A look at Aimee Ritter's equestrian resume makes her look like a horse whisperer. A rundown of the animals she has ridden in her brief 17 years make you wonder if she ever screamed herself hoarse.
One of Alaska's most accomplished young riders, Ritter collected two major honors earlier this month -- a silver medal from the U.S. Dressage Federation and a B rating in dressage specialty from the U.S. Pony Club.
Both achievements are rare among Alaska riders, and they are made more impressive by the fact Ritter earned them on a horse she trained herself.
"There are a few people in the state (with silver medals), but they're older and they're trainers," said Erin Downey, president of the Alaska Dressage Association. "So for Aimee's age it's a huge accomplishment, especially with a horse she's trained herself."
Often, maybe even usually, dressage riders compete on horses already trained by someone else. Dressage is all about developing a horse's athletic ability, and the sport is all about the teamwork between horse and rider while performing a series of movements with calm and precision.
Because of that, riders often acquire horses that have already been trained to a certain level of competition.
"There's a lot of people who get silver medals," Ritter said, "but they buy the horse to get the silver medal."
Ritter got hers through patience and concerted effort working with ornery horses.
First came Golden Treasure, aka Goldie, "the most infamous pony in Alaska," Ritter said. Goldie was from the Diamond H Ranch, "and anybody who was anybody rode him and fell off,'' she said.
Downey backs up the story: "Every little girl who has trained in Alaska at some point has ridden Goldie and been launched off."
Ritter, a grade-schooler at the time, leased Goldie for four years. After him came Breyer, a firecracker of a horse. "He was hard to control, but I learned to ride him through trial and error," Ritter said.
And then came Winchester, a Morgan horse born in Wasilla. Ritter and Winchester were both 11 years old when they began their relationship. It was not a match made in horse heaven.
"Oh gosh, he's been such a project for me," Ritter said. "When I first bought him, he was awful. He had quite a few bad habits, to put it nicely. I was a little bit afraid of him.
"He would rear at me. He tried to kick me, he tried to bite me once, he bit my mom, and I think he tried to bite my dad. He was not a nice guy. He finally figured out I was the boss, I was in charge, and ever since that moment, he's been totally worth it.
"People said, 'You're crazy buying this horse,' but I saw something in him that was spectacular."
When Ritter leaves Anchorage next month for her freshman year at Portland State, Winchester will go too. He'll be boarded at a barn owned by Ritter's trainer, 30 minutes outside Portland. Instead of seeing Winchester every single day, Ritter will see him three or four times a week if she's lucky. The separation won't be easy.
Ritter toyed with the idea of pursuing a career as a rider or handler, and she would love to compete on Team USA some day. But she's going to college to pursue mechanical engineering with the idea it will lead her back to the equestrian world. "I'm going to college so I can actually afford the fancy horses," she said.
Helping Ritter choose college was an equestrian judge who came to Anchorage a couple of years ago for a show. She recommended college, saying it would provide a backup plan should Ritter suffer a serious injury.
Also helping Ritter choose college was the time she spent last summer as a working student for Jessica Wisdom, a top trainer in the Pacific Northwest.
"When I was younger, I was adamant I was gonna ride horses for the rest of my life," Ritter said. "Then I went down and worked for my trainer for a month in Washington, and it opened my eyes to dealing with the owners of horses and dealing with the horses themselves. If you don't have a reputation when you're starting out, you get to work with the dregs of the horse world, basically. You work with horses that are gonna kill you. You can't just say, 'I'm gonna train Bruce Springsteen's daughter' -- you have to train other horses and work your way up.
"I don't really want to do that. I don't want to die, I would like to survive and maybe ride a horse that isn't gonna kill me. I'm going to college."
Ritter is the only child of Jeff and Susan Ritter, who have gotten their hands dirty to support their daughter's passion. During the Goldie years, the Ritters helped pay for the lease by agreeing to feed the 53 horses boarded at Diamond H along with Goldie. It was a task they shared with another group, and so every other day the Ritters had to tend to all of those horses.
"When I couldn't make it, my mom did all the feeding," Ritter said.
Downey said Ritter has worked hard for her achievements.
"Nothing has been handed to her," she said. "She audits clinics even if she's not riding, just to learn. She's taken advantage of going out of state and working with other trainers, which is huge."
Beyond that, Ritter has a way with horses, particularly Winchester.
"She probably should not have even acquired him, because he was a little crazy, but she was determined," Downey said. "She did a tremendous job with him."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.