Horsemanship in Western Nebraska

“I think the future of horsemanship is the consilience of tradition and science; the old dressage masters, the old cowboys, they had an invaluable working knowledge of horsemanship that science and biomechanics are shedding a new light on, and our understanding is evolving all the time.”

Checking Cattle on the North Platte River

Andrea Rosentrater Mills is a horsewoman who lives in the sandhills of Nebraska; she describes her background in the horse industry as a patchwork of experiences, “Out here in rural Nebraska, you often find yourself becoming a bit of a Renaissance person when it comes to anything horse related; I’ve started colts, done bridleless and liberty demonstrations, given horsemanship lessons and clinics, shod horses for endurance riders on the Pony Express trail, and most recently, spent a few years facilitating equine therapy at a detention center.”


Farrier work can come in all shapes and sizes.

Although she no longer does farrier work for the public, she recognizes the influence the country had on her as a farrier, and continues to have to her as a horsewoman, explaining, “Western Nebraska is cattle country, so even though there are some competitive and recreational riders, for the most part, out here, horses are part of people’s livelihood, working on feedlots and ranches, and that’s had a lot of influence on how my horsemanship and my career have evolved; what may work for one situation may not be apropos for another.”

Dressage… It’s starting to get a little western.

 Andrea has been passionate about natural horsemanship and classical dressage since she was a teenager, but although natural horsemanship and vaquero traditions are becoming increasingly popular in western Nebraska, dressage has remained a pretty foreign concept; that is, until the advent of Western Dressage.
spice 14 and 20 rides
Pasture Dressage

“People are starting to take notice, people are starting to get interested, and that’s really exciting for me, because something I’ve been passionate about for a long time- classical riding, has the chance to catch fire out here.”

Dressage in cowboy country might seem like an unlikely fit, but Andrea says her mentor Bern Miller, a horseman and former history teacher, has really helped her understand the shared history of classical riding and cowboys, buckaroos, and vaqueros. “They all share a common origin, and they all share a common goal: partnership with a responsive, collected horse that can work one-handed.”

Andrea’s passion for classical dressage has drawn her to align with North American Western Dressage (NAWD) as a Licensed Judge and Select Professional Trainer. Andrea credits three things in particular that drew her to NAWD, “Of course, coming from a rural area, the idea of virtual tests is a great fit for myself and my students; in addition, I’ve felt very strongly about lateral and longitudinal hyperflexion, riding behind the vertical, for at least a decade, and I appreciate NAWD’s commitment to speaking out against these biomechanics, which science has shown to be such a detriment. Finally, I respect NAWD’s commitment to respecting the one-handed use of the curb as the original intention of both classical dressage and western riding.”

Andrea’s Teaching and Training Philosophy

It’s never too early to start working on biomechanics…

Mills admits she can be a bit of a nerd, “I get really excited about the science behind successful training, riding, and teaching. For instance, I’m very particular about horse and rider biomechanics, but I also believe teaching and learning should be fun, so I’m equally passionate about studying the behavioral science and neuroscience of successful, happy learners; that’s why I pursued my certification in TAGteach, a methodology of Applied Behavior Analysis that utilizes positive reinforcement for teaching muscle memory skills, and it’s why I integrate positive reinforcement in my horse training, as well.”

Riding the spiral path…

Andrea’s passions are broad, but she feels horsemanship itself has a broad scope of influence; she believes that, through horsemanship, we can affect positive change in almost every area of our lives. “Evolving in our horsemanship can transform the way we communicate, the way we learn and teach, the way we lead and motivate ourselves and others, the way we build connection and communicate boundaries, and it can even open our eyes to a better way of using our bodies, especially our backs and cores; horsemanship isn’t just a sport, it’s a journey with infinite depth, an infinite onion of a journey. I think Barry Gillespie says it best…

“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.”

Artwork by Bern Miller

Leave a Reply