There is an important difference between essentials and “basics.” You will not always be practicing basics, i.e., the very first and very simplest exercises. The famous Zen story sums up the apprentice’s daily routine as “chop wood; carry water.” Forty years go by—now the apprentice is a master— and what is his daily routine? “Chop wood, carry water.” Basics become essentials when you practice them to repletion so that doing them becomes reflexive—a way of life. A master is one who practices essentials for the sheer pleasure of exploring all their myriad variations and implications and who is thus able to enjoy the everyday experience of riding upon the plateau.
The patterns of the Dabbler and the Obsessive are similar, except that the Obsessive adds an attitude of grim determination. The Dabbler hits the first plateau, then crashes and burns; but before crashing, the Obsessive tries to force results. While this is not good in any walk of life, the Obsessive will be especially hard on horses, because horses comprehend neither ambition nor competition.
The Hacker goes through the same initial excitement and makes the same increments of progress as everybody else, but he or she misuses the plateau by camping out on it. Laziness, complacency, “fear of flying” or plain old physical fear of falling off may drive this pattern in riders. Ray Hunt urged riders not to fall into this pattern by saying, “I hope you’re not just trying to ‘get by’ with your horse.”