Monday, October 19, 2009

Springwater Equestrian Eyes International Competition



Anabel came trotting up from the pasture below the barn curious to see who was waiting to meet her, but perhaps more importantly, she spied her owner reaching for a bag of carrots that would be her morning treat.
That was my introduction to the athletic, well-bred horse from a long distinguished German lineage that had been trained by Jessica Nielson of Springwater since Anabel was two months old. Watching the comfortable chemistry between a professional trainer and a well-mannered horse, which had taken years of bonding to achieve, was a pretty amazing experience not being a horse person myself. They had partnered in the school of dressage. Apparently Anabel was humoring me by letting me take a closer look, and she stood patiently like a champion while I kept my distance not so sure of myself. Neilson engaged in a playful conversation with Anabel, and when I saw their comraderie, I eased in closer.
A native of Perkinsville and a 1991 graduate of Wayland-Cohocton Central School, Jessica Bricks Nielson, her husband and young daughters, came back to the area a couple years ago to be near her family leaving behind a successful riding, boarding and training facility in Wisconsin that she owned.
Nielson told me emphatically, “It was the right thing to do.” Family is very important to her.
Horses have been a passion for her, and you can see it in the sparkle in her eyes whenever the subject is brought up. Nielson wanted a horse ever since she was a little girl, and growing up she read everything that she could find about horses from the Walter Farley, Black Stallion series, to the more sophisticated Red Pony by John Steinbeck.
“You name it. I read it,” said Nielson with her contagious laugh.
At ten years of age young Nielson was insistent about learning to ride, so her mother handed her the phone book and told her that if she could find a stable that would give her free lessons in exchange for work, then she would drive her. Nielson did her research, wrote letters and from there began her training at Hideaway Farms in Geneseo, New York, under Edward and Jacqueline Harris. Fortunately for Nielson the training was extremely thorough in a European tradition stressing the basics as the foundation for good learning.
By sixteen Nielson had moved her training to Dannebo Farm in Candice under the guidance of Karen Holmes, where she took her last two years of AP courses at Wayland in the morning, and spent the rest of the day in training. The Danish background of Holmes in European instruction was just what Nielson needed.
Today Nielson rides every day and allows herself no time off. She takes a lesson at least every six weeks with her trainer, Gunnar Ostergaard, who is based in Florida, when he offers a clinic within driving distance.
“Who else has a barn that is bigger than her house?” exclaimed Neilson, but she was quick to add that she is appreciative of the immense support from her family.
Like any profession, learning is never finished, and there is always more to do to improve technique. Dressage, which means training in French, requires perfection, and its beauty often resembles a ballet. Dressage has its fixed rules for competitive levels, proper formal attire and a set of maneuvers to be mastered enhancing the athletic prowess of horse and rider.
Two of Nielson’s regular activities in Springwater besides her own personal training are to school young horses for riding, and to give lessons to children and adults.
“Teaching horses and teaching kids is the same. I want them to be successful.”
In using the classical European system, the same one that she was brought up on herself, Nielson lays the basic foundation with students, so that they learn to feel through their entire bodies becoming instinctual riders with an appropriate set of skills. She wants students to understand when they are old enough that there is a difference between good sound teaching, and less professional approaches, which often pit one student against another competitively without enhancing the development of personal skills. Likewise, she wants her horses to be well trained when they move to their future stables as a mark of her precise expectations.
Her aim is to take Anabel to Grand Prix at the International level, and Nielson feels that she will be able to within a year with determination and practice. She would like to participate in the prestigious European and US circuit. In the meantime she is looking for a second horse that she can train from an early age.
I asked her if the 2016 Olympics might be a goal, and she told me that it is a long shot and, although her age might be a factor, it could be done. It is more or less how badly she wants to do it she seemed to be telling me without actually saying the words.
As I drove down the long driveway, Anabel was meandering along slowly without an apparent care in the world. I took one last look at her sleek black shape relishing briefly that I had spent time visiting with a premium bred mare before I headed away wondering what good experiences are in store for Nielson and Anabel in the future. We’ll all have to wait and see.