Is this the way? Is this the way it has to be?
If you are anything like me, you have asked yourself these questions more than once in your journey to learn dressage. I have, too… I have been through the ups and downs (literally AND figuratively).
It can feel like there are insurmountable obstacles all along the way. And by nature, dressage IS one of those things in which you never stop learning. There is always more to learn. In fact, the moment you think you have learned it all is the moment you have stopped learning, because… and I am speaking personally here… I have been involved professionally in dressage my entire adult life… and I can tell you with 100% assertion: there is no end to the learning.
The Good and the Bad
But this process of never-ending learning can be a GOOD thing or it can be a BAD thing. It is really all in how you approach it.
Mindset is huge.
And wellllll… it also has a bit to do with the people who happen to cross your path along the way and help you along. Good help along the way, someone who has been there before and who can compassionately guide you along the journey, is a HUGE help.
It might be that you are in an area with no access to a competent (and kind) dressage trainer. Or it might be that you are in an area thick with dressage, but yet no one you would even remotely want to ride with. Or it might even be that you have and work with a trainer you LOVE, but…. you are an insatiable learner and you just want to learn MORE to support your lessons, but where to find that?
I understand. It is hard to find someone who speaks your language.
- can relate to learning on your level
- can break it all down into understandable language and exercises
- can give you the tools so that you can do the training yourself
- cares about the horse and his opinion of the work within the work, rather than just the results
- treats you compassionately, understanding the path you are on and how much learning this means to you
- regards you and your input with respect, who cares about what you think about the work, and how it feels to YOU.
You are actually not alone.
And a part of you knows there has GOT to be a better way. Well… there is. :-)
I am Shana Ritter. I am a dressage trainer who takes an alternative approach to working with horses and riders. I serve riders like YOU who want to learn in a supportive, validating, and fulfilling way.
I am the wife, best friend, and co-owner of this crazy life-business venture we call Ritter Dressage. I live in Germany with Thomas (link) and our 2 children. I am a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist and I have competed successfully through Intermediare I. I have been riding horses for 33 years, and exclusively dressage for the last 21 of those years. I am owned by my three horses and two cats. I have other interests outside of dressage including yoga, zen meditation, holistic health and wellness, empowered birth, art, music, entrepreneurship, and attachment parenting.
I could never be bored.
I am interested in like a gazillion different things. Passionately interested in a gazillion different things, in fact. It could make my life rather chaotic to be scattered in a gazillion different directions.
So I try to make sure that anything I actually spend my time pursuing those things which support and nurture my inner vision of how I want my life to unfold. For me, I am most fulfilled when I have a variety of interests I can pursue which all support my inner life vision. So even though some of these may seem very disparate, I have actually come up with a way to bring it all together in my life in such a way that each supports and informs the others.
For example, in 2012 (between the births of my first child and second child) I started midwifery school. I mean, besides that I used to breed horses and therefore was a sort of horse midwife for my mares, how different from Dressage can that get, right?
And YET… by following this (lifelong) interest and letting it change me and shape me, it has, in turn, brought further depth and character to my approach towards Dressage in general and working with people, in particular. How so?
Through my midwifery studies, I have learned that the best approach for supporting a woman in pregnancy and birth is actually to help her re-discover and embrace her own power and authority. For me, midwifery isn’t about stealing the show and saving women and babies from birth. Instead it is about inspiring women to reconnect with their inner wisdom and intuition because THAT is the guiding factor in realigning ourselves with our inherent birthing nature as women.
Because I trust women and I trust birth. I believe that birth was designed to be safe (my years of experience with foaling mares wholeheartedly supports my view), and it is when we interfere that we make it unsafe. I trust that women can learn how to trust themselves through the process. It made me realize how, as a culture, we take away people’s power and authority.
It is not just in birth. It is everywhere, and it interferes with our confidence to believe in our abilities.
Empowering women to birth is not just about birth. It is about empowering people to be authentic owners of their own authority.
So… what does this have to do with dressage?
Well, I realized that this applies very much to Equestrian culture, as well.
Much of dressage operates under a patriarchal paradigm in which the trainer/instructor maintains that the student is worthless, even detrimental to herself and her horse, until she has to become more like the trainer. Well, as far as skills this can hold true, but we are MORE than a bag of skills.
We have heart, intuition, and the power to transcend but only if our voice is allowed to be heard.
In the old system, the student’s voice is not wanted. It is not heard, it is even condemned. Until the student finally becomes somehow “worthy” by assuming the values and traditions of her teachers.
Well not all of those values and traditions are beneficial. See… this cycle perpetuates. That student then goes on to become a trainer who condemn her students, treating others how she was treated, grinding into the students the extent of their unworthiness as partners in the process until one day, some day, miraculously (if they don’t give up or spiral into a cycle of shame and “failure to progress” along the way) they somehow survive the process and learn how to ride.
What a miserable process!
Is this the way it needs to be?
Just because this is the way it has always been done, is this the way it needs to be? Well….. no. In fact, definitely no.
Yes, the student starts with very ineffective skills. That is a given. But her value as a human being and as a partner in the process shouldn’t be based on her level of skills. She is a human with a heart and a mind and probably rather credible intuition who deserves to be treated with respect and compassionate consideration. She may lack concrete skills but these, heck… anyone can learn those. Really!
