What is the best way to go about learning dressage? I've seen many approaches in the last 40+ years. Obviously, some ways are more successful than others.
Ideally, you can buy a schoolmaster, take lessons, and periodically have the horse tuned up. At the other extreme, you can be a working student for a trainer and not own a horse at all. I was lucky enough to be a working student for 13 years AND have access to FEI horses. There are lots of variations in between. It all depends on how much money and/or time you have, or want, to put into it. Money helps, but you cannot buy knowledge and the expertise to apply it.
The one thing that successful ways of learning all have in common is consistency. By consistency I don't mean taking the same lesson once a week every week for two years. Progress must be consistent, too. Toward that end, it helps to supplement your lessons by studying. Books and videos help you understand what you're trying to accomplish if you know how to use them. Not everyone does. Watch a lot and listen a lot. Develop your eye. Ask a lot of questions.
Be as consistent as possible with your source of instruction. If you switch instructors too frequently, you never master any method at all. On the other hand, if you can demonstrate a degree of expertise in one method, it is easier to correct or adjust a small detail than it is to start over. That is why one-shot clinics don't work for any but the already accomplished rider. Clinics should be thought of and planned as a series to derive the most benefit. Of course, the instructor or clinician should have classical goals and methods.
If you really want to learn something, a lot of thought should be given to selecting the individual from whom you consistently take instruction. Unfortunately, it's not easy. Often those with the weakest credentials are also the most opinionated, arrogant, and glib. The talk should translate into results, and the results should be tested in some way (such as competition, but not limited to competition) after a minimum degree of competence has been reached.
Discussion of theory is great; however, don't confuse parroting words with true understanding. In this sport "feel" is everything and the only thing. Ya can't just talk the talk--ya gotta walk the walk.
-- by Suzanne May