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

Building Duration.

For the past fortnight I have been systematically ruining Bella’s shoulder in. This is easily remedied but I need to address the reason why it happened or we are never going to get anywhere.

I began shoulder in by clicking her for one good stride, then one really good stride, and two weeks ago we were up to four really good strides (really good for us at our stage of training anyway). Now we can only manage two. The fault is all mine, needless to say, and I can’t believe that I knew what was happening but carried on anyway!

When we could manage four good strides reliably I began holding out for a fifth. When the fifth stride wasn’t as good as the fourth I tried to fix it within the movement, so I could click her, and another ten strides later, when everything had fallen apart completely, clicked her anyway, because she had done four good strides at the beginning and it wasn’t her fault that I had held out for a fifth before she was ready.

Whatever you click you get more of. By the time Bella heard the click she had lost her balance completely, fallen heavily onto her forehand and practically ground to a halt, so what did she think I wanted more of? The fact that I could still get two good strides can only be because she preferred the feel of the balanced ones and couldn’t resist doing a couple before, no doubt with an inward sigh at the weirdness of her trainer, she obligingly fell onto her forehand and gave me more of the shoulder in that I had explained repeatedly to her that I preferred. Oh dear, what must she think of me!

I was beating myself up over this yesterday, but since I started to write this I can see the real crux of the matter. My training method is incompatible with my desire to make Bella successful all of the time. It would take far more feel and experience than I have to know when to hold out for that next stride or two and always be right. I can only build duration into anything by experimenting, and if the next stride is worse than the last, don’t click it, or worse still, definitely don’t click the one twenty strides later, when it bears no resemblance to the movement you started with at all! If I can’t fix it then I MUST NOT CLICK must be engraved on my heart.

This is going to crop up time and time again. I don’t have the experience in dressage to train any way other than by experimentation, I can’t make her right all the time, and I need to get over it. It will involve some frustration for both of us (her with me and me with me) but at least we will both be experts at dealing with frustration, and she won’t have to carry on with her present opinion of me, nice but dim!

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