What gets in most peoples way are not the skills, in my opinion. It is what is in their minds holding them back. Maybe sometimes this is baggage they brought into the riding, but often times, it is baggage they accumulated along the way in the process of taking lessons and enmeshed in the riding culture.
We can just refuse to take part in that cultural domination of our students and in that way, actually help them progress FASTER. And so this is what I have set out to do. If this resonates with you, you will probably love our upcoming book on the Rider’s Seat which takes this approach and puts it into action.
In birth, there is a firm cultural (and false) belief that birth is unsafe, women’s bodies are an accident waiting to happen, and that women need to be saved because they lack the internal knowledge to get through it. First of all, how the heck would our species have gotten to this point where we have quite extensively over-populated this planet if this were true? Because it simply is not.
Whether you believe we are created by a higher power or we are the result of a scientific process of evolution, both support the view that we would be naturally designed to be able to bring our offspring into the world safely, without incident 99% of the time.
And I believe that as humans we are designed to know and be able to experience our whole and true potential. It is cultural conditioning that holds us back.
And just like with birth, there is a firm cultural belief in Equestrian culture that the student is crap. She is unworthy. She is only valuable to put money into the trainer’s pocket and otherwise, she has no valuable input or credibility. I know not everyone feels this way (thank goodness!) but this is the overriding cultural belief. I know because I was surrounded by it every step of the way.
And when my experience with my midwifery studies made me take a step back and look at how our culture looks at women and their abilities, it dawned on me that this went way beyond birth. It is about authenticity, personal authority, and our connectedness. By acknowledging the inherent wisdom of others, we acknowledge the inherent wisdom in ourselves, too.
So that is one example. You can see how my exploration into midwifery and what it taught me helped transform my views of the world and working with people and how I have brought that back into my work with horses and people.
The same holds true for my interests in yoga, zen meditation, holistic health, wellness, art, music, entrepreneurship, and attachment parenting. Each of these, in their own beautiful ways, has shaped my evolving view of both my place in this world and my relationships with others in this world. I let each of them transform my approach to working with horses and riders. They have, and they will continue to, primarily because I make sure that all of my interests, including my interest in horses and dressage, are attuned to who I am and the life I want to live. So that was just a little bit more about me. If you ever want to chat about any of these topics, I would love to hear from you. Drop me a line on Facebook or send me an email.
And I encourage YOU to follow your heart where it leads.
Check that it is in line with your values and supports you rather than detracts from you, and if it does then by all means… go. Go with it. Let it take you and shape you and transform you. It is by combining elements in new and exciting ways that we innovate and revolutionize our experience.
Dressage as Path
I have learned (oh and I continue to learn!) many life lessons on this path. It goes so far beyond that of just the movements, exercises, and levels. The pursuit of dressage is like many of the martial arts which allow a pathway for the student to open up to wisdom. This doesn’t mean that every accomplished rider has become wise, but they were given the opportunity along the way to do so. What a person chooses and makes of her opportunities are up to her. When they accept the invitation, they open themselves up to the deep life-permeating lessons and wisdom within the path. I have chosen to embrace the opportunities I have been given to learn, even when it has been very very hard, to unravel the layers of false truths and distill it down to my own raw, wise, and vulnerable authenticity. Of course, I cannot and wouldn’t force another person onto that path, but I welcome and support anyone who wishes to also accept the opportunities to learn the hard lessons which open themselves up to us along the journey.
I teach with a strong focus on working on the rider’s seat, giving you the tools to understand how your seat works to help and influence the horse, how to diagnose problems in your seat using the horse as your primary partner, and how to effectively address those issues both on the horse and off the horse with stretches and exercises which enable you to be the rider you want to be.
I approach the seat from a human biomechanics perspective, incorporating my experience with Yoga and Restorative Exercise to not only make your seat functional in the saddle, but to improve your wellness and health outside of the saddle so that you can enjoy many more years of happy riding.
I also approach the work from the standpoint that it is my objective to teach the rider how to become her own best teacher. That means I give the rider the tools to continue her self-study well outside the scope of a lesson.
Horse as Partner
I grew increasingly dissatisfied with a system which objectifies horses and treats them merely as outlets for the rider’s ego gratification. They are not computers which you upload software onto. They are not vehicles whose purpose in life is to do our bidding. They are living, breathing, sensitive beings who experience and are impacted by this life they are living. They may very much enjoy working with us, but we owe it to them to relate to them as fellow sentient beings who deserve our consideration and respect. Over the years, I have leaned more and more towards regarding the horses I work with as a partner. I may be guiding the way but I very much take into account their impressions and feedback and I use that to inform me on the path and process to pursue. I care about what the horse feels and thinks. I care about the quality of the life he is living and the quality of the experiences he has. If I am happy with the work but the horse is not, then I have failed. His opinion of the quality of the work is just as important as my own. When I am able to view the experience and the work from the horse’s point of view, I am able to put my time and energy into explaining to the horse, which prevents misunderstanding, contempt, and apathy. When the horse feels he has a valid and respected role in the training, he feels validated and surrenders himself with trust to the process. He engages with full appreciation.