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Can I Learn How to Ride Dressage from Online Videos?
I have often been asked this question, my opinion is both "Yes" and "No". Full disclosure here:: I do have training videos on one of the popular websites, so that must mean I think they can be useful.
Here are some of my reasons for saying "Yes":
Theoretical knowledge of horsemanship in general and dressage training in particular is crucial to being successful as a rider and trainer (and yes, you are training your horse every time you sit in that saddle, even if you are not getting paid). You really do need to know the hows and whys of what you are trying to accomplish when you are riding. Without the theoretical background, even the most gifted rider will go round and round in circles (get it?) and never progress. And, the theory of dressage is never completely mastered, so we can all continue to improve our knowledge forever. While books are truly treasure troves of theory, good videos of great trainers who are teaching students or riding and talking while doing so can clarify much of the written word for us.
Many of us are visual learners, myself included. That means that no matter how much we read about it, discuss it, question it and spout the theory ad nauseam, we really don't get it until we see it done a number of times. I remember as a working student spending many extra hours watching top trainers ride and train. For some reason I could see the half halt and feel it in my body when they were riding. Eventually I could reproduce that half halt myself on a horse - the "Eureka" moment. I finally knew what all the books were talking about. I sure know the moment I felt myself affect the horse's hindlegs and put them where I wanted them. This was directly related to how many times I had watched great riders do the same thing. I completely believe that we can learn from watching good riding and training, and this learning can sometimes almost bypass the conscious brain and just go straight into our subconscious. (Warning: I also believe we can subconsciously learn bad riding from watching bad riding, so turn away from the train wrecks please!) This is reason number two for a resounding "Yes".
Reason three is that we have a limited number of horses to ride every day. I ride and teach all day, but that doesn't mean I am exposed to all different kinds of horses and situations. We can learn from different trainers on different horses; every one has unique challenges in their training process. If you only ride one horse a day, watching applicable video can vastly increase your understanding of how to deal with your own unique challenges.
Reason one for "No" is the same as reason three for "Yes". It can be confusing to learn from too many trainers, and for that reason I think most students should limit their exposure somewhat to trainers who have similar training methods as your current trainer. Otherwise you can find yourself questioning more, and not progressing. This is fine if your quest is just knowledge for the sake of knowledge (not a bad quest), but it's not so great for progressing in the actual sport of riding dressage well.
Lastly, if you want to learn how to ride, there is no substitute for riding. Lots of riding. All the theoretical learning, all the questioning, all the discussions, answers and watching will never do for you what hours in the saddle will. You must have the knowledge and understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, but in the end you must develop feel in your body and subconscious. This takes hours in the saddle, being aware of what you are doing, trying to feel your horse and then using your body more effectively to affect your horse in the right ways. In this way, your conscious knowledge turns into unconscious skill.
International Grand Prix trainer and competitor Shannon Dueck is a Pan Am Games Individual Silver Medalist, and has competed at both WEG and the World Cup Final. She has trained with Bert Rutten of the Netherlands, Kathy Connelly, Lars Peterson, Hubertus Schmidt, Robert Dover, and most recently, Wolfram Wittig while in Germany this past summer.
Visit Shannon's website dueckdressage.com