Many students may have sighed one lesson or another, thinking within themselves “oh, basic work again!”. Yes, our work educating ourselves and our horses is always about refining basic. It is in the basic work, which for me consists of circles, lateral work and transitions, that I refine my posture, breath, awareness and movement more and more. And then, when I continue into the more schooled exercises, I test if I can bring this refinement into collection.
In martial arts, it is very normal to study the same forms during the entire course of training. Masters and beginners study the same movements, although they may look completely different. In Japanese, these detailed choreographed patterns of movements are called Kata. By practicing in a repetitive manner the student develops the ability to execute those techniques and movements in a natural manner, without thinking or analyzing. The student practices to internalize the movements and techniques of these kata so they can be executed without thought or hesitation. A beginners movements will look uneven and difficult, while a master’s appear simple and flowing. Not all forms are very complicated, but there are layers to them. In the beginning, you have to remember the sequence and the movements. At a certain point, you can remember and focus on how smooth one movement flows into the next one. These can be practiced and perfected your entire life!
Horse riding is no different. By practicing the same circles, lateral movements and transitions again and again, both horse and rider will acquire a more natural, flowing quality in the movements. The movements become reflex-like and soft. The better educated horse and rider are, the more subtle, nuanced and refined the rider’s aids become. And this quality can be taken up to a higher and higher level. But the foundation remains the quality of the basic work. The more fluent that is, the better the advanced movements will be. So, practicing basics again and again is not a wast of time. It is not even boring. Because you can perfect your movements and discover new layers in them every time. So, instead of thinking that you should really be practicing flying changes by now, appreciate all the time you spend in the basic work because this is where the real quality is found and refined.
Is an accomplished rider, clinician and published author who combines her extensive knowledge in classical dressage, biomechanics, ethology, human anatomy and zen principles to guide riders on their journey to self-improvement. The goal: harmony & lightness in the cooperation between human and horse.