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 think that I must have been a saint in another life to have deserved to have Bella now. She would work all day every day, never lose concentration, and still be disappointed everytime we finished and left the school!

I can't say the same of my cameraman though! He plonks himself down on a chair, right on the track, and says "right, do it all infront of me there. No, that's too far away, there, do it there!" When I suggest that he moves, because I need the track or the bales to set up the movement, he says the light is all wrong, it has to be just there. Can you imagine what the Olympic dressage would have looked like if he had been filming it? Do you suppose that men are clicker trainable?

Another great thing about Bella is, once she has decided that she knows what I want, she sticks with it while I reorganise myself. With Jack I have to sit still, even if I'm all wrong, because the slightest shift in my position makes him think that HE has got it wrong and needs to try something else. Bella cannot concieve of the idea that SHE might be wrong, so she just keeps going regardless, waiting for her just rewards, which is very useful when I want to rearrange my position and leaves me with absolutely no excuse for not getting myself in the right place. That's another reason why I usually practise with her first.

I also noticed yesterday that she is suddenly much more even both sides. She has always found it quite hard to bend in either direction compared to Jack, who finds it harder than her to go straight, and her right side is her hollow side (if not very hollow). She found bending to the left very difficult, even in hand.

When I give her the treats I drop the reins (let go completely) and have always reached down to give them to her on the side to which she has been bending, as per AK's instructions. On her hollow side she had the habit, as she turned her head away after taking the treat, instead of going back to where she had been, she would always start to turn in off the track as I was picking my reins up again, so everytime I had to guide her shoulders back to the track before we could continue, after every single treat.

I decided to cheat and give her the treat on her stiff, left side everytime for a while, regardless of which rein we were on, but I did regard this as cheating and not good practise. However, the constant bending of her stiff side and stretching of her hollow side, over just a couple of weeks (to get the treats), has almost completely evened her up! I can now treat her on her righthand side and she stays on the track, and her ability to bend to the left is vastly improved.

I think I may have stumbled onto something quite useful there, completely by accident!

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