“The Rider’s Art” 2019 Rider Challenge

Ride Forward With The Basics

By Silver Johnson

© S. Johnson The Rider’s Art 2019 All Rights Reserved

Hello 2019 Rider Challenge!

Image courtesy Betty Oare /Navy Commander
Image courtesy Betty Oare/Navy Commander

Riding should be fun! Mastering the ‘basics’ makes riding so much more pleasurable for both horse and rider. So here’s a fun challenge to spark up your practices, schooling sessions and competitions as you ride forward through 2019 with ‘the Basics!’  

Beginning Feb. 14, 2019, and each month forward for the next 10 ½  months, read one book a month of your choice, practice and document your progress. Each month, list the book you read, why you chose it and the top three concepts about the basics you learned and applied from it. Document your lessons and monthly riding progress with a 3-minute video. Between Dec. 1, 2019 (not before) and no later than midnight Dec. 31, 2019, email your reading list and video documentation to me at coachorsewriter@gmail.com

Winners Circle

A panel of ‘Masters of the Basics’ will review your virtual rides (Yes, George and Jimmy may be amongst them!), and on Feb. 14, 2020, the rider who demonstrates the most improvement in each category will be awarded a professional critique, told what to work on, a trophy and Certificate for Most Improved in Equestrian Basics.

This challenge is not a Medal Final. This 2019 ‘Ride Forward with The Basics’ challenge is THE WAY TO your personal best!

There is no entry fee. Anyone is eligible. Age classifications are 5-11, 12-18, 19-25, 26-45 and 45 and over. So show us what George says will ‘pull you through.’  Show us what George can’t live without and Jimmy does gymnastics over when they are done right!

Basic Inspiration

Over the past year, I have been listening to George, Jimmy and other coaches step up their game on riders practicing ‘the basics.’ This inspired me to take their challenges up a notch! To top that off, a young adult rider who recently approached me about taking lessons inspired me to actually go live with this global challenge!    

Her intuitive nature and enthusiastic yearning to learn was refreshing and just what this challenge needed. In our conversation, I learned she had little formal instruction, so I asked her if she’d been taught ‘the basics’ and what she knew about them?   

Z.N: “I was taught the basics…head up, heels down, back straight, shoulders/hips/heels aligned. I remember when this all clicked!  YOU CAN FEEL IT WHEN YOU ARE ALIGNED!”

She said this with such enthusiasm and joy! Bingo on the word ‘basics!’  Double bingo on ‘feel’ and ‘being aligned.’

Z.N.:  “When you know the basics, you can actually feel your points of balance. Until you feel them aligned, you aren’t going to know balance.”

I was interested in how she was introduced to the basics and what was the most important thing about how they were presented?

Z.N. “How the teacher presents the basics or reminds you of them, in correlation to what skill is being taught presently, is ultimately important.”

When I asked her if she resented being reminded to use the basics, her answer was telling.

“I would never resent being reminded at all. As a matter of fact, I probably would have learned more faster and become a better rider already had I been reminded of the basics more often.”

Mastering The WAY

My favorite Zen saying is oh so applicable here.

“Seek not to follow the way of the Masters, seek what they sought.”

Let’s face it. The horsemanship masters we look up to, dream of being as good as, had to practice the basics. We can never actually be them, however we can aspire to riding like them. I can never be George, Jimmy, Beezie, Bernie, Buck, McLain, Monty, Ray, Tom, Nacho, Debbie or Anne. None of us can. Yet, their mastery of horse skills can teach us… lead us to reach for the same level of skill mastery and reach our ultimate goal of having an exceptional connection with our horses.

We invite these Masters to share their knowledge, exceptional skill levels, intuitive level of understanding and mastery of application so we can reach what they reached for, practiced millions of hours on and so graciously humble themselves to achieve every ride. So why not take their advice seriously? We must seek what they sought in order to be our very own personal best equestrians. The first step in reaching this goal is to practice what they practice. And the basics start with listening and observing first.

Then and NOW…What Can You Do Without Them?

You can’t do this without them!

George Morris winning both medals at 14 in the same day. Photo courtesy of the Chronicle of the Horse
George Morris winning both medals at 14 in the same day. Photo courtesy of the Chronicle of the Horse

 Or this…

McLain Ward and HH Azur at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters
McLain Ward and HH Azur at the 2019 Palm Beach Masters

Or this…

Beezie Madden Clinic
Beezie Madden Clinic

Or this without them

Sam Walker 2018 ASPCA Maclay National Champion

What You Are Aiming For

Meet Betty “I’ve got the Basics!” Oare.

