When I'm not with the horses I do yoga, so today on my day off I went to an incredible workshop with a London-based yoga teacher, Adam Husler. It was one of those classes where I actually wanted to cry because everything he was saying made so much sense and was solving problem after problem for me - so I must confess I am now a little bit obsessed with him.
The workshop was based on cross-training for yoga, focusing on arm balances and inversions. At the very beginning of the class Adam made it clear that the strongest foundation you can have is a proper chaturanga (low plank), which "80% of every class I teach people aren't doing" he says. A proper chaturanga is extremely difficult yet so important for correct alignment and keeping our shoulders healthy and strong. All of the advanced asanas we did came back to that same positioning and alignment of our shoulders to create our strongest form to build from.
As with most things, I immediately applied it to dressage and training horses. No advanced movement we do on a horse is worth anything unless we have rhythm, suppleness, and a general sense of "throughness". No half-pass or line of tempi changes is going to be of any use at all to a horse(or our riding) if the horse's back is dropped and jammed in the neck, or the horse is wriggling along on its forehand.
When I applied the extreme basics to my yoga, and even taking a step back by dropping onto my knees in upward dog to help my shoulder positioning, I could feel how much it would benefit me in my future practice and that I was putting in the groundwork now to avoid injury or hitting a plateau where I would have to go back to the beginning in order to get any further on. I felt absolutely ok about this, as we all should when we do it when riding our horses.
Time and time again, we all find we need to revisit the basics because there's something we missed early on which raises its ugly head when trying to train a half-pirouette or something as simple as a 10m circle. We should never feel disheartened by having to go back a few steps temporarily - if anything we should be grateful that we moved ourselves forward enough to come across an opportunity to learn more, and gain more experience in dressage training.
So in every training session you do, check in with your basics before attempting the advanced moves. Just because your horse did a fabulous left half-pass yesterday doesn't mean he will do them now forever and always. Just like how yesterday I may have been able to dominate a strong bakasana (crow pose) yet today I could be shaky and unbalanced. Bodies (human and horse) go through constant change so starting from your foundations then building on from there is super important for any training session, whether it be in dressage or yoga. Explore yours and your horse's body and find out what is working and what isn't on that day, and go from there.