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Go Back to the Basics

You can't build a house on a crumbling foundation. The same goes for riding and working with horses. Sometimes you can skate by and make it look like you've got it together. But the horse is very good at exposing holes. Eventually, light will begin to shine in and you begin to see minor flaws. And if your house was built on a glass foundation, cracks begin to form. You can hire the most expensive contractors to build onto the house to continue to make it look beautiful, but the more you add on, the bigger the cracks become. Until one day they become too big and the glass foundation shatters, taking the whole house down with it. It's then you realize you need to start over from the beginning.

Just like so many avenues in our life, if the foundation of your riding and horsemanship isn't strong, then when cracks start to form, you don't have a solid base to go back to. So many of the top professionals will preach that when you have an issue with your riding or your horse, to "Go back to the basics". It's so easy to breeze through the basics because they can get boring and redundant. In our fast-paced society, we want the fun stuff now! We want to be cantering and jumping and piaffing before we can efficiently ride a decent walk.

My goal with the Horse Whisperer in training is to build the fundamental building blocks of the rider with both the horse and under saddle so they have a strong foundation to begin with. Then, when further down the line, they encounter problems, they are able to go back to their foundation and know that it's solid to provide them with a sturdy base to build on. Each class the rider on the lunge line does various stretches and exercises to build a strong seat and body aids to prepare them for riding.

Something I like to tell my students about the lunge line is about the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. It is one of the oldest riding schools and of the highest regards to Dressage. It is so traditional, that up until 2008, only men could ride at that school. The students that come to the school are already great riders. Yet, when they begin, they start on the lunge line without stirrups or reins and ride that way for 2 years! It is then, once they have a strong foundation, that they can go on to ride with the stirrups and reins.

I am certainly not the Spanish Riding School! Students will spend far less time on the lunge line. But, I have been so pleasantly surprised by the results of students taking weekly lessons on the lunge line for only a couple of months. The seat and hand aids have vastly improved!

In riding, you have the seat, hand and leg aids. When you ride, you want to have independent aids. That means you want to be able to use each of the aids independently from the other to give the horse the most effective commands. And to be as gentle as possible with the horse. One example is when trotting, so often people don't have a deep seat and have trouble sitting the trot. When that happens, their hands jostle and bounce and bump the horse in their sensitive mouth. By being able to focus on sitting the trot without having to worry about bumping the horses mouth, students can learn how to independently use their aids without the horse as collateral. Then once they have a good seat for the trot, it is then we can work on cantering.

We are a society of instant gratification. So many instructors put their students on the horses and off they go! While it might be fun to canter and jump, if you don't have a solid base, you will eventually get hurt. And you can very easily hurt your equine partner. The yanking on the mouths and bouncing on the backs limit their ability and will to work well. There's a reason many lesson horses get sour. Horses work so hard for us, their welfare has to be taken into account too.

So, what might look like boring work is really building a trusting relationship with the horse and a solid foundation to build a beautiful house of your choice on. One hoof in front of the other and slowly and steadily you will get there.

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