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

I have been having a wonderful time hacking out my new pony, who is a little treasure. Not only had Grace not been ridden for about six months but she hadn’t been out since she had her shoes removed at least a year ago. She strode straight out of the gate and off down the road with purpose and enthusiasm. She has her little ears steadfastly pricked in front of me the whole time, taking a calm and intelligent interest in everything. She seems to be really enjoying herself, and I'd forgotten how much I love riding out without the distractions of human company. It’s lovely to be riding an older ‘seen it all before and got the T shirt’ horse again, so that I can just relax and enjoy the scenery. She has been known to worry about big lorries in the past, but has been fine with everything we’ve met so far.

I am riding her in my Fhoenix with Jill’s sheepskin saddle cover. We look like we have escaped from the Household Cavalry, but it is wonderfully secure and comfortable. It feels like it gives you a big hug when you sit on it!. Some time ago I bought a black Iberian bridle with silver decorations; an impulse buy on eBay. I know that it’s not very appropriate (although Dales are supposed to have some Spanish blood) but I’m very tempted to start hacking her out in it. It would look really good with the saddle cover and her long mane. I must take some photos.

It’s weird, I always try to have my horses looking well turned out and eye-catching, but never care that I always look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards!

I used to exercise Grace a couple of times a week in the winter for her pervious owner and had just started to do some single rein work when spring arrived this year, so I intend to go back to working through the single rein exercises in ‘Riding With The Clicker’ when she is a bit fitter, to show her how to improve her balance and self carriage. The work had already improved her relationship with the bit and she has not forgotten it.

I don’t know how much she will be capable of in the way of dressage, at her age and with her conformation, and it doesn’t really matter as she already has a job; taking me for lovely hacks, but we are definitely going to go as far as we can, especially having read this by Charles De Kunffy in Dressage Questions Answered:

“There is no horse in this world who will not improve by becoming stronger, more supple, more elastic, more balanced, more harmonious, easier in understanding light aids rather than force. There is no equestrian endeavour that cannot benefit from a horse whose attention span has been increased and who is more trusting of the rider. There is no performance that cannot be improved by a more obedient horse who is not only willing but also capable of using himself correctly. That is all that dressage aims at and that is all that any rider may reasonably aim to achieve.”

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