Sunday, January 10, 2010

Dressage--To Read or Not to Read

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.


Unknown said...

I hear you - there are many expert horse people, but few horsemen/women.

In fact, the more I know, the more I realize I have no clue.

Susan said...

I understand completely. A lot of people find dressage boring; I am fascinated by it. I am always training my horse, wanting to perfect my horse's movements. It must be differences in personalities because it was the same when I skied. I used to watch people, year after year never improving, always content to make the same sloppy turns, while I tried to make every turn perfect.

I went back to riding western because where I live that's mainly what people do, but the same is true of reining or anything else done on a horse. I watch riders working a cow with their horse's heads jacked up in the air. My goal is to never have my horse raise their head which is hard when you have to react without having the time to set your horse up.

Back to the reading part, I love Centered Riding. Have you read Dressage With Kyra? Another book I really like is Reining by Bob Loomis. A lot of people don't understand him, but what he says makes perfect sense to me.

I too can perform any movement sitting on the couch reading how to. But when I get on the horse, dang, it never goes as well. Oh well, always room for improvement.

Jami Davenport said...

Breathe, Do you know how many people, including horsepeople, ask me why I'm still taking lessons after all these years. They'll say "Don't you know everything yet?" I'll say, "The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know."

Susan, Yes, I have Kyra's book and her DVDs. Really like them. It does take a certain type to get into dressage and all the theory around it.

Laura Crum said...

Jami--I know very little about dressage, but I do believe that in all horse disciplines there are those who take a more "intellectual approach." For instance one does not tend to think of team roping as a particularly intellectual sport and yet I know ropers who ceaselessly study videos, articles and books by the pros, seeking to understand concepts that will help them improve. I think it depends on who you are more than what discipline you pursue. Though I am the first to admit that there is probably a whole lot more to learn about dressage than team roping (!)

Its funny, all the years I spent training and competing had a sort of opposite effect on me. I'm now pretty relaxed, focused only on using what skill I have left to ride in a way that keeps me safe and my horse comfortable--not too worried about whether I'm executing any move particularly well or not.

And Breathe--I am endlessly (and I know its silly) irritated by horse people (well, all people) who need to pose as experts, getting some kind of ego charge out of being the one who tells others how to do it. Quite often, as Jami says, they have a bad back, or some other reason why they are not doing it themselves, but this doesn't stop them from posing as "the knowledgable one". I agree with you guys. I've come full circle and any more I just accept the fact that my knowledge is minimal, and try to do the best I can.

Susan, I just wanted to say that your comment on the last post about fear reminded me so much of the time when I was working on a commercial cattle ranch in northern California. My horse, Burt, was normally a very forward, ampy horse, though willing and kind, and on the day that my husband and I were to be dropped off ten miles from the ranch to bring in some cattle that were out on BLM land, I was pretty nervous. It was rough country, I had never gathered there before, my horse was green and inclined to jig. Scared as I was, I got flustered and forgot my bridle. When we unloaded, there I was...I had to ride Burt in a halter. And all day long that good horse took care of me, including when we had to dash up or down some steep bit to get a cow. Calm and quiet and controled as could be. Just like your mare. I was so grateful. I kept Burt until he died in his late thirties, after many happy years turned out to pasture. I so agree--good horses will come through for you when you need them.

Shanster said...

Hooray for Gailey!!!

Yes - I am a dressage junkie as well. When people tell me how boring it must be for the horse I'm always like wha? There is ALWAYS something new cropping up to learn and do... love it.

Figure it's like the eternal journey... we are all climbing that training pyramid to reach that sherpa at the tip of the mountain.... it's about the journey as much as anything.

Always something new to learn, work on, do and try and you can never be perfectly round or completely through or relaxed enough!

Which is the appeal to me... I guess. My weekly lessons are like receiving keys that open the door revealing a gift...

Yeesh. Am I a dork or what! I'm looking forward to more of your dressage reading picks!! Thanks for sharing! Shan

Jami Davenport said...

I love theory books, but I also love more "artistic" books about dressage, such as "Riding to the Light." I'll list those next time.

Also I'm considering going to a Tai Chi/Riding workshop in a few months. I'll report on that, too, if I go.

EcoLicious Equestrian said...

thanks for the list of recommended dressage reads...I am a junkie myself :o)

marknsvet said...

First-time poster, steady reader here. ; )

I've only read a few dressage theory books and took lessons for a few years. But, like several here have said, I only learned how MUCH more there is to learn. I love to go to shows and plant myself near experienced people and "eavesdrop" on their commentary of what's going on in the ring. Sometimes they've been snarky, but others, ohhhh, the things I've learned. ; )

Can't wait to see your list of "artistic" books. I read one years back that I can no longer find. It was almost all photos with commentary/critique under each photo. There was an eight-photo spread of a canter pirouette that was aMAzing. The title was something like "Dressage at ____." I want to say Goodwood, but it wasn't. It was something I wasn't sure how to pronounce. SOmeday I'll find it again.

Karen Jaffa McGoldrick said...

Hi Jami,
Have you read my novel yet? It's from one dressage junkie to another. Hope you will.

Karen McGoldrick
"The Dressage Chronicles"

Jami Davenport said...

Karen,I've been eyeing your book for while. As soon as I get my Kindle Fire at the end of this month, I'll pick it up. Sounds like an entertaining read.

Jami Davenport said...

Karen,I've been eyeing your book for while. As soon as I get my Kindle Fire at the end of this month, I'll pick it up. Sounds like an entertaining read.

Karen McGoldrick said...

Hope you got around to reading TDC. I'm hard at work on a sequel, and at the same time training a new horse for myself. Gia is a 5 year old Holsteiner/Hann cross. Lots of adventures ahead...uh I mean research.