Adult Amateur Dressage Shame: Riding the Roller Coaster

shameDressage is unique within the horse world in producing a phenomenon in its participants, a feeling of being lesser than, not good enough or unworthy. It is a condition that I have termed “Adult Amateur Dressage Shame”, but it effects juniors, young riders, and even professionals. Perhaps it is the constantly increasing standard of difficulty or the emphasis on detail, but I have seen the effects of ‘dressage shame’ again and again. This is part two of a series exploring the nature of dressage shame, to better understand it and to keep it in the realm of a healthy, not demoralizing, feeling. To read part one click here.

As much as I relate to this feeling, the fact remains that I am a professional and come at the sport from a different perspective. So for part two we are going to have the direct viewpoint of an adult amateur. She is a woman who has taken up dressage later in life, has worked very hard to get where she is currently and is also my mother. She knows the feeling of dressage shame intimately and agreed to share her experiences. Read on and thank you to Sandy Dratler.


roller coasterDressage, especially for the adult amateur, is a roller coaster ride. It is an uphill progression, with lots of dips along the way. I want to talk about these dips and how they might actually be a good thing.
I’ve done many things in my life, and for the most part I have been successful. I graduated from college, I’ve helped to raise good kids, and I had a long and successful career. I have always felt that if I work hard enough and apply my focus to a task I can eventually master it, until dressage. The thing about dressage is that not only is it difficult and involves a horse, it just continues to get more difficult. Just when I think I am getting the hang of it, my trainer tells me it is time to do the next test or go up a level. One week, my horse and I click and I feel like riding is effortless, the next week, I can’t get her to canter! Is it me? Is it the horse? The moon and the stars? Who knows, it’s the dip. I think even the most successful riders can suffer from these lows, because even though they may be great riders they get new or young horses and must begin again. These lows are the humbling nature of the sport.

So, you might wonder, why do we continue to subject ourselves to this misery? I’ve spend some time thinking about this question and I want to share my thoughts with you.
Just like the roller coaster, along with the dip, there is also a corresponding high. This high is the reward that keeps most of us plugging away, lesson after lesson, inching our way up the ladder. You might wonder, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to suffer through the lows. But, I think not, because my theory is that it’s the lows that binds dressage riders together and creates a sense of community.

When I began to ride (I was in my early 50’s) I was a rank beginner, riding a pony my trainer borrowed from the afternoon kids program. To say I was starting with the basics, is an understatement. I remember feeling very much like the new kid on the block in a foreign country. One day after my lesson, I hung around for awhile and got the nerve to talk to the most advanced rider in our group. I was so surprised that she was actually interested in me and encouraged me on my progress.

Since then I have talked to many successful riders, at shows and clinics. I have even had the amazing opportunity to meet and speak with an Olympic rider and trainer. Without exception these people are always supportive and encouraging. Even riders who reach the lofty heights of Grand Prix still experience moments of riding through the dips, and remember the grit and determination it takes to get to the top. The lows keep egos in check, and I believe the dips all dressage riders experience is the great equalizer. This is why I think, it’s the lows, that make us more compassionate to our fellow riders who are experiencing similar struggles.

So remember, when you are riding the Dressage Roller Coaster when you get to the top, enjoy the view, savor the moment, because the next dip is on it’s way. Also, congratulate others when they are on the top and encourage those on the way down. We will all be there again, probably too soon.

18 responses to “Adult Amateur Dressage Shame: Riding the Roller Coaster

  1. Excellent article! I forwarded it to my Chesapeake Dressage Institute Facebook page. I, too, had worked really really hard for sucess in my past – in school, raising a family, and in my career, but found out dressage was so humbling – it seemed that working really hard was counter-productive, and more patience required than what I was used to. I call my horses my zen masters, and am slowly, slowly realizing

    Janet Richardson-Pearson

    Sent from my iPad

    On Aug 12, 2013, at 10:35 AM, Dressage Different wrote:

    WordPress.com Bonnie Walker posted: “Dressage is unique within the horse world in producing a phenomenon in its participants, a feeling of being lesser than, not good enough or unworthy. It is a condition that I have termed Adult Amateur Dressage Shame, but it effects juniors, young riders”

  2. Sorry, my IPad had a senior moment and shot off before I finished my comments. I just wanted to add to my sentence about ….my horses being my zen masters , and am slowly, slowly realizing the art of “letting go”. As John Lyons is quoted saying, “the two traits you need in the saddle are patience and a sense of humor”.

    Thanks again to a wonderful article.

    Janet Richardson-Pearson Founder and President Chesapeake Dressage Institute Annapolis, MD

    On Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 11:58 AM, Janet Richardson-Pearson wrote:

    > Excellent article! I forwarded it to my Chesapeake Dressage Institute > Facebook page. I, too, had worked really really hard for sucess in my past > – in school, raising a family, and in my career, but found out dressage was > so humbling – it seemed that working really hard was counter-productive, > and more patience required than what I was used to. I call my horses my > zen masters, and am slowly, slowly realizing > > Janet Richardson-Pearson > > Sent from my iPad > > On Aug 12, 2013, at 10:35 AM, Dressage Different <

  3. Fantastic article! I just came off the amazing high of getting my first score over 70% at a recognized show (and FINALLY feeling like I got over the ‘hump’ with my horse) to the low of same horse getting injured last weekend and all of our goals for this year going out the window. Horses always have a way of humbling you, and its not just the dressage ones!

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  6. I can’t tell you how much this article resonated with me, as I just got my first opportunity to clinic with an Olympian. I’ve never been more nervous in my life, and was definitely the rider in the clinic who needed the most improvement. This article reminded me why I do this every day, and that everyone out there in the dressage world experiences this from time to time. Thank you for sharing!

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  13. I stupidly decided to take up golf at the same age with a similar life background – no amount of lessons, practice or playing led to any awesomeness and worse the other golfers were not anything like the dressage riders/trainers as a group, they were not welcoming, encouraging or fun!

    So, after 50 years of riding and dressage, I know (like all experienced riders) how difficult it is to master basic riding skills, horse management and then there’s all the technical info you need to know and understand for dressage. Unlike most of our other careers, it’s based on “feel” so that’s another skill we need to master. I guess if we knew how hard it was going to be, we’d rethink our goals! But… there are few better feelings on this planet when your horse is truly between your leg, seat and hand and the lightness it creates…wow!

    Keep up your great riding, you’re half way there and the dressage riders and trainers are a fantastic group the world over 🙂

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  17. Bonnie, thanks for your insights & humor ! Each post is a gem & gift. Please, keep them coming.
    Thanks, also, to Sandy, for her “Dressage Shame” experiences.
    Yes, for being fortunate to learn life’s lessons in a chosen arena, the dressage one!

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