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 Jack are now so 100% committed to working out what I want them to do and doing it, that all I have to worry about is how to make requests intelligible to them. Their co-operation is never in doubt now (thanks to The Click That Teaches), so I have given up carrying a stick (and I have never been a spurs person). It doesn’t seem fair to use even light taps when I know that they are trying their hardest already, and they already know how to do all the movements from the in hand work, so I am always going to be the weak link, who hasn’t found out how to ask from the saddle yet, so the only person the whip should be used on is me!!!

I have been watching the first two of Philippe Karl’s DVDs again. I think that Bella is ready to work with her neck a little higher now. She is very strong and well muscled in her back and hind quarters, and really swinging through her back in trot with a fairly low head carriage ( reins swinging loose too).

I wondered if I could get her to lift her neck and head in the way Phillipe Karl shows, but without actually using the bit to mechanically lift her head – just use the suggestion of a lift from my hands, but without making real contact with her mouth. The Click That Teaches has made her very sensitive to following this sort of suggestion, so this was instantly successful. I lift my hands and she knows I want something, so her head comes up and her balance goes backwards, while she waits to find out what it is that I want. I dropped the reins and clicked that to begin with, then kept my hands up and waited, meaning more please. She thought about it and then dropped her nose, engaged her hind legs more and started to rein back. I clicked that a few times and then asked for forward movement after a few strides of rein back, and then before them, keeping my hands up. Both of these gave me a few strides of soft, engaged and beautiful collected walk. Her back felt really inflated underneath me. WOW!!!!

When she could manage to keep her balance easily in collected walk I asked for trot. I couldn’t believe what I got! The rhythm of her trot was instantly slower and higher. We had real CADENCE!!!! She has always had a rather stompy trot naturally (some Dales can tend to be lots of action behind, but not really going anywhere much). She had already learnt how to swing her shoulders to match her hind legs, which had made her trot bigger and silky smooth, but this is proper dressage horse stuff, moments of real collection!!! We only do a few strides at a time, but it is so exciting and so different from anything I had known her to be capable of before. Our horizons seem vast now – the possibilities huge!

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