Question to Jessica:
Subject: Sick and tired of basics
Dear Jessica, I hope you can help me think of
some way to get my instructor to back off me a
little. She is a total bug on basics. Basics,
basics, basics! That's all I hear about, every
single lesson, all of the time. She is a good
rider and her horses go great and she's a good
teacher when she isn't going "Basics basics
basics yadda yadda yadda" all the time. I
understand how it is for her because she teaches
a lot of beginner riders (adult beginners) but
I'm seventeen and I have been riding horses for
more than ten years. I'm no beginner, and I
would like to know some way to get her to snap
out of her "teaching beginners the basics"
routine when she works with me. I stay with her
because I have had good results for the last two
years and my horse and I have both improved a
lot, but this "basics" stuff is getting so old
with me! I'm probably her most advanced rider
now because so many of her other students are
people who are like 50 and older. I like them
mostly, I don't have anything against them and
they are mostly nice people but we're so
different. They're riding for fun and a hobby or
to get some exercise, some have been riding like
forever and they're still not all that good, so
basically they aren't serious riders. I can
totally see why they need basics all the time,
but I want to get places with my riding I work
hard and I am ready to move on. How can I get my
instructor to understand that I'm not that
little fifteen-year-old kid anymore and I'm ready to do some real riding?
Hi Veronica! Come on, you didn't really expect me
to contradict your instructor on this subject,
did you? If you came here to ride with me you
could certainly expect to hear "Basics basics
basics yadda yadda yadda" all the time, for
years... in fact, for as long as you rode with
me. One of my students has been with me for at
least 25 years now, and I'm sure that if you
asked her when I stopped talking about basics she
would just laugh, because I haven't stopped yet.
I will stop talking about basics when I'm dead. Probably.
You shouldn't feel picked on or singled out, and
you shouldn't feel bad about your instructor's
VERY CORRECT emphasis on basics for both horse
and rider. I'll say it again: NEVER feel bad
about spending time on the basics. Lots of time.
ALL the time. At EVERY lesson and during - in
fact, all the way through - every ride between
lessons. There is no such thing as too much
emphasis on basics or too much time spent on
basics. On the contrary, wherever I go, the more
horses and riders I see and work with, the more I
appreciate the ones that have a good solid
foundation... and there aren't all that many!
Those are the lucky ones because they can make
progress right now; they don't have to start over
again, learning things they had never learned or
- sadder - having to re-learn things that they
thought they knew and could do, but actually
didn't know and couldn't do at all.
The more time you spend on the basics - not just
doing them, but doing them WELL and understanding
how and why to do them well - the better. Here's
a thought for you to ponder: At my clinics, I
have never yet seen a single problem that didn't
go back to a flaw in the horse's or the rider's basics.
EVERYTHING is basics.
Think of the most basic concepts in classical
dressage: CALM, FORWARD, STRAIGHT. If you can
keep your horse calm, ride him forward, and make
him straight, you can do anything. ANYTHING. And
when something - anything - goes wrong, it's
always because one or more of those qualities is
missing. Riding doesn't get any more basic than that.
Why not ask your instructor to suggest some
interesting and challenging books for you to
read? You've had years of riding experience, I'm
sure you could assimilate some riding theory as
well, and it's the combination of the two -
practical, physical time in the saddle AND time
spent in thoughtful reading and discussion - that
will help you make the most and best progress.
This may also be the single best (non-riding) way
to show your instructor just how serious you are.
Most instructors are delighted to assign and then
discuss books and articles; in fact, we're
typically over the moon when we discover that
we've got a student who wants to ride AND read
about riding AND discuss her readings.
My main advice to you, though, is that you please
not confuse "beginner" with "basics." Basics are
for beginners, yes, but they're also for
intermediate riders, and for advanced riders, and
for expert instructors and trainers and
clinicians... and for highly-successful
international competitors as well. Basics are
what help riders get to the top; a lack of basics
is what holds riders back. It doesn't sound to me
as if your instructor is holding you back - after
all, didn't you just tell me that after two
years, you and your horse have both improved a
lot? It sounds to me as though you're working
with a good instructor and are making excellent
progress. Keep up the good work, learn to regard
Oh, and one more thing. Do me a favour, please,
and go a little easier on those of us who are
over 50, okay? We know that we aren't as flexible
as you are, and most of us are dealing with some
physical issues, but we really do work hard at
our lessons, our riding is important to us, and
we care about making progress even if we make
progress much more slowly than you do. Please
don't write us off entirely. I know it's hard to
believe now, but in a mere 33 years, if you're
still riding then (and I hope that you will be),
YOU will be one of US! When that day comes, you
might feel a little bit sad if there's a
flexible, coordinated, talented
seventeen-year-old rider at your barn who holds
you in contempt just because you're 50 and still
haven't managed to achieve perfection as a rider.
Here's a tip from someone who's been there, done
that, and is still and forever doing that: I
don't think that anyone ever actually achieves
that much-desired state of perfection as a rider
- I know I never will! But I'm never going to
stop trying... and even at my age, the keys to
success and progress are, yes, you guessed it: Basics.
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