When Will I Ever Get Past the Basics?

When Will I Ever Get Past the Basics? © Jim Reilly 2005

“People are still rushing through the levels and ignoring the basics…in this way we end up hurting our progress.” 

Axel Steiner, FEI “O” Judge, Exert from Dressage Today (Sep ‘04)

“True progress is only achieved by uncompromisingly perfecting the simple stuff called the basics…in quest of perfection one will discover the simple stuff is not that simple at all.”

Karl Mikolka, Former Riding Master—Spanish Riding School, Exert from Horse of Kings (No. 4- 2003)

“Always go back to the basics and when you have that you have everything. The basics are more difficult than what comes after, this is the trap of dressage. Correct basics are more difficult than the piaffe and passage.”

Conrad Schumacher, Clinic notes- Trenna Atkins, April 4, 1998.

“The basics are the most difficult time you will have with your horse. What we do wrong in the basics we carry over to the grand prix. What we do wrong in the basics opens up more and more room for mistakes in the grand prix. Everything you do in the basics must be 100% correct, otherwise you will get in trouble later on with advanced work.”

Walter Zettl, A Matter of Trust (video), Volume III.

The above quotes, I think, in general, answer the title question. BUT, just what are “the basics” that everyone talks about and how long will it take to master them? In answer to the second part of the question it is to be noted that Nuno Oliveria considered a horse to have mastered the basics and to be ready for High School work when he was “light” in all parts of his body at all times during riding. It took up to 15 years for him to “educate” a horse to this level.

The goal for what follows should be that the horse performs all the movements responding to the most subtle and lightest of aids with no braces (muscle or mental tension) or resistances (refusal to give to pressure) and with balance, suppleness and fluidity while exhibiting unstressed elegance.

So what constitutes the specifics of “the basics?” The following movements are what I consider to be the basics:

  1. Go forward with energy (but not rushing).
  2. Halt (energy sustained) -not stop (energy dissipated).
  3. Ride a straight line.
  4. Ride a curved line (turns, corners, circles, serpentines, etc.).
  5. Change of gait (up/down transitions)-on straight and curved lines.
    1. Halt to walk & walk to halt
    2. Walk to trot & trot to walk
    3. Trot to canter & canter to trot
    4. Halt to trot & trot to halt
    5. Walk to canter & canter to walk (alternate left & right leads)
    6. Halt to canter & canter to halt (alternate left & right leads)
  6. Back Up (rein-back) straight (100’) & on curved lines (55’ round pen).
  7. From backup to depart into walk, trot & canter.
  8. Leg Yield.
  9. Turn-on-the-forehand (stationary & from walk-maintaining rhythm of walk).
  10. Turn-on-the-haunches.
  11. Shoulder-in — straight & on curved lines.
  12. Travers—straight & on curved lines.
  13. Renvers—straight & on curved lines.

The attainment of these separate movements and even performing them in different combinations as the horse and rider obtain a better understanding of one another (harmony) will improve the overall performance regardless of the discipline pursued. So will we ever get past “the basics”? — In short, NO!

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