John Wayne Elbows

Ok, we all love John Wayne. But we don’t necessarily want to be described as having ‘John Wayne elbows’…

downloadA rider with high or slumped shoulders, or flapping ‘chicken elbows’ has something in common with horses that pull you out of the saddle with the reins or jump short, or who lack impulsion in the walk and are on the forehand in the canter.

What they have in common might surprise you. Rotation of the rider’s shoulder.

Rotation of the entire arm allows us to effectively use our shoulders, elbows, and hands; and that, in turn, affects our horse’s movement.

Stop trying to pull your shoulders back, or down (ouch!), or trying to pin your elbows to your sides. The key is in the soft, supple rotation of the entire arm, from shoulder to wrist.

Here’s a great visual I saw recently from (non-riding) biomechanist Katy Bowman:

Click HERE to read Katy’s blog post or watch her video below

Using the rotation helps place your shoulders and elbows naturally, no more slumping or elbow-flapping. Your elbows will feel more anchored (softly!) to your core if your horse tries to pull you forward, but will also be able to follow him when needed.

elb2When changing the rotation in our forearms, our bones (radius and ulna) cross and place different tension on the soft tissue.




elb3Pronation and supination are related to elbow pain during typing, golfing, playing tennis, etc, and I actually get elbow pain if I ride with my palm down, as well as when using a hoof knife. I use a special hoof knife that decreases pronation.


elbowThis relates to why we are often told not to ride with ‘piano hands,’ palms down, but with ‘thumbs on top.’

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Riding with ‘thumbs up’ also allows us to have a more elastic elbow and follow the motion of the head and neck in walk and canter, as well as open up during rising trot to keep the hand stable, or during a release over a jump…

1781540_589713794484399_8644151833423474146_oFor a particularly engrained habit, I might have a student ride with the Equicube…





hr-170600-tack-01_gnFor those of us who are riding one-handed, we can adjust to the romal hold to work on  these issues.61f18cad338d7a15cbac5035ec7f3713







Try it next time you ride!


Keep riding the spiral path,



Setting Ourselves up for Success…

As a rider and a teacher, I like to be proactive instead of reactive; rather than fixing problems as they erupt, my approach is to prevent them by having a clear plan. This is the same way we should be riding our horses.

Point to Point on a loose rein

Setting myself and my students up for success means I always have a mental checklist of my expectations, a mental roadmap of where we are going. This checklist is universal, whether English or Western, and my priority is always going to be Safety, followed by beginning to develop a Feel, and finally heading towards Finesse.

There are 5 main areas that I focus on:

  • It's never too early to think about rider biomechanics
    It’s never too early to work on biomechanics

    Rider Position: I don’t wait to teach this. Although I can seem persnickety, this is vital for safety. In addition, as we refine, it’s important we can stay out of our horse’s way and be as quiet in our body as possible in order to develop Feel and head towards Finesse. We never stop refining this.

  • Rein Positions and Rein Management: A big issue with riders of any level is the ability to have effective and smooth rein management, having a feel for appropriate rein length and keeping the hands ‘in the box.’ We also need to understand what rein aids (there are 5) we should being using or avoiding, and when. This is important not only for safety for beginner riders, but for refinement.
  • Horse Position: Understanding how to be subtle in positioning our horse both laterally and longitudinally is something we can do even as beginner riders in order to prevent problems.
  • Footwork: The better we can get our basic foot control- backing, moving the front and hind feet independently, the safer we are and the better everything else gets as we advanced. This is where we really have the chance to develop Feel and Finesse, where everything is particular and controlled, before we get into motion.
  • Patterns: Riders often lack focus in their riding. Even on a trailride, it’s important we use mental patterns to insure we are giving our horse a plan and being particular. Riding Point to Point, and using physical or imaginary markers helps us build precision and be proactive riders instead of reactive ones.
Ear, Shoulder, Hip, Heel Alignment.

I finally decided to put my mental checklist into written form. I encourage students, riders, and teachers to write down their own. You can find mine HERE.

Next article, I want to share the checklist I use when students earn their spurs.


Keep riding the spiral path,


Good Habits Make Great Horsemen

More than any tool or technique, good habits are what make great horsemen…

07Sometimes we think that what constitutes progress and success are the moments of struggle during an individual session, when it feels like we’ve won a battle; but master horsemen know that the real war is with ourselves, and the accumulative effects of our own bad habits, day after day.

