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Focus on the Basics

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I am giving a lesson. We are working on the flying changes of lead. We are building toward the changes that the horse already knows, but as we progress in the lesson, the horse not only acts like he has no idea what his rider wants, but he is starting to act irritated. I hop on to evaluate what the problem may be. Is the horse being naughty; is his back sore? What is going on? I start the canter work, balance the horse and perform the changes without much problem. We trade places and the student asks:

So, what did you do to get him to do that?”

Welcome to the opening line of many a conversation with my adult amateur owners. The adult owner is working all day, earning money to support her horse, pay for training, lessons, clinics, and shows (and ALL the other expenses involved in owning a horse). She comes out on her evenings and/or weekends to ride. She has goals. She tries hard. But during this journey we call Dressage, she meets seeming insurmountable obstacles. She struggles and just can’t seem to master a task. Inevitably, the trainer changes places and mounts up. The horse suddenly acts trained and performs flawlessly. I call this job security. Amateur owners tend to call it annoying.

What is going on?

Everyone wants to get to the sexy stuff when riding Dressage. Everyone wants to Half Pass and do Tempi changes. But lesson after lesson seems to focus on activating your core, with not using your hands instead of your seat, with sitting straight, with keeping consistent connection, with riding from the inside leg to the outside rein. Basics, Basics, Basics. When will we get to the sexy moves? These ARE the sexy moves. At training level, you learn to sit straight, to use your seat, to connect from the hind legs over the back to the hand. Why, because Half Pass and Pirouette are connecting the inside leg to the outside rein. Sitting straight so you don’t throw the horse out of balance. Flying changes are about balance and straightness. EVERYTHING is built on the basics. If you don’t have mastery of the basics, the sexy stuff will not happen. The holes in your beginning work will come back and bite you in the butt. Every time.

So, be patient with yourself and your horse. When I start a youngster, I spend months teaching them security in the basics. The training pyramid, of course. By the time we play with lateral work, the horse is thinking, “Oh, shoulder-in? Oh, that’s just inside leg to outside rein. I can do that” Allow yourself the same patience. Spend the time learning and reinforcing the basics, ride after ride, until you are secure in them. Then, as you start the sexy stuff, you always have the foundation to give you security and lead to success.

Basics are the foundation to success

And this philosophy of focusing on the basics applies to all aspects of horse care. You may be tempted to buy a new brush or other gadget that promises to make grooming quicker and easier, but that road only leads to disappointment. Good grooming just requires a few simple tools, a lot of elbow grease, and some time. Trying to cut corners or to rush though it just makes more work for the future. For example, you miss a minor skin irritation that becomes infected, or don’t notice  that your horse has tenderness in one leg which develops into tendinitis because you didn’t know to take things easy next session.

Grooming is your opportunity to bond with your horse and to establish a routine, so that, if in the future his behaviors changes or your just get a feeling that he is “off” today, you can take this as a signal from the horse that you need to look into something.

Likewise the grooming products you use should be basic and natural too. Many store bought products have artificial additives such as preservatives which extend their shelf life (which means more profits for the manufacture/store), or synthetic colors and fragrances designed to appeal to the human putting on the product, and not the animal having it put on their skin.

We are becoming more and more conscious abut the products we are introducing into our homes and food – who here buys organic when possible? And I believe we should be doing the same for our horses too.

142 thoughts on “Focus on the Basics

  1. Learning and growing in skill levels gives great interaction time between the owner and the horse. Relax and enjoy the process – both will benefit from a more relaxed approach. It takes time to build trust for both parties!

    1. Learned a few things

    2. Great information for beginners

    3. Basic is key but also know your horse. I own 2 horses and they love to ride. Being gentle is a key also font be scared all animals sense that. If you live your horse he/she will love you thanks for the read.

  2. the basics never fail. trust-building is such a process

    1. Learned some new things.

  3. 😁😁😁👍👍👍..back to the basics is truly needed when dealing with ones horse.but I believe patience in the most important quality for a rider..

  4. There must be good communication between horse and man for their perfect understanding

  5. Agreed! Need to master basics first.

    1. Basics first sexy later 😉

      1. I gained a lot of wisdom here today.Thanks

  6. I loved the tip on not trying to cut corners. Thanks for the great article.

  7. Always master the basics – no 1 lesson in life as it will serve you a lifetime of love

  8. Like most things a solid foundation is key. I agree, it’s true.

  9. Very much agree, basics are crucial.

  10. interesting thank you

  11. Basics, basics, basics.

  12. back to basics are good!

  13. Some great tips here!

  14. Absolutely agree on focusing on the basics. When I was a child, if I got too handsy, my mom took away my saddle and reins. I was forced to concentrate on my core and connection with my mare.

  15. I strongly believe that the right choice for products is extremely important!

  16. This lesson is good for a multitude of things in life.. You can’t be good at anything unless you learn the basics first.

  17. Great article.

  18. Basics first fir sure

  19. A great reminder- as with anything, it takes time and patience to master the basics, but it pays off in the end. Thank you!

  20. Basics are most certainly the foundation to success.

  21. Patience is always the answer 🙂 Thanks for this informative article!

  22. Agreed! Great read, thank you.

  23. Focusing on the basics and not moving forward before you and the horse are ready

  24. Definitely basics are the first step and only when these are mastered can you advance further, it’s the same principle with a lot of things.

  25. Always remember the basics. Good words to live by

  26. Great information.

  27. I agree to stay patient! It is the best piece of advice anyone can give. It all takes time. Great read!

  28. I like that the overall message is, “Keep it simple,” and invest the time and care for horses that one would for oneself.

