Omnium rerum principia parva sunt- Cicero
“The beginnings of all things are small”
While this Roman statesman wasn’t talking about training horses, this statement is applicable to all walks of life. Everything has a small beginning. Every building begins with one scoop of a shovel. Every great rider was once a child that pointed at a horse and declared “Horsey!” Every great horse was once a foal that struggled to stand on wobbly legs.
This is a saying that I use in many of my lessons because these tiny first steps seem so unimportant. Nothing could be further from the truth, for all things have small beginnings. These small beginnings can be frustrating; those first trot steps look so easy but may feel so terrifying, and the first steps of shoulder-in seem to take a gargantuan effort. But that’s the point of dressage. Everything starts with one step, but those steps grow rapidly. One step of shoulder-in become two. Two become four. Before you know it, shoulder-in becomes second nature.
This is true for both horse and rider, and the rider must have the compassion to allow these beginnings to be small. While a low-level rider may be discouraged watching a professional ride their horse, making it look like their horse has always done those movements that the owner has struggled to teach it, that’s not the beginning. Once, that professional struggled just as much. Therefore, riders have to have compassion for themselves and allow themselves to have small beginnings.
However, there is another side to this coin. While the rider has to accept that everything has small beginnings, they also have to look for the small beginnings to help grow the big things later. That straight line down centerline? One day, that becomes the foundation for tempi changes. The corner of the arena? That’s the beginning of the pirouette. Serpentines? The beginnings of flying changes. Every exercise builds on each other. Remember, mastering dressage is mastering the basics. It’s not whether you can ride piaffe pirouettes to canter pirouettes; it’s about the strength of your foundation. It’s not to say you should drive yourself and your horse to conquer challenges every ride; instead, keep your goals in sight and look for opportunities to make small steps toward them.
Remember, every journey begins with a step. What may seem insignificant in the beginning is that important first step, but it is equally important to remember that even the smallest things can also be the beginning of something big. Even the greatest horses and riders had humble first steps, as no one was born an expert. Have compassion on your horse and yourself, and never discount the tiniest beginnings.