It's Hard to Get Back to Basics
When You Haven't Been There to Start
I was interviewing a prospective student the other day - the very proficient youth-pleasure-trail-horsemanship rider who just wanted to "get a certificate" so she could "get a job as a trainer" type - the type whom I have seen so often. I was explaining, as carefully as I could, that the skills produced by a program are what give a "certificate" its value. Toward that end I mentioned some of the specific exercises and lessons needed to transform her show ring expertise into professionally marketable products. About half way into my thousand-time rehearsed explanation, her mother piped up with, "In other words, honey, you have to go back to the basics."
"Pardon me," I wish I had said, "but you don't have to go back to basics when you have never been up to basics in the first place."
What really are the basics that count? Whether you are afraid of being on top of a horse? Whether you know how to tighten a cinch or adjust a bridle; or pass in the clear in front of a judge; or back a four-horse gooseneck with a crew cab dually? These are basic maybe, but not what I'm talking about.
The basics I'm interested in are the ability to get a horse to work off its haunches; to follow its head in both directions without sticking out its shoulder; and to flow through its spins, rollbacks, and lead changes without hitching up, dragging, spiking its leads, cranking its tail, or hanging in your hands!
Basically, I want to see young riders whose understanding surpasses their age; whose practiced skills compliment, not limit their ability; and whose enthusiasm is transformed into try in the horses they work. These are not "basic" basics, I know. After all, I have watched and helped a couple of thousand would-be pro's search for them. Some found the basics and have adopted them as a way to life - some will probably never find them.
Before I tell you where to look for "the basics," I'll tell you where you probably won't find them.
First and foremost, you will never find them your first time in the show ring. In the ring you show what you are, not work on what you dream of becoming.
The second place where the basics are noticeably absent is pleasure riding or practicing at home, on your own horse. Every rider-horse combination comes to an understanding based upon the rider's knowledge and determination as opposed to the horse's acceptance of direction. Thinking that a rider can learn what "can be" from a horse "as he is," without outside direction, is like thinking Mary Lou Retton could have done what she did by staying home and swinging in a tire swing over a swimming hole.
So where do you look? Look to a methodically and meticulously designed program specifically crafted and practiced to a single basic job - to teach you the basics!
Here is how you will know when you have found it:
First, your instructor will be more interested in you as a rider than he is in you as a horse buyer - in fact he may not even like discussing breeds, bloodlines, or show results.
Second, your riding lessons will concentrate on your mental and physical ability to create shapes, attitudes, and understanding in many, many horses.
Third, basically, the future world of the professional trainer will be a world of circles. You need to be taught to change flexion in the direction of travel - to change direction and flexion and to maintain the impulsion through it all.
And if that sounds a little complex, it is - because it is basic to athletic development. And that is "the basics" scheme which will allow you to mold the raw material you find in young athletic horses into saleable, finished horses.
That's what trainers try to do, isn't it?
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Updated: October 2005.