It takes time to develop proficiency and even more time to come to the point of mastery in any field of activity. That said, the more perfect the practice and the more consistent the progression, the less time is spent retracing steps and rebuilding foundational elements that have eroded with the passage of time spent away from the task.
The equestrian arts are no exception to this rule. The late Egon von Neindorff, a classical riding master from Germany, pointed to this fact in his fabulous book entitled The Art of Classical Horsemanship. He wrote:
For this reason, many horse enthusiasts share a motto that is highly fashionable these days: don’t let yourself be rushed! But is that what they really want? I can only say, allow enough time for you and your horse’s mutual physical and mental development. This should be printed in the rules and regulations of our current riding manuals. How can a horse possibly be light, soft and develop a desirable direction, perhaps even maturing into a specialist in its field, unless the rider exercises patience, allowing it time and sufficient schooling, instead of requiring in the first year that it prove its worth and perform profitably. (Instead of being subjected to premature use as a riding lesson or competition horse before it is adequately prepared?) This will certainly constitute the most expensive conceivable path that one could ever follow!
It is one thing to undertake the practice and mastery of an inanimate object, such as shooting clays or flying an airplane, but quite another when the object is a living one. The relationship is much more dynamic and the goal of forming a living, synchronized unit is much more elusive.
Though I am relatively new to the sport, I’ve come to realize that the development of a good seat and good hand on the part of the rider and the systematic and progressive gymnastic preparation and schooling of a horse from “the lunge line to the levade” as it is put requires a well-conceived and carefully executed training program. Both horse and rider must develop physically, mentally and even emotionally, for all three are tested in the process.
When the horse reaches a crossroads in its development, the utmost steadiness, reassurance and focus is required of the rider to move swiftly through the limitation. Unfortunately, for the new rider the crossroads in the horse tend to coincide with the limitations in his [read my!] technical ability. These nexus points are the greatest determinant of the rate of progress in the education of both horse and rider. Well handled, usually with the assistance of a savvy trainer, and the pace of growth accelerates; bungled, forward movement is retarded if not stopped altogether.
The importance of the rider maintaining emotional equilibrium cannot be underestimated at these critical junctures. Emotional ease leads to mental keenness which in turn allows for rapid physical development. Conversely, emotional tension – be it fear, anger, anxiety or arrogance – clouds the thinking process and stunts physical conformation to the new need.
Tension, especially unrelieved tension, is the enemy of progress in any undertaking. Harsh inputs on the part of the rider will typically incite equally unnecessary and damaging reactions from the horse, leading to confusion or frustration in both. It’s easy to see, even for the non-rider, that one of the greatest lessons horses can teach humans is the need for bombproof self-control.
Mastery of any outer activity requires self-mastery. There are no new tricks that allow you to bypass this fact of life in any sphere of activity whatsoever. So, don’t waste any time trying them! Allow enough time to master the basics – elementary schooling is necessary for the advancement of every horse and rider – and don’t let yourself be rushed!