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


Friday, 28 November 2008

I am SO glad that I bought Alexandra Kurland's latest DVDs - my horses and I are having SO much fun with them.

I have now watched most of 'Capture the Saddle' and began by trying the mounting block lesson, where you walk with the horse free, walking alongside you, to the mounting block, climb onto it, and the idea is that the horse targets your body with the saddle. When he can do this freely, every time, you know that he is ready and happy to have you get on.

This was very fairly straightforward with all my 3. I always use a mounting block and they are obviously comfortable with me riding them, as they all lined themselves up with very little prompting. The only real problem was that Jack and Bella both tend to do what Oliver does on the DVD and try to get on the mounting block sideways along with me. I'm not sure if this is because they are so keen for me to get on, or if they think that it's their turn to ride me for a change!

Then I went back to the cone circle, which we haven't done for ages. The idea is that you mark out an accurate circle with cones (I have the traffic type of cone) and use it for various exercises, riding on the buckle and only making corrections when the horse isn't going in the right direction, using the inside rein only, to make any necessary corrections, and going back to the buckle the instant they are completed.

When I used this before I circled around the outside of the circle, on the buckle, keeping close to the cones. This was fine in hand, with me between the horse and the cones, but ridden it wasn't the most harmonious exercise.

Jack thought that cones were there to be flattened and would never go around one if he could mow it down, so the circle didn't stay very circular for long. Bella was fairly ambivalent about whether she went around or over them , so wouldn't put herself out to leave them standing. Grace, on the other hand, was very suspicious of them and wouldn't go any closer to them than she could get away with. Spending any amount of time on the buckle with any of them was quite tricky, to say the least!

This time it was a completely different story. Yesterday I began with the exercise shown on the DVDs, riding across the circle to a selected cone and turning around it, using the single rein only, and on the buckle as much as possible. They were all quite good at this. Grace soon got over her suspicions, which were much less obvious this time (she is definitely getting braver), and was concentrating so hard that she did nearly collide with one a couple of times, but it didn't worry her. Bella and Jack understood that the job was to go around them, at last!

The turns were revealing though. Bella and Jack turn on a sixpence, pivoting around their inside hind foot, whereas Grace does a 10m half circle, needing loads of corrections to keep her turning. I definitely need to do a lot more work on turns with her!

Today, after doing the former exercise again, I tried walking, and then trotting, around the edge of the circle, on the buckle, with Grace and Bella (I ran out of daylight before I got to that point with Jack). Grace began by consistently falling in on one rein and out on the other. I thought about what I could try to do to help our combined balance. I tried thinking of sitting towards her outside hind, on the rein she was falling in on, and thought of sitting towards her inside hind, on the rein she was falling out on and that was all we needed - we could then trot all the way around the circle on the buckle!

Bella, my beautiful, clever Bella, right from the start trotted around the circle on the buckle with no corrections, on both reins, carrying herself, in her lovely, springy, enhanced working trot. She is such a superstar!

She did make me laugh earlier though. I walked with her, to the mounting block, climbed on it and, instead of stopping, she must have thought we were going to do some in-hand work first, as she was on a mission and went another couple of strides before she realised I was no longer with her. She immediately went into reverse and then overshot the mounting block backwards, stopped and looked at me. I just stood on the block looking expectantly back at her, in a 'what are you going to do now, to get me to click you?' way. She came forward again and stopped in the perfect position for me to mount. This is in an unfenced school that has quite a lot of grass growing in it - grass being something she gets very little of - and her field companion was calling to her from the yard.

If clicker training isn't the most fun, easiest, most effective way of training horses ever invented, I'll eat my riding hat!!!


  1. But you do not wear a riding hat ^-^ !
    Just a thought the fact that a horse can turn on a dime, is it a physical ability i.e. teh horse must developp a certain of muscle strength, or is it just a coordination motor-skill?

    I am asking because Western horses are taught early to turn on a dime. *I* do not ask because I did not know they could, I alwasy worry they will hurt themselves.

    What is your take on it?

  2. Hi Helen,

    Glad you are having so much fun with the new DVD's.I am hoping santa's going bring me Riding on the Triangle, for christmas. My husbands big grey superstar,half passes/sidles up to wherever Davids positioned himself,when he say's Come and help mount! Ps most Parelli level 2/3 can do this!

  3. Hello Muriel, this is only at a walk, so it's just a walk pirouette really, with them picking up the inside hind foot with each step, so it's around a small dinner plate really, rather than a dime (pivot was perhaps not an accurate description!). I have already taught them walk pirouettes, both in-hand and ridden, and it was something I taught Grace to do very early on too, to help lighten her forehand, but she hasn't done nearly so many of them as the other two yet, so getting them by using the inside rein only is not so easy, at the moment.

    I wouldn't ask them to turn that tightly at any faster pace (although I think that Bella and Jack will be capable of canter pirouettes, one day).

    I'm like you and wince a bit when I see western horses spinning on the spot. It looks very stressful on the fetlock joint, when the foot isn't picked up and replaced, doen't it?

    Thank you very much Janette. My OH is called David as well!

    John Lyons work had a big influence in the development of 'The Click That Teachs', so you'll probably find a lot of things that are Natural Horsemanship based. It's really a blend of NH and classical dressage, starting with the NH and moving into the specifics of dressage, once there are solid foundations to build on, with a horse that can carry itself in balance without relying on the reins.

    Can I ask you and Muriel a question? Do either of you know if the work that the Parellis did with Walter Zettyl is out yet, in any form? I'm really keen to see what they all did together.

  4. No that I am aware of. In the Savvy time, Linda writes about her lesson with WAZ ( as he is named on UDBB ^-^). But nothing is specific.
    They use his teaching to teach "Finesse". Here in Europe teh Parelli instructors have joined the PK's programme and I saw my Parelli instructor teaching flexions in-hand to his level 3 students.

    Regarding wesertn horses, I think a spin is stressful but not as bad, as them making their horse roll-back or tight turn in the pole-bending race! It is where I kind of cringe my teeth. LOL

  5. Thank you very much Muriel! It's fascinating how these different approaches can all fuse together, isn't it? I love finding and bringing together ideas from different sources and seeing how I can make elements of them work for me and my horses.

  6. Helen, I havet tagged you with Blogger's game. I understand if you do not want to play.

  7. Sorry, Muriel, but what is Blogger's game?

  8. Just go on my blog. You play by writing 6 things about you that you think that people do not know. Then you "tag" 6 others bloggers.
    I was tagged by Jean. But like her, I could not find 6 other bloggers to tag, only you and Serene!
    I hope you do not mind!

  9. The only trouble is I only know you!!!!

  10. Hi Helen,

    Thought you might like to read Stormy Logans web site she has just posted two articles on riding circles, which may be pertinent.David and I are following their programme.

    I find so much crossover with AK I sometimes understand what Bruce was asking for after reading her.

    They are a wonderful couple, I hope you find it interesting,Regards

  11. Thank you very much Janette. I can't access the first link because it says approved members only, but I have looked at the website. It looks very impressive. I can see why you were keen on the idea of driving cattle!


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