This is the story of my quest to train my three Dales Ponies for classical dressage, primarily by using Alexandra Kurland's clicker training methods, with a touch of others such as Philippe Karl and Anja Beran thrown in. I turned to clicker training because I had come up against some issues that I didn't know how to fix and because I wanted to inspire them to become enthusiatic partners. Bella and Jack are all my own work and have never been ridden by anyone else.

Bella, Grace and Jack

Bella aged 6

Bella aged 6

Treat Delivery

Jack aged 7


Monday, 10 November 2008

Bella and I spent the rest of 2003 getting to know each other. She very quickly started to test the boundaries, as one would expect of a very confident youngster. She had no interest whatsoever in being well behaved and ‘good’, but she can never resist the opportunity to show how clever and admirable she is, so once I had discovered that, she was a piece of cake (poor Bella, how she would hate to realise that!!).

In May 2004, on her 2nd birthday, I took her to her 1st show. It was a small, local club show and she was very interested in everything, and behaved immaculately. 2 weeks later I took her to quite a big 2 day county show. She said that when you’d seen one show you had seen them all, and practically fell asleep in the ring!

5 weeks after that we went to The Royal Show, England’s most prestigious agricultural show. It is a 4 day show, and although I had shown sheep there before, I had never taken a horse, so I went there on the opening day to have a ‘horse’s eye’ look at it. I walked down the horsewalk to the grand ring, where our class was to be 3 days later, and thought that it looked absolutely terrifying for any horse, and to take an inexperienced 2yo was utter madness!

I should have had more faith. Bella loved every single minute of it. She was totally disinterested in all the other horses, even the poor young Welsh Cob that spooked at a low flying Jumbo Jet, slipped, and fell over, right in front of her. She just picked her way around it and carried on down the horsewalk as if on a mission. She was fascinated but totally un-phased by everything else; the flags flying overhead, the banners, the crowds and the grandstands, and in her trot up she flew, really showing off and enjoying herself. I so proud of her I could have burst!

I decided that would do for show experience for that year, and 2 months later Jack arrived, much to her disgust! She looked at him with disbelief, with a ‘I thought that I had got away from you’ look on her face, so it was a good job I hadn’t bought him with a view to driving them both as a pair!

Jack was nowhere near as confident as Bella had been, but he settled in quite quickly, apart from his stable. He had been in barn type stabling before and took a long time to get used to more traditional stabling. He used to keep his head over the door all the time, and I was going to try a mirror, but 1st tried a ‘Likkit’, hung in the back of his stable, and that did the trick. He loves his stable now, and would rather be in there than anywhere else.

I just had to have a sit on him 4 days after he arrived. I now owned 2 Dales and as yet had never sat on one. I had never even met a Dales before Bella, so I was desperate to see how one felt! I fed him carrots from up there, and he felt great, like a big, comfy, if somewhat overstuffed armchair, so we were both very happy and keen to repeat the experience! I then did it properly, and got him used to saddle, bridle, lunge, etc., and rode him around the farm, at walk, for a few minutes each day for a couple of weeks, before leaving him until he turned 4 the following March.

Jack had arrived in September and it soon became obvious that, although he was as chilled out and relaxed as Bella in still weather, windy conditions made him very nervous, especially things blowing about on his bad eye side (even grass!), and he didn’t even like being turned out in the field when it was very windy. I could only hope that he would, in time, learn to trust my judgement and leave the worrying to me when he was working. For now I just avoided asking him to do anything in these conditions, although even leading him in and out could be interesting when it was very blustery.

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I am a clicker training addict and there is no cure - thank goodness!!!