Image courtesy Betty Oare /Navy Commander
Betty Oare on Navy Commander 

According to George, this is what you aim for, what your goal is. Here’s what George had to say about her “basics” in the July 27, 2015 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

“The rider’s position–there’s nothing I can say about this position that’s wrong. Her heels are down; her ankles are flexed; her leg is in impeccable position. That helps her not jump ahead of the horse. Notice that her seat is above the saddle, not ahead of the pommel or back toward the cantle. Her posture is beautiful, with her eyes up. Her hands are alongside the neck, not God-knows-where above the neck. She has an almost straight line to the bit. It’s a better picture than any I see now. It’s a great example of the American style.”

We all know George and Jimmy are all about the basics. They probably wake up and go to sleep in a “basics” position. If they talk in their sleep, most likely it’s all about the basics. All our leading masters, mentors, coaches and riders, and their impeccable “basics” are still practicing, touting, coaching and proclaiming the “basics” to be your everyday go-to tools; if practiced perfectly will lead you to a future of equestrian excellence. Me, too!

Maybe you ask yourself why coaches relentlessly repeat the discipline of these elemental tools, continue to emphasize their importance and, year after year, remind everyone of their existence?

Ask yourself if you resent being reminded.  

This is why I’m challenging you – yes, YOU  to make the “basics” and how you feel about them, your 2019 equestrian goal! Get your coaches, instructors, ground person, mom, dad, selfie-stick-self if you must, to document your daily rides, schooling sessions and competitions. I’ll feature the top riders in my February 2020 column. This is a GLOBALLY read column! So get ready to go global with improvement!        

What it Takes

Silver Johnson and Spinner
Silver Johnson and Spinner

It takes work. It takes practice. It takes lessons, clinics, reading, and practice, practice, practice. It means paying attention, being open to listening. It means knowing you don’t know everything in order to understand and learn how to apply the Basics when introducing a new movement or skill.

It means riding with them every time you ride. It can also mean overcoming unforeseen obstacles.  As the above photo proved in my former column,’ Maclay Medals and Back Stories,’ obstacles to perfecting these basic skills can sometimes be daunting. Perseverance, a dedicated work ethic and a will to overcome great odds means reaching your goal…making it to the finals and your last chance to qualify in your region. Then win a coveted Medal and prove your riding skill basics are spot on!

Riding Forward with The Basics

A few years ago, Jimmy (Wofford, just in case) and I were having a conversation about my book, The Rider’s Art. I had emailed him a few questions and included the above photo as an example of which horse his brother, Warren, had coached me on. Jimmy’s response contained a comment about the picture which honored me greatly. “Great basics, S, you should mail this to George’s Jumping Clinic column.”  I wasn’t expecting his critique, however, I was thrilled to receive it. Humbly, I felt like I’d won another silver medal 50 years after this photo had been taken!

When he suggested I email the photo to George, I could also feel myself begin to sweat. Why was I nervous now about George reviewing this photo from way back then?

Learning about and applying the “basics” properly, is just as much an emotional endeavor as it is a physical one. Even all these years later, what Jimmy and George might say about my basics then still means a great deal to me today.

Open your mental emoji

This challenge is also about changing the way you feel about receiving instruction…about your emotional relationship with being taught, about how open minded you are to learning and being reminded about and practicing the Basics. So, ask yourself how you feel? Reach deep inside your emotional equestrian and ask yourself if you welcome or resent being reminded to regroup and realign your position with the Basics?

If the answer inspires you to shudder and put on a scary emoji face, it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with learning.

If we aren’t open to learning every chance we get, what’s the reason to keep riding? George and Jimmy and Ernie and Bernie, Anne and others repeatedly reminding you about the basics doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It’s not that personal. It goes way deeper than that. They care so much about young riders mastering the basics they are willing to put more effort into their delivery and repeat them as often as it takes. When coaches stop reminding you is when you show them you don’t care about learning.

The Simple Truth

Your riding goal should be to improve your use of and apply the basics every day, to acutely deepen your understanding of them and your application as nuance. If you don’t know what nuance means, google it. We equestrians must ride with a welcome and grateful attitude to learning. Bringing a positive attitude about the basics to the barn is what your horse hopes for!

The simple, effective truth when we position ourselves on our horse and practice the basics is something we must appreciate, not resent. The basics are ‘essential’ and hold all the answers to any question you might have on a horse. They are always at our disposal. So…what’s not to like?  It is our job to put ourselves in the right place on our horse, keep ourselves in alignment, connect those physical dots on our map of equestrian athletic form and voila!

Perfect practice makes perfecting skills easier. The Basics deserve a capital B. They give riders a leg up in the department of ‘feel’ and actually feeling in balance with your horse.

So get your Betty Oare Basics game on and Good Luck to All! Let The Challenge Begin!

Silver Johnson c. 2019 all rights reserved

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