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 found that the real difference comes from my mindset. We don't do arguements anymore, EVER. If they don't do what I THOUGHT that I'd been asking them to do, I assume that I didn't ask clearly enough, so I need either to go with what they thought that I wanted, or to change myself and try again (I usually do the former followed by the latter). They are almost always TRYING to do what they think that I want them to do, and I ALWAYS give them the benefit of the doubt. THEY can't be wrong - only I can be wrong - and they know it, so there's no need for resistance and every reason to try and keep on trying.

None of this encourages disobedience, in my experience. WHEN my communication is perfect (perfectly understandable to them) I will always be able to get exactly what I want, exactly when I want it, I am 100% certain of that. In the meantime, while we are all still learning, they will never get the blame for my failings, and will always get encouragement to TRY - right or wrong, sure or unsure, just TRY and you will always be rewarded - and I will always keep trying too, and keep rewarding until we get there and then - JACKPOT TIME!

THAT's why they love to work, and love to experiment and love to TRY!

We spend hours just working on being straight between the reins, just by using tiny aids for shifts in balance, all done by returning to 'on the buckle' as soon as we are right. The difference true straightness makes to their paces is unbelievable, but, as Alexandra Kurland says, you can't expect them not to keep falling off the balance beam, and by repeatedly practising getting back onto it again, it becomes ever more easy to find that balance, and to gradually hold onto it for longer and longer. It's such a gentle way to learn and improve - find it, click and treat, let it go and then find it again - scores of times every session.

This work makes them addicted to finding their balance, and then holding themselves there, with no weight in the hand at all. As a rider, I can just sit there and savour every second - I do practically nothing, save hand over the treats - it's one hell of a way to ride!!!!

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