Learning the art of dressage

Dressage has been described as horse ballet in which horse and rider are expected to perform a series of predetermined movements

Aida Andersen (l) coaches Carol McNeil on Bugsy in the art of dressage at the McNeil ranch in Birch Island on Monday.

“She is the best dressage instructor I’ve ever worked with. I’m just so happy she’s living in the Clearwater area.”

That’s Birch Island resident Carol McNeil’s reaction after studying with Aida Andersen for several weeks.

Andersen and her partner, Lars Kolind, have owned Nakiska Ranch in Upper Clearwater for about 1 1/2 year.

Recently Andersen, who trained with several dressage instructors in Scandinavia at various levels, has started teaching privately as well as helping out with the North Thompson Ladies Drill Team.

“Dressage is all about controlling the horse,” Andersen said. “Horses like to have a clear chain of command. They like to know who’s boss. When a horse is confused about who is in charge, they panic, and accidents happen.”

Dressage has been described as horse ballet in which horse and rider are expected to perform a series of predetermined movements from memory.

“The horses love it,” Andersen said. “They love a mental challenge. It’s incredible how much they understand.”

“They’re intelligent, social animals. You need to remember that, and that you’re training large, very muscular athletes. You’re not training a bicycle.”

Andersen said McNeil’s horse, Bugsy, a 17-year-old Morgan, is what they call in the dressage world a “schoolmaster.”

“He knows all the moves. You just have to get him to relax and he’ll do it. He’s such a gentleman,” she said.

“A horse like Bugsy needs to learn new things, go places, see other horses.”

Training a horse for dressage involves a lot of stretching, bending and relaxation, as well as developing muscular strength.

The objective is to do the movements precisely and without strain.

“There should be no tension. That’s not acceptable,” said Andersen. “Everything should be soft and easy.”

The skills learned in dressage are transferable to other ridging styles, including Western.

“It’s essentially the same thing they’re doing, just different tacks,” she said.

“A really good roping horse, once it’s trained, feels very proud to be taken out to control cows. It wants to be praised for doing it right. As for the cows … they couldn’t care less.”

Andersen has several other local riders who she is coaching in dressage.

Recently she also began helping out with the North Thompson Ladies Drill Team.

“We’re all very excited about it,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to ride a drill program. They’re doing a very good job.”

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