Why do the basics take so long?
The basics actually don’t take much time at all. Teaching a horse and rider the building blocks of balance and relaxation is not that difficult or complicated, as long as both are a blank slate.
What takes so much time is undoing poor basics, undoing poor movement patterns, and letting go of the wrong muscle memories and building the right muscle groups.
I’ve been riding with my teacher for almost a decade now. The first few years I barely made any progress, not because the work wasn’t good, but because I didn’t understand what she was even talking about. It went right over my head, and every lesson I had we sort of repeated the work of the last. My poor teacher repeated herself over and over, but I rode with others who’s work undid what she was trying to do, and I just wasn’t ready to understand it yet.
Then, when it clicked for me, I was all in- but my muscle memories, habits and understanding was counter productive. It took a long time (and I’m still working on it) to let go of the habits I had that stood in the way of progress. Same for my horses – they had habits that weren’t helpful either, especially the habit of coming behind the bit: some of it wasn’t my fault, some of it was. This was a very lengthy, uncomfortable and downright yucky phase. There didn’t feel like there was a lot of winning. This is where most people quit – they find a new instructor because they aren’t getting anywhere, or bounce around to different “methods.”
Then the break through: I finally understood where she was coming from, what the benefits were, and my horses were starting to buy into it too. We were finding harmony, beautiful moments sprinkled in, and getting successes to keep us motivated. This phase required lots of vigilance from my teacher and myself to not revert to old habits when we were tired, distracted or learning something new.
After these new, more productive habits were better cemented, upward progress was possible. It took so long. Not because the learning itself is fated to be arduous, but because I was in my own way for much of the time.
So why does it take so long? It doesn’t. But we make it so- and there’s nothing wrong with that process, because as Ray Hunt said, “you’re not working on your horse, you’re working on yourself.”