Jul 16, 2009

Who Needs the Real Thing?!

There have been other blogs posting about this before me, but I just had to give my own 2 cents when I saw this article in Jersey news on the Dressage simulator. Firstly, let it be said that if this sucker did not cost GBP 50,000 I would so have one installed in my house. That can go on my wish list for when I win the lottery, okay? Because frankly, the thing looks awesome; there is video of it as well. It works your core muscles, makes you aware of even the slightest of weight shift or movement. I think it has a MAJOR use as a teaching tool. So many students are completely unaware that their bodies are moving a certain way, preventing them from truly 'getting the feel of it.' I think this could really open their eyes. I know from first-hand that sometimes in order to 'get' a concept, sometimes you have to feel it correctly just once. Everything else will click into place. Alas, not many of us have access to schoolmasters.

The one thing I would say, which should be pretty obvious to everyone, is that there is a weird disconnect inherent in such a tool. There is no horse feedback, so to speak. Your movements are interpreted back to you visually via a screen in front of you, but when I actually ride that doesn't occur -- I have to feel whether I am correct and how the horse feels under me and how he is responding to me. It's knowing what your body is doing in relation to the horse, not in relation to a set of visual data. From my experience as a teacher I could see many students not being capable of bridging that gap in understanding. You have to be able to feel correctness as you are performing it; and more importantly, you have to be able to do so on a living, breathing animal who will be distracted, tired, cranky, etc...

I had so many students tell me that they were applying the aids correctly and nothing was happening. This used to drive me nuts because I guess I always wanted my role as a teacher to be someone who gave her students a set of tools in order for them to empower themselves and begin to solve their own problems. And so many times many of my students just wanted to be so scientific about it all, to quantify each maneuver. I get why that would be so appealing; I really do. But unfortunately that's not how riding can be. A great deal of it relies on the rider's ability to connect a 'feel' with an action (be it on her part or the horse's). I think it could be very easy for a beginner / intermediate student to use something like the dressage simulator to train themselves in perfect circumstances, but yet have everything fall apart when confronted with a real animals with his own set of opinions. Obviously no one is saying that the simulator should be in place of a real animal, but I'm just pointing out the flaw in the machine. The fact is it's like playing an ultra-realistic video-game. When I play my car racing game (which is actually quite sophisticated) I can trick myself into thinking I could be an amazing Formula 1 driver which just a bit of training. Then I get into my little sedan and I actually 'feel' the grip of the road and the wheel that pulls a tad to the right. And I realize that simply because I perfected the set of conditions and movements required of me for winning the game doesn't actually make me a Formula 1 driver.

And that's the disconnect. The dressage simulator would get me in great shape and I could be working high-level movements while I am in a period of having no horse. BUT. My fear is that it might be a tad too easy to 'forget' the stimuli I rely on -- the feel of a horse dropping his inside shoulder, the tilt of the poll, a hind leg that is being carried slightly to the inside. These are like second nature for me. Becoming reliant on what a screen (which is probably significantly more accurate with all its sensors, but still disconnected from my actual body) tells me would probably give me pause.

I guess I contradicted myself a bit, but what I wrote still stands. This could be a great tool for teachers and many of their students. But for those who are too cerebral and too stuck on a rigid set of guidelines, or even those students who aren't fully connected with their bodies, this could really be a hindrance to their training. Luckily I won't have to worry about that for quite awhile since it's bloody expensive!

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