Spanish Walk and Piaffe

Spanish Walk and Piaffe

This is the third and final installment in a series of articles by Dr. Walter de la Brosse. They were first published in The Alliance magazine in 2011 and are reprinted here with the author’s permission. Dr. de la Brosse is a distinguished judge, holding cards in many divisions, and will be judging A/L reining, and trail classes, opportunity charro pleasure class, and the open Caballos Bailadores Nacional at the 2021 IALHA National Championship Show.


As a teenager, I first saw Spanish Walk performed by don Alvaro Domeq, in early summer of 1962.  We were in la Maestranza de Caballeria (the bullring) in Sevilla.  A huge bull of Salvador Guardiola had stopped mid-plaza, with don Alvaro about 6-10 meters away.  He performed that movement slowly, deliberately, and arrogantly in the bull’s face. 

I saw it again during Semana Santa 2011 in the old Roman coliseum (no a bull ring) in Arles, France.  The brilliant rejondeador, Diego Ventura produced it with the same arrogance and confidence.

What is Spanish Walk?  It is not covered in the dressage texts.  It is inherent to the Iberian principles of Haute Ecole.  It is a balanced, positive, and deliberate movement of measure stride, with suspended motion.  Is it natural for this breed?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  But it is readily acquired by a talented horse with a talented trainer.  All movements begin at the hindlimb, engaged, and then elevated.  And, to be noted, remains extended until touching the ground.  The pattern is almost diagonal of RH then LF, to LH then RF. 

Class Pattern

Once all competitors have entered the arena they go to a holding area. Judges will inspect for correct attire. From that point, each competitor will be asked in preassigned order, to enter and perform Spanish walk from cone A to cone B, turn left (counterclockwise), and walk to rear holding area.

After all competitors have completed the first part, again in preassigned order they will perform required gait from cone C to cone D, turn left and walk to holding area.

Once competitors have been reviewed they line up head to tail in order and maintain position until judging is completed.

Judging criteria

Class is graded on a scale of 0 (not executed) to 10 (excellent).  movements not completed will receive a score of zero. The pattern must be executed, no exceptions. Any competitor eliminated under show rules cannot claim an award. Scorecards will be available upon request.

Appointments and attire

Typically, there are several types of appointments and attire. That said, they must be traditional for the Iberian horse and must not be mixed. Turn out of horse and rider must be of one discipline and one riding style. Be that classical dressage, Spanish, Charro, or Portuguese.

Of note:  Competitors must perform Spanish walk with balance and rhythm demonstrating contained forward impulsion (must not be a Spanish trot).   There can be no locking up, indicating lack of physical or mental training to perform this gait.  It must be a slow, highly elevated series of steps, horse on contact (never in front of – or worse – behind the bit), beginning at hindlimb, and moving up through the body to neck and head. Must demonstrate great elevation of front limb, which will land extended and proceed forward with great elegance. We look for a steady, constant, consistent competitor demonstrating great ability and correctness rather than one who gives moments of brilliance, followed by irregularity which demonstrates lack of actual achievement of the gait.


I chose to discuss this class last because it is the focal point of this division. Whether you go to Nimes, France, la Feria de San Marcos in Aguascalientes, Mexico, Los Angeles equestrian center, the province of Andalucía Spain, there are dancing horse (Caballos Bailadores) exhibitions or competitions. If there be Iberian horses, there will be dancing.

We have seen portions of this division used in several shows here in the US. We will see more and certainly the entire division is being offered at the IALHA national championship show. What is the dancing horse? Plainly and simply, it is an equine artistic expression normally accompanied by music, called Piaffe.

This gait as described in USEF DR 114 – is a highly collected, cadence, elevated diagonal movement giving the impression of being in place. The horse’s back is supple and elastic. Hindquarters are slightly lowered, haunches with active hocks are well engaged giving great freedom, lightness, and mobility to the shoulders and forehand. Each diagonal pair of feet is raised and returned to the ground alternately with an even cadence. Additionally, the neck should be raised and arched, the head vertical. The horse should remain light on the bit with a supple pole maintaining a light and soft contact on a taut rein. The body of the horse should move up and down in supple and harmonious movement.

To be noted in the above DR rule: moving even slightly backward irregular steps, crossing either fore, or hind legs, or swinging either the forehand or the quarters from one side to the other are serious faults. A movement with hurried and uneven, unlevel or irregular steps without cadence or spring cannot be called true piaffe.

Class format

Normally competitors lined up for inspection of attire and appointments. If they do not pass, they will not be allowed to compete. Each competitor will individually in preassigned order perform on the board (tarimas), to music which they will have provided to show management. That performance will begin with a two-minute period after signal has been given. Since this is an international event, times, boards, and rules may vary. It is important that competitors read the rules for that competition.

Judging criteria

Performance will be judged on a basis of zero to 100. Note that movements not completed will be penalized 100 points.

Additionally, based on region, eliminations occur for:

  1. lameness of horse
  2. any evidence of fresh injury or blood on horses mouth, sides, nose or back
  3. abuse of horse during actual competition, or evidence of abuse prior to competition
  4. horse totally exiting board
  5. repeated stepping off board
  6. inappropriate attire or appointments based on that shows rules

Attire and appointments

Entries shall be shown under Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican charro, western or dressage attire, and appointments. There are many correct formats for exhibiting these Iberian horses, although it is not correct to mix attire or appointments. Turn out of the horse and rider must be of one discipline and one riding style throughout.

Special considerations: long braided manes may be braided.  Martingales and leg protectors are prohibited. The horse may wear shoes or be unshod. Knowledge of the rules is due and bearing on all competitors in all classes.

About the author:  Dr. Walter de la Brosse is a distinguished judge, holding cards in many divisions and will be one of the judges of the 2021 Caballos Bailadores Nacional.