If we want a horse to be disciplined, and by that, I mean consistent in their responses, that requires that we be self-disciplined first; good habits are simply a pattern, a consistency in our approach built by daily self-discipline. Let’s look at an example:

For instance, if we have a pattern of always having our horse stand on a loose rein for a few minutes when we first get on, we will, over time, create a horse that appears self-disciplined; but what they are is really doing is anticipating our patterns and habits. Anticipation can work for or against us; if our tendency is to ride off as soon as we step on, our horse may well begin to anticipate that and start walking off as soon as our foot hits the stirrup. That horse doesn’t have a lack of self-discipline; we do.

Taking responsibility for our horse’s bad habits can be a bit of a blow to the ego, but the trade-off is worth it:

  • Good habits may take the blame off the horse, but they empower us to become better horsemen.
  • Good habits make us proactive instead of reactive; goodbye reactive fear or frustration!
  • Good habits make us focus on what we DO want, instead of trying to correct what we DON’T want.
  • Good habits mean we are developing a plan and setting ourselves and our horse up for success, instead of waiting to correct the failure.

Today, I’m sharing a PDF of a simple lesson routine that I give to students; I encourage students to make it their own, but it’s a good sample of how we can begin to be more deliberate and mindful with our habits and our time-management. Download or view it HERE

Take a few minutes to invest in your horsemanship:

  • Sit down and write down all the problems you have, the behaviors you don’t want.
  • Now, write down the opposite behavior, the behavior you would like to see, instead.
  • What good habits could you build into your daily routine that would encourage that behavior? Write them down.
  • Now write a sample training session and include your new good habits.
  • Take it with you when you train.
  • Re-write as necessary.
  • Finally, remember that good habits make lasting changes over time;  accept the smallest improvement from yourself and your horse.


Keep riding the spiral path,



I like to remind people that any wisdom we gain in the horse world is applicable in the human world:

We should stop focusing on what we don’t want, and start building what we do want; this becomes gratitude in action.

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

Science-Based Training

I believe the future of horsemanship is the consilience of tradition and science; although I follow the traditions of classical and vaquero horsemanship, I also take a science-based approach to my horsemanship. This includes:

  • Utilizing TAGteaching in my coaching.
  • Focusing on correct biomechanics in both horse and rider.
  • Applying the principles of Behavioral Science and Applied Behavior Analysis via Classical Conditioning and Operant Conditioning.
  • Understanding the emotional dynamics involved in training; for example, Panksepp’s 7 Emotional Neurocircuits.

This means, in addition to traditional pressure and release training/negative reinforcement, I also use Positive Reinforcement in my horsemanship with Clicker Training.
All animal training, regardless of technique or method, can be broken down to the Four Quadrants of Operant Conditioning, which we might remember learning about with behaviorist B.F. Skinner and his rat mazes. An awareness of what quadrant we are using and what the animal perceives as aversive helps us become more effective, ethical trainers.
Keep scrolling to see some of the different interpretations of the Four Quadrants…

See how a reiner integrates clicker training HERE.
Click HERE to read more about how Positive Reinforcement fits into equine training
Click HERE to learn about Panksepp’s 7 Emotional Neurocircuits


Click HERE to learn more about balancing the quadrants

Click HERE to learn more about the spectrum of aversives


Keep riding the spiral path of horsemanship,


The First 12 Years…

Mills Horsemanship & Hoofcare has been helping horses and people since 2006; keep scrolling to see some great memories of the wonderful horses and people I have been lucky to meet along the way…

I have a background in natural horsemanship, and for the first 12 years of my career, I traveled around the panhandle of Nebraska and into Wyoming giving demonstrations, clinics, and lessons. I was particularly passionate about liberty training and bridleless riding, studying briefly at the Parelli Natural Horsemanship Center in Colorado.


What about the Hoofcare?

I spent 10 years as a hoofcare professional. I studied barefoot trimming with the AANHCP in Missouri, but later went on to study the protocols of the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization and collaborate with Natural Balance farriers from Nebraska, Wyoming, and Colorado. I am no longer doing farrier work for the public; however, I can be contacted for a referral HERE.


 The Healing Herd

I was fortunate enough to spend a brief time from 2015 to 2017 facilitating an equine therapy program at a detention center, using the HEAL model of Equine Facilitated Learning, which I and my co-facilitator studied in Montana.
You can learn more about HEAL and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and Learning HERE.

Follow our Equine Faciliated Learning page, The Healing Herd, HERE:

See our Archived SBCDC Equines page HERE:



Keep riding the spiral path of horsemanship,



Welcome to Mills Horsemanship and Hoofcare! My name is Andrea Rosentrater Mills, and I’m a horsewoman who lives in Western Nebraska. I’m a Licensed Western Dressage Judge and a Select Professional Trainer for North American Western Dressage, and I utilize Positive Reinforcement in my coaching as a certified TAGteacher, as well as in my horsemanship with clicker training.





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Keep riding the spiral path of horsemanship,