Maria Retyunskaya & Ave Maria Grade 1

Maria Retyunskaya & Ave Maria Grade 1

Maria Retyunskaya from the Russian Federation is a Scholar in the Basic ST Instructor Certification Program who graduated in the Straightness Training Academy in Grade 1 in groundwork, longeing, work in hand, riding, and Straightness Training at liberty.

Congratulations Maria, keep up the good work in the Certification Program!

And thanks for taking the time to share your STory with us!


❝I have two wonderful horses Augusta and Ave Maria. They are with me 17 years since they were one-year-old. From the very beginning I wanted to build the relationship with them based on trust and respect. I’ve studied some Natural Horsemanship in Germany, was trying to find any chance to learn about mental and physical balance of the horse, studied liberty work with the horses and practiced that method.

Everything was fine, especially with Augusta. She was attentive, motivated, light in movements and focused on me.

The opposite thing was with Ave Maria. Slow, without any specific interest to me or to our studies, sometimes motivated, sometimes no, strong and sure about herself. I was thinking: How can I attract her? What else could I do to get her attention? She was so slow especially in riding. I felt like I have to entertain her in every training session. Sometimes I was so disappointed and upset, I felt like we are in a sort of plateau… Still, something was missing in our relation, despite a lot of work and studies.

In 2014, the owner of the stable where my horses lived organized a Straightness Training clinic with Marijke de Jong in Russia. I was so curious about it and of course I’ve made a decision to participate. Marijke and Marc came to our place and we spent some wonderful days in discovering ST method. New knowledge, new experience, new way of looking at relation with my horses have inspired me and I started to practice.


I believed that the Straightness Training program can help me and my horses to feel better mentally and physically; that the system of the exercises will give me the structure of the teaching process. It was so amazing that the first steps to balance started with the standstill exercises and moving on the circle. And that was really difficult for me and for my horses.

In 2016, I’ve received a letter from Marijke with the invitation to Mastery program. And, of course, I’ve chose to try with Ave Maria, because it was still difficult for me to educate her. It was a challenge and it was a curiosity how can we manage. Tons of useful information fall down on me. It was interesting and helpful. Every time before I’ve started my work with the horses I’ve read an article, watched a video, studied the theory information and then tried to practice.

Step by step, starting with Groundwork Grade 1 Touchstone, I dived in to the ocean of knowledge. I’ve read a lot about the motivation of the horses and taught Maria to be attentive and willing. Doing millimeter steps, thinking about the process and not the result, encouraging my horses and support them, gave me the power of the process.

It was funny, when I started to practice riding, I’ve mounted on Maria’s back, asked her to make two or three active steps, praised her and dismounted. Like this, step by step we started to make more and more steps and she became interested in exercises we went through.

Of course, the idea of small steps came to me together with the touchstone feedbacks from ST evaluators. Without their support and passion, I wouldn’t be able to realize the studding process completely. That is why our groundwork, longeing and work in hand touchstones were comprehended and passed from the second time.

Then the turn of Riding Touchstone came and I’ve stocked. One, two, three, four and more times I’ve submitted my touchstones and sometimes the next one was worse than the previous one. I gave up and decided to continue without submitting.

The same thing happened with Liberty. I was thinking that I need more time to study and practice, I need more time to give my horse chance to be prepared.

We continued our ST journey with my horses and learned advanced exercises. For me that was a process that gave my horses health and balance.

Like that, two years passed and I felt that I’m ready to complete my Grade 1 pillar.


Meanwhile Marijke invited me to Basic ST Instructor Certification Program (BCP). I was happy to receive this invitation because by that time I was already working as an instructor and giving the lessons to people who wanted to build trustful and respectful relations with the horses. I really appreciated that Marijke have invited me to her course. I was proud and willing to start again.

So, step by step starting from January 2023, meeting new wonderful people, cooperating in our group, getting a new experience and struggling and negotiating with my inner crocodile, I’ve submitted my Liberty and Riding Touchstones. I wanted to pass, and with Liberty it worked, it didn’t work with Riding. Each time at the Hot Seat session I heard from Marijke: “Give rains, it is not enough, there is still tension, but you are on your way, keep going…”

At one of our Zoom meetings, I’ve complained that I tried to submit eight or nine Ridings and it didn’t work and Marijke said: “What if it would be threehundred submissions?” Strange, but after that all my tension and strong will to pass disappeared. I’ve decided to film our riding with Maria and pay attention on our small progress in each step. The question that I’ve asked myself was: “Before I give release and relax to my horse, do I give the same to me?” The answer was - no. So, realizing that I decided to breath out and just do what we do. Supporting myself with tranquility and trust to my horse I’ve filmed and submitted my next Riding Touchstone. And it was a pass!

I’m happy for me and for Maria. We made it together and it is not the end but the beginning of a new journey of discovering, experience and studying.


During these years with ST, me and my horses have changed mentally and physically. Sometimes it is hard and sometimes it is exiting. New knowledge, new experience, a new way of understanding the learning process give me the strength to feel the moment, curiosity and awareness.

I’m grateful to Marijke, ST team, my ST friends, for the opportunity to learn, and to be a part of this community!

~ Maria Retyunskaya, Russian Federation

Join the Celebration Party on Facebook »

Certification in Straightness Training


Interested in becoming an ST Instructor or a certified Straightness Trainer?

Discover our certification pathway and join the thousands who have contributed to the well-being of their horses:

Click HERE to learn more about Certification »