As I watched someone at work hunt and peck at their keyboard today, I started thinking, “How is it that they don’t know the basic skill of typing?” When I was in high school, I thought it was a silly waste of time to sit at a typewriter (I’m showing my age again) and learn where to put my fingers. QWERTY was one of those things you memorized in order to pass your typing test, not a really bad computer password that is easily hacked. Now, I am so very thankful that I spent that time learning to type. These days, it seems like one of those necessary and basic skills that everyone should know, but I guess I am wrong.
It also seems that in riding, as in the rest of life, people sometimes bypass the basics in order to rush up the levels to learn the “tricks.” I mean, who doesn’t want to ride one tempis on the long diagonal or a canter pirouette at X? But without the basic skills for you and your horse, don’t you really miss the point of dressage? Where is the harmony between rider and horse if you are constantly butting heads to maintain a trot or canter rhythm? The classic dressage training scale (the one below was published by USDF) is pretty clear where we need to start.
Without good rhythm and relaxation, can you really find a steady connection? If you are riding your horse front to back instead of developing the thrust from behind, do you really have impulsion? I am still a dressage neophyte, but even I know that without the basic skills, you are going to have holes in your education that will come back to bite you later. A tense rider leads to a tense horse which translates to short, choppy strides and a hard back. And depending on your skill set and your horse’s age/talent/mental state/physical limitations, some might take a bit longer to establish those basic skills.
Ms. C and I spend hours working on the basics with Ike. She stresses that we need to teach him to use his back correctly, maintain contact, and develop the push from the hind end. She is always asking me what I think of Ike’s rhythm in each gait and expects that I will use my half halts effectively to adjust when Ike gets too quick and rushed. “Why aren’t you half halting?” “Um, I don’t know.” Yes, yes, the newbie’s mistake of going on cruise control instead of constantly monitoring the situation and making minor adjustments to establish a better rhythm with a steadier connection.
As with every young horse and clueless rider, some days are better than others. Some days we seem to click and all flows. Other days we struggle horribly and I go home exhausted and demoralized after fighting with Ike to establish a steady connection. He likes to hang on the bit sometimes and it takes all my strength to half halt loudly enough for him to pick himself up. Ike also likes to snatch the reins from my hands rather than accepting contact. We are all over the place while cantering: big boy runs through the contact one day and then canters like a First Level horse the next. It is this inconsistency that forces us to remain at Training Level for now and basically, I am okay with that.