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


Sunday, 23 November 2008

I have now watched most of one of the new 'The Click That Teaches' DVDs. I'm watching them in the wrong order (Riding On A Triangle first) because I wanted to see Alexandra Kurland teaching someone to use the single rein riding in detail, on a horse, to see if I had got it more or less right from reading the book.

I was pleased to see that I had managed to stumble my way through it from the book, with the right results, but it is SO helpful to be able to SEE exactly what I've been feeling and aiming for - that moment when the inside hind steps under and bears enough of the weight of the horse to make mobilising the shoulders easy.

Watching the person learning on the DVD looks nothing like dressage, and it's not very refined at times, but this is the breaking down of the process into it's smallest components, and letting the horse and rider slowly explore and find their way through it at their own pace, and I know from my own experiences that it really can teach them both how to find the 'exquisite' balance that Alexandra Kurland refers as being the end result of learning to use lateral flexions.

Watching this has clarified so many of the things I had noticed when learning single rein riding myself. I could see how first the horse's hip took the inside hind further under, then the shoulders moved up and over, then the horse started to overdo it and drift outwards through her shoulders, both of which I experienced with all three of mine. On the DVD this is corrected by moving the hinquarters over more, to line up with the shoulders again. Not having realised this from the book I did it by moving the shoulders back in line with the hips, using the 'hotwalker' technique (apologies to those who haven't read the book, but it's not that easy to describe). Doing it this way called for much more collection from the horse, than moving the hindquarters back in line with the forehand, but luckily my horses are built for collection. This also explains why we found walk pirouettes easier than turn on the forehand.

I had another go with Grace today and having watched the DVD made so much difference! I knew exactly what was happening and why, and was very confident and positive about my timing of the releases and when something was good enough to click. I realised that, although my technique of getting her to flex laterally in a slightly downward direction had helped free her back up and convince her that it is possible for her to bring her back up underneath me, she is now capable of flexing and staying up and round, which helps her to take more weight behind.

By the end of a short session today she felt consistently much more like Bella and Jack in respect of balance and engagement - like a proper dressage horse. I kept thinking "surely it can't be this easy. Is it just that my horses are all geniuses with incredible natural talent or does it work this well, and this quickly, with every horse?" I'm almost tempted to kidnap one, or both, of my nextdoor neighbour's horses, just to find out!


  1. You can always come down my way & try it on an elderly & stubborn Highland Helen.Haven't managed to fathom the one rein bit myself,mainly due to my brain soon getting overloaded.Would welcome a clear description of how to please, pretty please ? Kath

  2. Another horse. I buy you the plane ticket to have a go at Cutter LOL!!!

    I am sure many people will offer you to come. Are you thinking to become an AK instructor ( if she has any)? I think you have a great attitude, you ought to think to pass on your positiveness and knowledge!

  3. That's very kind of you both.

    I'm not, Muriel. I'm not really instructor material - I watch AK and wonder how she manages to just stand by, when she knows how much faster she could teach the horse herself. She's so good with people as well as with horses, and, although I'm alright at explaining myself in writing, I'm not nearly so good face to face. I've spent so much of my time in the company of horses that I'm better at communicating with them than I am with people.

    People are often a bit of a mystery to me!!!!!

  4. Hi Helen,

    I do have AK's book and I am slowly working through it.
    Its very good value, as it's very dense and packed with info. It will be my winter project to digest!

    My question for today, is can you maintain impulsion,
    say at walk with Jack,when you are doing lateral work?
    I find that I have to keep my sessions short and squirt her off in a brisk trot to regain her feet.
    Any tips?
    I think you underestimate your teaching skills,you
    are a very persuasive communicator and your site is
    the first port of call!

  5. Hello Janette,

    That's really kind of you.

    Yes, I can maintain impulsion in lateral work NOW, and actually especially with Jack, and especially at walk, as he has a massive sideways sweeping stride now, but it has taken time.

    I found that once I had their hindquarters engaged, through connecting the reins, one at a time, to their hips (through single rein riding) impulsion really took care of itself, but the process takes time and the horse has to slowly develop strength, as slow engaged movement requires real power and control (from the horse) and is very tiring to begin with.

    It's really the way that Jack HAS found true impulsion - through slow, deliberate, swinging lateral strides - every muscle coming into play. It's not speed, but true impulsion, which makes every stride rhthymical and powerful. That huge sweep under and across of the inside hind, that you can see in Jack and Bella's title pics, produces huge, sweeping strides forward too, when directed that way (and upwards as well,in Bella's case, when she starts offering early strides of passage).

    I concentrated on getting a really big, sweeping under action of the inside hindleg, coming from catching the hip and guiding it, rather than forcing it, across (to quote someone from an AK clinic), to begin lateral work. Once I had that, impulsion came along with it, without me having to worry about it. The same approach has also helped to slow Grace's fast, hurried, on the forehand, paces down and start to develop the same graceful (sorry about the pun!), powerful movement.

    AK does say that lateral work drains off energy, so you need to put energy back in between times, and I have found a few really good direct transitions, such as reinback to trot, are best to do that without the risk of pushing them out of balance and keep the engagement, or, if they are getting tired and need a stretch, a long striding, stretching downwards freewalk. That does drop them out of balance a bit, but mine do feel the need to really stretch down occasionally, when they've been doing a lot of 'up' type work, so that is another sort of balance, if you see what I mean.


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