Introducing Dressage Today's 2018 Intern

Meet Nenah Mikuska, and read her journey as a rider.
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Meet Nenah Mikuska, and read her journey as a rider.

Hello fellow equine enthusiasts and Dressage Today readers everywhere!

My name is Nenah (pronounced like Nina) and I am happy to introduce myself as the newest DT intern.

I am a graduating senior at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, studying political science. I’m writing this blog post between a French class and a budget meeting for my university’s newspaper, so it's easy to imagine that I’m pretty much always moving at 100 miles per hour. I’m sure many of you can relate to the feeling of being overworked, underpaid and definitely needing more coffee.

In response to this habitual madness, I escape to the barn. There is nothing that soothes me quite like the smell of the horses, the leather and the feeling of joy the moment I swing onto my horse’s back. The time I spend in the saddle is my place to slow down, relax and breathe. The madness simply slips away.

Full disclosure: I wouldn’t call myself a dressage rider. Not yet. I didn’t have consistent training growing up. I first started riding when I was about seven years old, at a barn on Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. Those lessons consisted largely of learning to post, steering, and occasionally “jumping” poles on the ground. But, needless to say, from the moment I first mounted up, I was hooked.

After my family moved to Colorado, my riding time was largely made up of Girl Scout resident camps for two weeks out of the summer. When I was ten, my family adopted a pair of Morgan mares that I happily rode around our large backyard, bareback and sans helmet (10 out of 10, not endorsed or recommended).

Me, age 7: One of my first riding lessons. Don't worry, I'm smiling on the inside. Photo credit: P. Mikuska 

Me, age 7: One of my first riding lessons. Don't worry, I'm smiling on the inside. Photo credit: P. Mikuska 

I’d say my formal riding education began when I was a junior in high school and started riding with a nearby hunter-jumper trainer. The barn was five minutes from my parent’s house, and I was able to drive down after school, stay all evening and drive back in the freezing cold of Colorado’s winter months with a full and happy heart.

I rode a handful of school horses throughout the rest of my time in high school, riding in IEA shows at the lower levels and dreaming of my future with horses. Once I moved to college in California, I found a position as a working student at a local barn, happily mucking out stalls and longeing in the wee hours of the morning in exchange for twenty minutes of ride time. I loved it, and I even had a chance to volunteer with an OTTB rescue, which gave me priceless knowledge both on the ground and in the saddle.

I didn’t think the basics in dressage were of any consequence to me as a jumper. But thankfully, my enlightenment was soon upon me.

The trainer at my new barn in California believed dressage is the baseline for all things equine-related, and after watching me ride for approximately half an hour, declared I was woefully inadequate. We began to build my riding skills back from the ground up, dressage boot camp style. For months I focused solely on dressage work, figuring out how to bend and supple, feel contact for the first time and develop my seat and core.

From that experience, I was able to look back at my riding and see how dressage not only transformed the way I rode, but enhanced it, made it better and, to my great surprise, was incredibly fun.

I’ll never forget the time I managed to get a walk-canter transition on my trainer’s school horse. To feel him lighten and glide into a canter was simply indescribable. I’d never felt anything like it before. In that moment I understood exactly what I had been missing: feel, connection, a vitality that hadn’t been there before. Suddenly, flat work became just as much fun as my jumping, and I started studying theory and reading articles about dressage and training techniques.

Me, this past January, age 22. Enjoying a laugh on my friend’s gelding--he clearly didn’t share my humor. Photo Credit: Misty Hill Farm 

Me, this past January, age 22. Enjoying a laugh on my friend’s gelding--he clearly didn’t share my humor. Photo Credit: Misty Hill Farm 

My hope is to be able to dedicate some serious time to the study of dressage to develop my skills once I graduate in April. As someone who has always enjoyed the learning process, I love that you can always learn something new and never stop growing as a rider. The feeling of euphoria when you nail a perfect movement or execute a flawless transition is exhilarating. Dressage can enhance anyone’s ride, and I believe a firm foundation in the basics will transform the relationship between horse and rider for the better. The connection between horse and rider creates a partnership that is unlike any human interaction, one that can be built on a mutual understanding and trust. Whether they ride dressage, or jump, or even run barrels, anyone can benefit from some serious dressage work.

Riding and working with horses is a unique lifestyle. It’s both humbling and rewarding, builds confidence but is ultimately unpredictable. Some days are harder than others, but at the end of every day, good or bad, it is something I have loved since before I could read. Riding is my ultimate passion, and I can’t wait to see where my journey takes me next.