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


Tuesday, 11 November 2008

I have had the maddest afternoon! I worked all three of my pones in-hand, in bridles, with pretend reins. Anyone reading this who hasn’t seen any of Alexandra Kurland’s DVDs will think that I’m barking but they really do notice and respond when I squeeze imaginary reins. I could actually see their heads moving in time with my fingers.

Once, when I put Bella into shoulder in, she stopped. I couldn’t understand why until I realised that I was holding my imaginary reins too tight. As soon as I opened my fingers she moved forward.

G race was still hollowing a bit in downward transitions so I took my hands down and her head came with them, and I could then get her to halt and rein back with her nose on the floor.

I tried halting and then asking them to go forward by opening my fingers, or to rein back by squeezing them shut. I stood completely still so that they weren’t just mirroring me. Back was easier than forward to begin with and I’m not sure if that was because squeezing the reins is more obvious, or because they were being polite and waiting for me, which is what they are used to doing, but it only took a few clicks to reinforce forward.

I was much more comfortable working Jack with imaginary reins than real ones. I usually only to work him in a headcollar and leadrope in hand, because I worry about catching him in the mouth if something makes him jump. It doesn’t seem fair as he tries so hard not to let anything now, and never tries to run off anymore, but the odd unexpected thing is always going to make him jump because of his eye. When I’m riding him I’m careful not to catch him, but I’m not always quick enough to let go of the reins when he’s in hand. Imaginary reins make us both more relaxed and confident and I can use a bit, so it’s more like riding.

I’ve never liked long reining because it’s always made me feel too dependent on the reins, but imaginary reins would be a different matter entirely. I wonder if I were long reining from behind I could use the outside rein on it’s own? I tried in-hand to get them to circle away from me by just using the outside imaginary rein and was quite disappointed when it didn’t work but, thinking about it, I wouldn’t ever just use the outside rein to pull them around anyway, and if they had turned I might have been in the way. Jack wouldn’t be able to see my hand well enough (or probably at all) on one side if I were behind him but I’m going to have to give it a try with Bella and Grace!

I spent the whole afternoon chuckling away but now, thinking about it, I feel really guilty and humble. I always thought that I was a quiet, sympathetic rider but now I realise that I have spent the whole of my working life shouting at horses by comparison. How could I have spent so many years in their company and never even begun to realise just how sensitive, observant and intelligent they really are?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting post Helen ... new comers are going to think that you are barking mad LOL ^-^

    I wonder ... do you think that your horses read your body language? Therefore they won't respond to an outside rein because they won't see *it*?
    *It* being your hand?

    so if your horses respond to your body-language, it is because they have learnt before with the rein, therefore they felt something in their mouth and they remember?
    Do you think it could be an explaination?

    Thanks for your post, thsi afternoon I am going to try with Cutter, *the bolting* QH!
    He cannot stand any pressure in his mouth, because he has a "memory" of being beaten in his mouth, which overdrives anything else in his brain. He bolts.

    I am really to concentrate on invisible reins.
    But will it work at faster speed???


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