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

A few days ago Alexandra Kurland posted a 12 page review of her 3 new riding DVDs , on The Click That Teaches Discussion Group. In it she says the following;

“Part of the value of riding on a triangle (single rein riding) is the rider learns to engage her core and to become more aware of the nuances that create feels-like-heaven rides.”

I know that is what ‘Riding With The Clicker’ has taught me to do, and that the reason I can’t now school and talk to someone at the same time (even about what I’m doing) is because I am concentrating so hard on the nuances of balance and movement that are going on beneath me.

It’s happened very slowly, as we’ve worked through the exercises that layer upon each other, creating the balance and control that make beautiful movement possible. I have become a distraction-free rider at the same time as my horses have become distraction-free rides, but I've been wondering about how it happened.

A few weeks ago I could have held a conversation about what I was doing and ridden at the same time. When I began the program I could have ridden and talked about something else entirely. I never decided that I must pay attention to EVERYTHING that’s going on under me – it just happened – just as my horses probably never decided that they must give me their undivided attention (none of this applies to hacking out by the way; I don’t expect their full attention then and don’t feel rude if I don’t give them mine).

So how did it happen? I knew it was to do with the repetition of the exercises and Alexandra Kurland’s instructions to stay with an exercise for a long time, to find ALL that it has to offer. Then I read an article in Horses For Life by Susan Medenica, about training with Karl Bergermann. She says;

“His goal was rather to erase all notions of right and wrong, all hierarchal positioning, in short, all preconceptions, so that the student can begin to experience. In a way, Karl wanted an empty mind in the student so that the horse could enter and begin to teach.”

I thought yes, that was how it happened, but not by emptying the mind with hours of endless, mindless repetitions, as she went on to say that Karl Bergermann used, but by filling it, with hours of fascinating, absorbing ones, that showed me what was needed to produce good balance and movement in my horses; what that felt like and what each layer of getting there felt like. I learnt how to recognise the feelings that led to those feels-like-heaven moments and how to play with reproducing those feelings in my own body, so that I could start to get my horses to recognise and produce the same results quickly and easily, without going through all the layers each time.

For instance, Bella and I can walk around on a long rein and I can now, without touching the reins or using my legs, put the feelings that Bella gives me when she steps forward from a beautiful, engaged rein back, into my own body and instantly get her to step further underneath her body, bring her back muscles up underneath me and draw herself up through her withers and into collection, because we both know the ‘feel’ of it so well. Through concentrating totally on what Bella was doing, in minute detail from second to second, Bella taught me how to ride her and communicate with her, to get the best from her, in the shortest time and with the least effort possible.

It’s easy and effortless and feels magical, and it would have taken me YEARS to get to where we already are, if we’d ever managed it at all, without Riding With The Clicker.

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