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 once went to a Kyra Kyrklund lecture demonstration many years ago and I remember watching her doing an exercise that I saw Jane Savoie extolling the virtues of on a Youtube clip that I watched yesterday. It was to teach the horse to pick up a back foot on command and then stand on one back foot, to teach it how to position it’s back feet so that they could bear the increase in weight. This is as a prelude to collection and ultimately to Piaffe.

It involved tapping the horse’s hind leg softly and repeatedly with a whip until it picked the foot up, and then carrying on tapping to get it to keep the foot in the air. I thought that this would be a useful exercise to teach my horses but that I could get easier and better results by using the clicker.

I tried with Bella last night and Jack today. I stood alongside them, looked at a back leg and slowly (to give them a chance to recognise the chain of events and respond at an earlier stage as quickly as possible) extended my arm, pointed at their hind leg and then tapped very lightly with one finger midway between stifle and hock until that foot began to leave the floor – click, treat, praise, begin again.

With both of them I didn’t get beyond the pointing stage on the second attempt before their foot was in the air. A few goes later, when I knew that they definitely would pick their foot up, I introduced the word ‘up’ to the looking and pointing, and a few tries after that I only had to look and say ‘up’. I then started the other side but never needed more than the looking and the word ‘up’.

Bella already finds this so easy that she will keep her foot in the air until I click. I’m not asking for more than a few seconds at the moment, but it seems effortless for her. It’s a bit more effort for Jack, who has to rearrange himself occasionally, so I think I need to give him some more time before withholding the click to keep his foot off the ground. Both of them end the exercise with both hind feet much further underneath them than they were to begin with.

With both of them I’ve had to ignore, to ‘weed out’ a few tiny hints of a cow kick. These were only recognisable from an outward twitch of a stifle, but might have got bigger without clicker training to clarify the point!!!!

A link to the Jane Savoie exercise;

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