Videos are great learning tools for the dressage student. Athletes in all sports use videos extensively to learn and improve. Critiquing a video of your own ride, although intimidating at first is an unmatched educational resource to improve your skills by analyzing your riding, aids and your horse's reaction. It can also develop your eye and feel for subtleties and pinpoint problems. Ask a friend to record a workout, lesson or a test. You can then do the same for your friend, so you both can benefit from video analysis. A recorded lesson will reinforce the trainer's instructions and help you to understand the instructor perspective.
View the video within a day or two of shooting so that the feel of the ride is still fresh in your memory. Analyze the video from three viewpoints: your body positioning, the use and timing of the aids and the correctness of the horse's performance of each movement. Watch the video several times to catch all the action. Record a ride every few months to check your progress.
Camcorders are easy to operate, and they save footage to built-in hard drives, memory or video cards or flash drives or cards. To view the images, hook the camcorder to a computer to view on the monitor or burn to a disc.
Camcorders are as inexpensive as $95--for a simple camera--and as much as $7,000 for a high-definition, professional camera. Only one feature of the camcorder is important to the rider. The camcorder should have a minimum of 25X optical zoom (not digital zoom) in order to capture the ride at the far end of a long arena. A good compromise if your budget is limited, though, is a 10X optical zoom.
Compare camcorders, zoom lenses and other features first. Then, shop for the best price.
Here are some features to look for:
- Stability control helps minimize the movement of the camcorder when shooting.
- Sports mode adjusts for the motion in dressage.
- A line in the viewer helps the videographer keep the horizon level, so the horse does not look as if he's moving up or downhill.
Here are some tips on technique:
- Shoot during daylight using natural light as much as possible. Overhead lights are often insufficient for the camcorder to record clearly, and the resulting video may be too dark to use.
- Hold the camera steady. A 2- or 3-pound camera seems to get heavier during a 45-minute lesson, so rest it on a ledge, fence, post or kickboard, or use a tripod. (A steady camera is especially important when zooming in at the far end of the arena, because a small movement of the camcorder is magnified on the video. It's amazing how a small shifting of weight from one foot to the other while holding a camera looks like an earthquake on the screen.)
- Use the zoom feature liberally. This will allow you to see every movement close up when replaying the video. Zoom in and out slowly to maintain a smooth, clear picture of the movements.
- Fill the whole screen with the horse and rider, and follow the pair as they move.
- Take the battery charger with you. If shooting a long period of time or multiple sessions, recharge your camera's battery the day before.
- Bring extra video memory cards or flash drives.
- Bring an electrical cord and, if there is an electrical outlet close by, plug the camcorder to the outlet to preserve the battery.
- Have a copy of the owner's manual handy for reference and for troubleshooting problems.
Watch a sample video:
Your investment in video equipment and in the time it takes to do the shooting will more than pay for itself in your riding improvement. Best of all, you will capture those special moments with your horse and be able to celebrate how much you have both improved.
Maryann Debski is a videographer and an attorney in New Jersey. Katherine Poulin-Neff used a Debski DVD for her Pan American Games sponsorship campaign. You can see her videos at www.youtube.com/DressageInMotion.