. Often the rider starts to kick and pull and the horse doesn’t understand. The horse gets a lot of pressure but he doesn’t see the purpose.
I begin thinking about training canter pirouettes when my horse can do a walk–canter transition with ease. At that point, I know he’s ready for a little collection in the canter because he is able to bend his hind legs, lower the quarters and sit. I first ask for collection on a large circle, and the moment that he sits a little, I walk. You can feel when the horse sits because his rhythm slows. This teaches the horse that if he sits, he will get the reward of walking. As a result, he will try to sit quickly in order to be rewarded.
Of course, the situation can happen that we go on a circle and I feel that I can’t get the horse’s hind legs to bend. Sometimes horses just thrust themselves forward with the hind legs. In this situation, it’s impossible for the horse to sit, so I start in walk. In any case, it’s easiest for the horse to learn and understand the fundamentals of pirouette in walk, and then the basics are the same for canter. When I can make a large pirouette in walk, my horse will close his frame and sit. It’s difficult to sit in canter, but in walk, the horse will achieve it from the work you’ve done. At this point, my horse already knows everything he needs to learn about canter pirouette. I teach my horse all these things before we start it in canter.