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, Dressage Today magazine (Sept.’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 at the Spanish Riding School

“ 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 that the piaffe and passage.” Conrad Schumacher, Classical Dressage Instructor

‘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 the advanced work.” Walter Zettl, A Matter of Trust (video), Volume III

The above citations, 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 (one of the most noted masters of the equestrian art in the 20th century) 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 requested 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.

I believe it would be more accurate if the ‘basics’ were called ‘fundamentals’ because they are a sine qua non for success since they provide the foundation for more robust and athletic movements encountered in different movements in the various disciplines in which we participate.

 Here is what is generally considered to be the basics:

  1. Go forward with energy, i.e., with activity behind (but no rushing)
  2. Halt with the horse’s energy sustained
  3. Ride a straight line in all three gaits
  4. Ride a curved line in all three gaits (turns, corners, circles, serpentines)
  5. Change of gait (up/down transitions) – on straight lines and curved lines

          * halt to walk and walk to halt

          * walk to trot and trot to walk

          * walk to canter and canter to walk (alternate left and right leads)

          * halt to trot and trot to halt

          * halt to canter and canter to halt (alternate left and right leads)

  1. Back -up (rein back) on a straight line with the horse stepping back with a    diagonal gait and not pushing back with its front legs
  2. Back-up (rein back) on curved lines – both half and full circles
  3. From the back-up, depart into a walk or trot or canter
  4. Leg Yield
  5. Turn on the Forehand (both stationary and with all four feet moving)
  6. Turn on the Haunches
  7. Shoulder-In on a straight line as well as on curved lines
  8. Travers both on a straight line as well as on curved lines
  9. Renvers both on a straight line as well as 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 overall performance regardless of the discipline pursued.

So, in essence, the answer to the question ‘ When will I ever get past the basics?’ is NEVER because there will always be something that will need a little ‘touching up’ in one way or another and for that to happen we will have to go back to the basics (fundamentals) to get it done.