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 mentioned the 'Statues' game that I play with my horses on Epona's blog and thought I should describe it here, as I use it for all sorts of things and it has had a profound effect on my horses ability to concentrate and keep completely still.

It started when Bella was trying to get me to play ear to hand targeting when I was trying to skip her out late one night. I thought I would try something else and put my hand across her nose, stuck my head forward and put my cheek next to hers. When she stopped wriggling I clicked her, let go and treated her, and began again. About 10 clicks later I only had to stick my head out and she would put her cheek next to mine, without my touching her, and freeze there. We both stayed stock still, not even mouth movements allowed, and built up duration to a good 15 seconds or so in that first session.

Then I did the same with Jack and they both LOVE this game! Sometimes when I'm minding my own business this big eye will suddenly loom up, right next to mine, and freeze there, with an innocent whistle expression. Bella looks as though she is laughing when she does this, a 'come on, you know you can't resist, hand over the goodies' look on her face, and she's right!!

I have found that if I assume the same attitude when riding, long reining, etc. they pick up on it straight away and freeze, and will even do it when they still have food in their mouths, and stop chewing. It's been one of the most useful things we've done and they have so much confidence in giving me their heads now. It even makes Bella go quite soppy, and she is not that sort of horse at all by nature.

Jack has just started to improve on this even further by turning his head on one side and resting his ear against me at the same time, combining two different games, no doubt expecting twice the treats!!! He looks SO sweet!!!!

I just wish I was half as clever as they are!!!!!!

I have had such a fantastic afternoon today. I was a bit disconsolate, wondering if I was aiming for all the wrong things and trying to improve on methods which were perfectly adequate and didn't need improving on, so I did what I always do when having self doubts - I rode Bella.

She is my fairytale dressage horse! She is beautiful and enthusiastic and gives me more satisfaction and joy to ride than any horse I have ever known. Her trot, to me, is breathtaking now, 100 times better than her natural trot, and we have achieved that together, just the two of us and a clicker!

I have been concentrating on keeping her round and soft underneath me, and playing with slowing her trot with my seat, keeping the energy and increasing the bounce. I may be kidding myself but at times it feels almost passage-like, not that I have ever experienced passage, but it's starting to feel like passage looks like it would feel like, if that makes any sense!!! If I am kidding myself I don't care - it feels magical!!!

She is also going to have the most MASSIVE Spanish Walk! Bella doesn't believe in half measures!!!

Jack is now consistantly light on his feet in trot, with an increased moment of suspension to every stride. He's not dancing to the same extent that Bella is yet, but he's catching her up fast, and there's so much more of him to manouvre! His concentration throughout this 'silly runs' work has been absolute, even in the face of extreme wind and outside distractions, which have been unavoidable to fit in three sessions a day. Time to see if he can do the same with the burden of me ontop!!!

Grace felt so balanced and soft in trot today that I thought I would just give a canter transition a go. It felt just like Bella's! I couldn't believe it!!! When I clicked, the stop felt just like Bella's too! I tried a few on each rein and they were slightly better on the left rein than the right, but all unrecognisable from the run-ins, which were the only way she thought that she COULD get into a canter before. I haven't even done any work on this on the lunge first - just used Philippe Karl's weight aid of sitting towards the outside hind and, added on to Alexandra Kurland's balancing work, WHAT a difference!!!

I still find it hard to believe that a 12yo could learn to re-balance herself so quickly and completely, and I'll swear that the muscle atrophy under the saddle is already starting to reverse.

It is definately time for me to do some more reading and video watching, before they all leave me way behind in their dust trail!!! Bella already has!!!

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