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 was a bit short of time over the weekend and decided, as I wanted to do something with all 3 each day, to just concentrate on working on my take of 'Why Would You Leave Me' in-hand. I don't always bother with a bridle for this, so can do a quick session going to or from the field (or sometimes both).

I walk around the school with them walking alongside me on a loose leadrope, then very slowly put my free hand on the leadrope and very slowly run it down the rope a short way, asking them to flex slightly towards me. With Jack and Grace I am looking for, and clicking, a soft sideways and slightly downwards flexion - with Jack for confidence and with Grace to try to counteract her habit of always coming above the bit whenever she is asked to do anything - and with Bella I have been clicking a sideways and upwards softening, as she tends to want to carry her head and neck rather low.

After several days of this I rode them all yesterday. Grace is so much better and did some lovely, soft work in walk and stayed attentive nearly all of the time. We managed some very passable rein back to walk transitions and she even managed some halts without coming above the bit. I am not kidding myself that this is going to be easy to carry forward into trot, and I think that we are going to have to do a lot of work in walk to get her balance very well established first, but for the first time yesterday I felt that I could actually push her neck out infront of me in transitions, instead of it coming back at me. Having her REALLY listening makes the world of difference because I can make subtle suggestions with my seat, to draw her back up under me, that she just wouldn't have heard before.

Jack is back to being Mr Cool and I think that I need to learn a lesson here. I think that the reason the cat episode had such a longlasting effect on him was because I had thought that he didn't need the low headcarriage work anymore and was always riding him quite 'up'. I MUST make sure that I encourage plenty of the 'down' work too. The only problem with finishing sessions the way that I do, with something really good (usually in an 'up' carriage) followed by a dismount and jackpot, is that he finishes on a 'high', which is great for his motivation and energy, but perhaps not so good for calm and relaxation. I think that I should finish with something very relaxing with Jack, with a low headcarriage, before I dismount, because he is always calm in hand now (and I never ask for 'up' in hand with him), and I don't want him to associate being ridden with being in a less confident carriage and therefore state of mind.

I couldn't believe the difference in Bella!!! As soon as I got on her she was 'up' and carrying herself beautifully. She felt a hand higher and like an elegant horse instead of the slightly clumpy family pony that she usually feels like when we begin on a long rein. I can never get over just HOW quickly you can make real changes with the clicker.

Bella is such a star, she spoils me rotten. Jack means the world to me but I have had to work really hard for all the progress that we have made. None of that's been his fault - just the way thing are and it's been very good for me. He's already taught me more than any other horse I've ever had - but Bella just hands me everthing on a plate! She is my rock, who keeps me believing in myself and the methods I have chosen for us all. She is very, very special!!!!

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