  29. I think the basics are the most important things to focus on. Your horse is a living creature, with feelings and emotions. If you don’t get the basics right, such as proper grooming with products that won’t harm your precious horse, what use is anything else?

  30. The basics are the foundation and are important to learn


  32. Basics are numero uno !

  33. cool article

  34. Patience is assuredly a virtue that may be exercised by anyone learning. There is a great deal to retain, so keeping it simple to start is most definitely useful!

  35. Great tips that could also apply to many things in life; thanks.

  36. Great info. Thanks!

  37. Common sense

  38. This is a great article It has a lot of useful informatiom

  39. The basics are easy to forget during any complex process. This is a good reminder.

  40. I couldn’t agree more, just knowing the basic is good. A person must know their horse.

  41. I love bonding while grooming

  42. Go to build the foundations before you can build up. Totally agree!

  43. Well written, lovely message.

  44. Awesome article will have to share with my fellow horse owners. I know more then a few that need to read this

  45. Need to build a foundation before becoming an expert.

  46. Grooming is a great time to bond with your horse and establish trust.

    1. A great foundation is important.

  47. It’s the basic truth of most things–start with the basics and the rest will fall into place!

  48. Thank you for sharing this

  49. Very informative article

  50. Basics are the best start.

  51. The basics are always the best way to start. Thank you, very informative.

  52. Nowadays, we never really know what chemicals are in the products that we buy. This ultimately affects us and the animals around us as it is our responsibility as caretakers of the world to ensure safety for all living things.

  53. Fundamentals at least it has the word FUN in it.

  54. That horse is huge! Thanks for posting!

  55. great article

  56. Helpful tips to keep your horse in the best of shape.

  57. “Be patient with yourself and your horse” so helpful!

  58. Yes, mastering basics is very important.

  59. You can’t go wrong with the basics.

  60. great picture

  61. Trust and Love is the BASIC need for horses/ponies.

  62. Very well written! 😀

  63. good stuff

  64. Building a relationship with your horse is important.

  65. Very well written and true there can be no progress without mastering the basics.

  66. Great article!

  67. A lot of good advice some of which I had never heard of or thought of.

  68. So much more to learn!

  69. Thanks for the tips!

  70. Great !

  71. With horses and life in general, getting back to the basics is sometimes forgotten. Thanks for this reminder. You said it so well!

  72. Great article very informative

  73. wow – really great viewpoint

  74. I very much agree, basics are crucial.

  75. It all starts with the basics!

  76. Boy oh boy Nestor so cute


  78. Thanks for this great article!!

  79. good blog

  80. Great article! I believe sticking with the basics until they are mastered can be applied to just about everything in life. And paying attention to the horse and how he reacts is always important. And I always try to buy organic and cruelty-free products as much as possible.

  81. Basics are the foundation to success. You don’t know that line just motivated me. Thank you.

  82. Love the photo

  83. I agree you must always start at the basics. Great article!

  84. I too believe that buying organic is the best for a horse as well as their master.

  85. Being patient is definitely the key to success! It’s so important.

  86. Very useful info.

  87. Treating them like one of your own or a family member!

  88. Yes, you have to master the basics before you can go any farther.

  89. Very very true!

  90. Grooming is such a great bonding experience with your horse!!

  91. Basics are so important, but also must be accompanied with patience and the willingness to try and try again.

  92. Nice recommendations for natural products for horses. Thanks.

  93. Great article!

  94. Start with the basics is key.

  95. Great article! Thanks for sharing!

  96. basics, basics, basics!

  97. I buy organic at home. I buy organic herbs for my horse and anything else I can. I had a lot of problems until I learned a real half halt. I struggled through 3rd and finally learned it properly at 4rth level. Geesh!

  98. this all great info for hoarse owener and soon to be owenrs

  99. Thanks for sharing

  100. learned some things thank you

  101. Good info

  102. Gonna take my horse to the old town road and ride it until we reach a reasonable destination. Good to know this info!

  103. Sometimes the basics are better than the intricate details

  104. Interesting

  105. Great tips thank you!

  106. A good reminder to keep grounded and focused on what’s important

  107. Basics are the foundation!

  108. Thank you for the intesting article.

  109. I love the idea that trust is the basis for every great relationship.

  110. Great advice

  111. Very simple, but sage advice.

  112. wonderfully written, Thanks for sharing!

  113. Good article some good information and advice thankyou

  114. It is always about patience.

  115. So, be patient with yourself and your horse that’s key

  116. agree with you 100%

  117. I really want to ride a horse after reading this article

  118. Def gotta get the basics down first!! Then everything else will come into place!

  119. How important are basics I see.

  120. Always basic and common sense great article

  121. It takes such time and patience to do dressage

  122. Very well written basics should always come first!

  123. Such a great read! Thanks 🙂

  124. Basics are essential – and I totally agree with you on many products having too many chemicals. We love all things natural and have for many years. We use essential oils and other natural products for cleaning, health, etc.

  125. Very informative and easy to understand.

  126. My daughter had the awesome experience of riding lessons at a stable that REQUIRED some basic horse care. It was SO rewarding!

  127. Back to basics – also a good reboot!

  128. Another great article

  129. It’d be too hard for me to take care of a horse, financially more than anything else.

  130. You are absolutely correct. I confess to a certain impatience. Not spending the time to learn and just jumping on when I find the time to ride only ends up with me being sore.

  131. I so total agree, back to basics,

  132. Great information! Start with the basics

  133. I agree that mastering the basics is what someone needs to do if he/she wants to be as successful at riding Dressage as possible.

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