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

Discovering the power of the clicker.

I looked around for some dressage training that we could successfully do and bought Richard Hinrich’s in hand DVD and video. Jack could do it all in walk, so he was happy, and Bella could do it in a hackamore, so I was happy. They picked up lateral work very quickly and were good at it. I concentrated on it for a few weeks and then found out that Becky was doing a clinic not too far away. I thought that I would go and watch, to pick up a few tips. It must be the best decision I have made since buying Bella and Jack!

Becky was brilliant. I loved the way she worked with the horses, so sympathetic and positive, and she obviously really knew her stuff, but she was enthusing about ‘clicker training’. I had heard of it, but thought that it sounded gimmicky and a bit cranky where horses were concerned. I had never met anyone who used it with horses before, but I also hadn’t met anyone whose training style I admired so wholeheartedly before either. Everything else that she said made perfect sense. I needed to investigate further!

I bought Alexandra Kurland’s 1st book and a clicker, introduced Bella and Jack to a target, which took no time flat, and we were away. I used the clicker to highlight improvements in their in hand work, and they came on in leaps and bounds. Then I spotted an Alexandra Kurland video on eBay, bought it, watched it mesmerised, bought all the others that I could find on eBay and ordered the rest from America, along with her 2 latest books. I tend not to do things by halves, but that worked in my favour because clicker training is like horses – the more you put into it, the more you get out.

I was beginning to realise that clicker training was the answer to all my prayers. I began to see ways I could deal with all the issues we had been having and to understand why Jack had no motivation to work. I could even see how I could tackle Bella’s tongue habits, which I still think would have been impossible without the clicker. It was all there for the taking.

The fundemental principle of clicker training is that whatever you click you get more of. All you have to do is wait until you see the tiniest hint of what you are after, click and treat it, and you WILL get more. As long as you ARE clicking what you want (timing is everything) you can’t fail, and if you wait long enough you WILL see a hint of what you want; ‘everyone sits down in the end’ as Alexandra Kurland calls it – the nuttiest horse will begin to tire and slow down and the sleepiest (or nappiest) horse will feel the need to move slightly, if you wait long enough. The quicker you recognise (click) the tiniest shift towards what you are looking for, the faster the horse will offer more of the same.

It really was that easy – all of it. Jack’s calming work in the wind is ongoing, but his enthusiasm for going forward and Bella’s relaxed jaw are givens. They are transformed and, on my part, it was effortless, and to put a time scale to it, by the time I had collected all this information together it was already March 2008. I can’t believe the changes we have made in less than 3 months, not only to the problems we were having, but to our whole relationships with each other.

Click training not only rules out any confusion and misunderstanding, but it also works on emotional control and stability – how to work through, and deal with, frustration and impatience, on the part of both horse and trainer. We now, just 3 months later, understand and communicate with each other on a level I never dreamed possible before - possible for me anyway.

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