Making the cut: teen takes different tack to riding

By Jackie Nelson

HESSTON – Addie Nickel is moving at a different pace from most girls on horseback. The 15-year-old discovered early in her horse riding career rather than joining her peers in rodeo, careening around barrels, she would take a more methodical approach on ranch-style riding and cattle cutting.

“When you get into ranch riding, you get the older cowboys doing it to train horses. However, there are some younger girls doing cow work. But, you’ll have people who are middle-aged and trying to get young horses used to showing and hauling,” she said.

Nickel started riding in elementary school at a private barn run by Kelly Jensen, who encouraged her students to try out several types of riding – from rodeo to English, to ranch and showmanship – before settling on a style on which to concentrate.

“When I first started riding, I wanted to do barrels. I actually got on and started riding and thought, ‘we can go slow, right now. This pace is ok,’ instead of flying around barrels,” she said.

Nickel and her 20-year-old gelding, Bear, have been working together for six years, but only recently, Nickel added cattle work.

“When he was young, he was a cutting horse and he was bred to do that. He was amazing,” she said.

Bear was sold after his prime years and spent several years at pasture before being purchased by Nickel and her family.

“When I bought him, I wanted an all-around relaxed horse. He really taught me a lot, too,” she said.

Despite his age, Nickel said his instincts and previous training are still sharp.

“He’s still good doing cow work and getting into deep sand,” she said.

The work of cattle cutting, she said, is a partnership between horse, rider and a dance with the cow.

“They sense things so much more deeply than people – or even than you think they can. Your horse feels that tension and will reflect that. You have to become a team to really take every step,” she said.

With competitions lasting only a few minutes – cutting a cow from a herd, keeping it separated and then running the cow into a designated pen – thousands of pounds of muscle must work in total harmony.

“A lot of people who don’t ride want to control a horse. They don’t think about how much non-verbal there is. It isn’t just a pasture pet. I’ve learned to control myself more – have patience and take a beat and one step forward and another,” she said.

Nickel said confidence is the lynchpin of keeping horses, cows and even riders in check.

“If you start doubting yourself, your horse starts doubting you and it just devolves from there. You have to work for what you have and your horse has to work no matter what. That teaches you a lot of respect. You don’t have to like it, but you can appreciate it,” she said.

As Nickel has become a more accomplished rider, her trainer, Kelly Jensen, has assigned her to the task of training a five-year-old mare, Hotpants.

“She’s my project. I don’t own her, but she might be my next horse. She’s a diva and has an attitude. But, they all have their own personalities,” said Nickel.

Nickel said working with animals is not just a hobby, but therapeutic, and has helped her grow.

“You’re not just riding, but controlling your whole mindset, your motions, emotions and not just shutting down. You have to control yourself. You can’t just get on a horse and expect it to be perfect,” she said.
Nickel said tempering expectations leaves room for not only growth, but also for improvement as a rider and as a young woman.

“Every day there’s good things and bad things. You can give one percent a day until you get to that 100 percent. You take that one percent from that ride. You learn from the bad stuff; you get that one percent working through the tough stuff,” she said.

In continued practice with Bear and in new training lessons with Hotpants, Nickel said she strives for that one percent.

“Whatever we did, that one percent in one day that means in 100 days, I’m going to be able to do flying lead changes or start Hotpants on loping. It gives you that,” she said.

However, sometimes, she said, just sitting on a horse and cutting loose is enough for that one percent.

“You have goof off days where we just sit on our horses, talk and laugh and our horses are just there, falling asleep,” she said.