I'm a dressage book junkie. I admit it. My bookshelves are crammed with every possible dressage book, classics, out of print, and new releases.
I used to loan them out to anyone who asked. Not so much anymore because so many of them were never returned. What is it with people who don't think they need to return a book they've borrowed? Especially one that isn't available anymore.
I've often wondered how a rider learns to ride dressage without reading. There's so much to know, I don't see how it can be learned during a weekly riding lesson. I learned how to ride most of the movements in my head before I ever rode them on a horse because of my obsessive reading of dressage books. In theory, I think I could ride Grand Prix, if I could coordinate my body. Of course, reality is a different story, but I do know how to ride all the movements whether or not I've ridden them on a horse. Dressage is the one horse sport which seems to require an intellectual component, and many will tell you it requires an artistic component as well. Regardless, in order to ride dressage properly, you need to understand the theory. You can't just jump on a horse trained to Grand Prix and ride the movements.
Now I don't mean to stomp on anyone's toes, so if you think I'm wrong and your horse sport requires the same, please point it out. The next closest horse endeavor would be learning natural horsemanship, which requires an extensive knowledge or how a horse thinks and his body language.
I'll often be riding in the arena when my trainer is teaching another student. Often this student is an upper-level rider. Yet, when the trainer asks theory questions or quizzes the rider on basics, they haven't a clue how to answer the questions. It always blows me away. Dressage is such an intellectual pursuit. I make the false assumption that dressage riders are avid readers like me. Not true, I realize. Yet, if you don't get the knowledge from books, it seems you'll waste a lot of precious, expensive lesson time learning the movements.
Which brings a different type of rider to mind, the one with tons of theory knowledge and no practical knowledge. There's always at least one in every barn I've ever boarded. This person is usually smug and self-righteous. They spend most of their time grooming their horse or criticizing other riders behind their backs or to their faces. They rarely ride. When they do, they often have some phobia, such as being afraid to canter. You'll find them at horse shows, hanging out with their pals, who are just as critical as they are. I avoid people like this. Several years of showing a difficult horse have humbled me. I keep my mouth shut when I'm watching dressage classes, except for words of encouragement. Dressage is hard to do and until I've achieved the expertise of an Olympic rider, I'm not saying a word.
So back to dressage books. If you do feel the need to read and increase your knowledge of dressage theory and riding, here are some of my all-time favorites:
The Dressage Guide: This book examines how to ride the movements in the Training through Second Level tests, including the basics. It's not for everyone, but I loved it. The author quotes the classics then interprets the masters' words into modern-day English. For example, when discussing how to ride Shoulder-In, the author quotes paragraphs from several classics then give their own opinion on how to ride a shoulder-in.
The Beginning Dressage Book: I learned how to properly lunge a horse from reading this book. This is the best beginner's dressage book I've found. The author goes into detail on the proper seat and dressage basics in easy-to-understand and read language.
That Winning Feeling--I love this book. There's really no theory in it, but the message regarding the power of positive thinking is priceless.
Centered Riding--I'd like to post some of Sally Swift's visualizations on the arena walls. This book is crammed full of great information.
The Dressage Formula--When it comes to theory, this is one of the best.
Riding Logic--A classic and a must for every dressage rider.
Practical Dressage Manual--Another classic
Dressage Questions Answered--I love the format of this book. It literally does answer most of the basic dressage questions.
Next time, I'm going to cover a different type of dressage book, more of the artistic bent.
Gailey Update: I've been back in the saddle for a week. We've walked, trotted, and cantered. The swelling is still there, and she's stiff, but she is sound.