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

Jack has never quite accepted the concept of lunging. He will work alongside me with energy and enthusiasm (these days) in hand and at liberty, but the idea of me standing still watching him run around just doesn’t seem to be a fair division of labour to him, and he has always evened up the odds by making me chase after him waving the lunging whip and leaping about, thereby making sure that he always uses up very slightly less energy than I do!

This has got a lot better since he has been clicked working on the lunge but it still required quite a lot to get him to move out onto the circle each time, and often a fair bit to get him into a canter as well.

I had intended to do several sessions on the lunge a week, until their left canter departs were well established, but every day I think that I’ll ride today and lunge tomorrow. Now that I have 3 horses to ride I decided today that it was time that tomorrow actually came!

We had not done any more work on canter since I last wrote about it. I took Bella into the school first and she must have been practising by herself because she was foot perfect right from the start. She struck off on the correct leg every time, anywhere in the school, and kept cantering until I clicked (I’m only asking for half a circle or so) when she instantly dropped out of canter into a four square halt, every time. I am SO impressed!!!

I decided that it was time for Jack to become a volunteer on the lunge so I left the lunge whip in the tackroom. If I had to freeshape everything step by step then I was prepared to, but I hoped that our communication was now advanced enough, and his motivation to earn treats was now strong enough, that I wouldn’t have to. I certainly didn’t have to!

I took him into the school, stopped in the middle, pointed him in the direction that I wanted him to go and asked him to walk on. He stood still and looked at me. I looked at him and waited, He looked at me. I looked in the direction that I wanted him to go and then back at him. He looked in the same direction and then back at me. I kept looking at him expectantly and waited. He looked at me, looked in the direction that I wanted him to go, gave a big sigh and then trundled off in that direction.

If he could talk the conversation would have gone something like;
Me - “Please go out onto the circle and do some work”.
Jack – “I don’t want to, I’d rather just stand in the middle here with you.”
Me – "I know you would but I’d really like you to do some work.”
Jack – “Do I really have to?”
Me – “No, you don’t HAVE to, I’m not going to do anything to MAKE you. We can stand here together for the rest of the day if you like, but, if you were hoping to earn some treats….”
Jack – “Oh, ok, if you put it like that, I suppose I’d better get on with it.”

He is SO clever. By the end of the session not only was he going straight back out after every click but, because he knew that the job was all about cantering (I was clicking walk and trot to warm up, but not after that) he decided that the trot bit was a waste of time and offered walk to canter each and every time, and always on the correct lead. If anyone had asked me beforehand what the chances were of getting him to do walk to canter on the lunge WITH a lunge whip, let alone without one, I’d have laughed out loud and said only in my dreams!!!

I was thinking today, as I was riding Grace down the road, that almost exactly a year ago, when I went to watch Becky’s clinic, I had a five year old that I couldn’t do any of things that I really wanted to do with, because I couldn’t get her to hold a bit quietly in her mouth for even five seconds in a row, and a six year old who went from impossibly tense and spooky to impossibly switched off and unresponsive, with absolutely nothing in between. I felt defeated, well past my prime and useless. The horses that I had developed such great relationships with were all long dead and buried and I was convinced that my best riding days were all well and truely behind me.

Today I am every bit as convinced that they have only just begun!

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