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

Harmony in Movement and Avoiding Stiffness.

Some people were very kind and said, on my thread in ‘Ask Becky’ that Bella and I looked to make a harmonious picture. I do feel in harmony with her movement in a way that I have never experienced before, but it is also blindingly obvious that I need to make a lot of improvements in my position if she is ever going to have a chance to realise her full potential.

This has so far been my dilemma: how to make the changes I need without stiffening up and losing the harmony I value so much, and I think that Alexandra Kurland may, once again, have hit upon the answer.

I have found that the frequent stops and starts of clicker riding (after every click) have tuned my body into the movement going on under me. With all the work I have done on getting Jack to be quick off my leg I have probably packed more transitions into each session than most people do in a month. I know the feel of halt to walk or to trot so well that my body automatically knows how to ride it, with one proviso – I don’t TRY.

I used to get really frustrated with my inability to really sit the movement of Jack’s halt to walk transition. It was so lumbering and hesitant, as if he couldn’t decide which leg went where, that I felt as though I was being lurched about in the saddle every time. Now he has the motivation for instant movement a lot of that has disappeared, but I still find halt to walk the hardest transition to sit really well – to really flow with.

The constant repetitions have solved that and I just came to realise one day that I felt totally in sync with the movement. I loved the sensation, but if I actually thought about it too much I started to lose it. I had to let it happen, I couldn’t make it happen.

That’s what I feel that I need to do to correct my position, to find a way that doesn’t involve trying actively to make changes happen, just letting them, effortlessly.

Alexandra Kurland recently posted on her discussion group about the work she was doing on ‘Micro-Riding’ which she is doing using some of James Shaw (‘Ride from Within’)’s Tai Chi ideas. She wrote about bone rotations, where you don’t actively try to rotate anything, you just think about rotating a certain bone and it happens, infinitesimally, which is all you need to make a vast difference.

She wrote about just thinking of rotating the head of your thighbone, inwards and outwards, and seeing what difference it made to you and your horse. I have found that thinking of rotating them inwards makes me feel really strong and secure in the saddle, and found that by thinking of rotating the inside thighbone outwards and the outside thighbone inwards I can get the horse to turn or move laterally when still riding on the buckle.

This is all very recent, and I have only just started to experiment, but if I work on my head and shoulders this way I may just be able to achieve the results I need without the stiffness I dread!

I have also been reading Franz Mairinger’s book ‘Horses Were Made to be Horses’ and he constantly emphasises to the necessity to ‘sit down and take the horse with you’ and I realise that, in my attempts to sit lightly I have always had a tendency to try and hover just above the saddle. The repetitions of clicker riding have improved that, but I still need to feel more as though I am leading the movement rather than just going along with it.

So much to work on!!!!!!

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