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, 16 November 2008

I'm reading Dominique Barbier's book 'Dressage For The New Age' and he writes about the "Power of the Mind as the Most Important Aid" and the importance of thinking and feeling, within yourself, what you want the horse to do and giving him a chance to respond to your mind, before using your body to reinforce the mental aid.

He writes, when he trained with Nuno Oliviera and rode his horse, Nuno told him to ride on the buckle and bring the horse up into collection without using his hands or his legs. He says that he managed to do so by thinking and feeling; by bringing himself up into collection, and the horse followed his idea.

He says the following;

"It seems to me that the great ecuyers, or riding masters of the past - Francios Robichon de la Gueriniere (1688-1751), Francois Baucher (1796-1873), and others - were all looking for the same thing:"descente de main et descente de jambe." This French expression means "the relaxing of the hands and the legs"; in other words, a cessation of action.

Baucher expressed it another way; "Make yourself understood and let it happen." This achievement resembles a state of grace, of ultimate perfection, because it lets the horse move and perform on it's own, from within himself. The horse cannot understand this refinement of the aids that makes use of only slight leg pressure and no hands, unless the mental relationship, the mental harmony between rider and horse, has first been established.

Man is supposed to be the most perfect animal because he thinks. However, communicating mentally with horses is actually far easier than doing so with other humans, because the latter have learned to use so many faces, to play many roles. In other words, people cheat....... Horses don't do this."

I'm still not convinced that a lot of this mental communication isn't actually the horse noticing physical changes that happen within our bodies when we think of what we want; the subconscious micro-movements that occur, but if it works, and this level of communication is achievable (and I'm convinced that it is), the whys and wherefores are, to me, academic - I just want to ride like this, and only like this, for the rest of my life.

I also watched Sally Tottles DVD 'Revolutionise Your Riding With Bodysense' and she speaks of using the Alexander Technique to stop the micro-movements that occur whenever you think of something when riding, so that your horse doesn't pick up on them and they don't affect performance. I could hear what she was saying, but I couldn't help thinking how much more attractive the idea of making use of them seemed to me.


  1. I agree with you about us making subconscious micromovement.
    Cutter canters with me thinking canter. It means my body prepares himself for canter.
    The same Baby ( our cob-like beginners mare) will stop at a thought.
    I was cantering her arriving at "B" I thought that I would make a downtransition at "C". She just did it.
    I do not think it is "telepathie" or else, but horses train with weight aids will respond at the tension in our bodies. that is why Western horses do.
    No it odes not require an advanced training.
    It is non non-sense traning with weight aids!

    Horses are amazingly sensitive creatures. I adore them, but I do not see in them anything magical or supernatural.
    I am fascinated with their NATURAL sensibility to read us. I guess they can feel, or smell see us.

    That is why I move so much away from pseudo dressage classical dressage, it is too "stuffy", too rigid.
    I prefer much more natural approach. Just be relax in your body and your horse will relax.
    Real cowboys have an amazing seat.

  2. Yes I do think they probably pick up on some minute movement Helen. This morning I found myself overaiding as that blasted pony "worked" me to his advantage arrrgh ! Went right back to getting a decent halt walk transition with the lightest aid possible & rewarding it when I got it, goodness I really have to watch it with him he's sooo clever & manipulative he does make life hard for me sometimes.As soon as I did the minute aids we were off again,will really have to pay attention to what comes first him slowing or me overaiding.Who was it said natives were easy ? No wonder he's got such a broad forehead his head's chock full of brain

  3. Muriel, it can be so hard to do though, relax when you'rs on a tense horse, can't it? I find that I ride best these days when I keep all of my mind on what the horse and I are trying to achieve together, and don't think at all about what we might be doing as seperate entities. That seems to be what keeps them relaxed and 'with' me, especially Jack.

    Maryka, that sounds very much like the games Bella used to play with me. One thing I found very effective, instead of getting frustrated or annoyed with her (which I did to begin with) was to laugh and tell her that I'd just wait until she was ready to play my game. I'd then walk around on the buckle, admiring the scenery, and refuse to interact with her until I could feel her pleading with me to do so. I used to repeat this every time she stopped trying.

    It used to happen several times every session - now it's about once every couple of months!

  4. I meant to say that concentrating on what we are trying to do together is what keeps me relaxed too. It stops me worrying about 'what ifs', like if the ****** cat is going to leap out on Jack's bad eye side, and when I don't worry about it he doesn't either, but it's taken a lot of training of both of us, to get us there!

    Thank you both for the great comments!

  5. ****cat?! ^-^ LOL I laughted out loud this morning! I am owned by two cats, so I can relate to this!

    Thanks for the advice, I find so hard to live "the right here and right now". Slowly I am able to develop an "happy place" in my brain, where I am unemotional, I am "just" there in a waiting state.
    So hard for me, I have zero patience, and when Cutter can transition from walk to canter in a thought I find very frustrating he does not slow down the same way. Then I go in "what if" mode, and then I become tense.
    Vicious cycle, but I am working on my "happy place" ^-^
    Horses have been sent on Earth to teach us to face and to control our emotions!

  6. I am sending you an email about CT, but it is not about this blog so I do it privately ^-^

  7. Muriel said "Horses have been sent on Earth to teach us to face and to control our emotions!"

    Yes, so has my cat!!!!!!!!!!!


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