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


Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Just when I think that I've got used to the tremendous changes that clicker training and 'Riding With The Clicker' can make I find something that blows me away all over again.

I found today, when I rode Grace, that canter has suddenly become her best pace. She stays round and smooth and it feels as though her inside hind is coming a long way underneath her, which is what she just couldn't do at all before, along with many other Dales who struggle with canter. She has also decided that she really likes cantering and is keen and eager to do so.

This is a pony who couldn't manage an even half way decent canter, and would rather not even try to, for at least the nearly five years that I have known her, and it now feels so lovely that I could canter her all day long!

I am also finding that I can get much better flexion from Bella when I squeeze on the inside rein and leave it hanging loose. She responds with a much truer flexion than if I have a direct contact with her mouth and suddenly my very straight horse, who has never been in Jack's class when it came to flexing, feels much more supple, laterally and longitudinally.

I was also playing with changing the bend and going from one lateral movement to another, through the change of bend, just by changing which loose rein I was squeezing on, and then on bringing her up into collection by squeezing on both loose reins together, with no other conscious aids.

I have realized that what happens is that my hand squeezing has the effect of toning up all that side of my body and I think that it also has some increased 'bearing down' effect, as Mary Wanless used to refer to. I'm going to try to recreate the effect by just thinking of squeezing my hand shut next, without actually doing it, so that I can try to use the effect without having to have the reins dangling. I'm beginning to realise that, because I try to ride without ever closing my hands tightly around the reins, to keep the contact as light as possible, that I may be missing out on a whole lot of other useful micro-movements in my core.

I want to keep riding on a minimal contact, preferably weight of the reins only, but if I can do that and make use of these other aids, while staying out of their mouths, that would be very helpful. Certainly Bella loves being ridden like this and responds instantly and with beautifully soft flexion, both laterally and longitudinally, to this new approach.


  1. I believe that you can get good felxion with long reins because it is what I do with Cutter.
    However, when you say that your horse has a better stride etc.. what is your point of reference?
    I recently had this discussion with S. about having somebody on the ground to correct, because otherwise you loose "the feel" of a correct movement.
    How do you know the movement is different? Do you film yourself often or do you use mirrors. I know that PK uses his mirrors to check the movement.
    Or is it because you ride three different horses with three different feels?

    Just wondering ^-^

  2. Hi Helen,
    Congrats on the canter,to sit a lovely slow hand canter is one of life's great experiences.

    Young Sdphie sounds like Grace was.She thinks Welsh Cobs do'nt do canter!

    At the moment I am not hasseling her we just pop into a few steps out hacking and she gets clicked and treated.I am trying to build duration, but it all feels a bit wild!Trouble is she does'nt bend her knees.I think it is bracey baby syndrom, she does it when she is pinging around in her field.

    I have tryed working her on a 22' line and she absolutly blows up, which indicates lack of confidence/balance.Any ideas?

    loving all the posts.

    PS I too love the way cowboys ride!

    regards Janette.

  3. Muriel, great question! I did worry about how reliable my 'feel' was to begin with, and that was why I was so pleased to get some photos taken; to see that what felt good was also what WAS good.

    Grace's canter now feels like Bella and Jack's, which is why I'm confident that she is swinging her inside hind well under her, but I must get some photos to check.

    I think that one of the many good things about clicker training is that you spend so much time doing transitions (with every click) that I just know what feels balenced and soft, right from the first stride. I probably ride about 100 transitions every session, so that's 300 a day, most days.

    The other thing about doing lateral work using Alexandra Kurland's method is that I know what a really big hind leg movement feels like (and again I was delighted to see that my feel was correct from the photos). I got a big cross over right from the start, so find it very hard to settle for anything else.

    I just find that my body and mind stores away these feels and then works on reproducing them again, by recreating the same feel in me. I do trust my feel now and I don't believe that I would forget the correct feel of any movement. I can even 'feel' what a sweeping cross over of a hind leg feels like underneath me when I am not even sitting on a horse! It's ingrained, and AK recommends that you spend a long time on an exercise, so that's a lot of repetitions programmed into me and the horse.

    Perhaps the difference is that I have had to learn how to do all of this solely by doing it by feel, not by listening to an instructor or looking in mirrors. Also, everytime I click beautiful movement, it means that I have got it right as well as the horse, so I remember those moments and how we got there, just as the horse does. It reinforces it for me too.

    It would be lovely to have access to regular video footage or mirrors, but I do trust my feel now, and I can't believe for one minute that PK really NEEDS the mirrors, I would have thought that they were just for reassurance.

    This sounds really bizarre but I have been deliberately riding in the dark occasionally recently, so that I only have feel to go by, and can't even see where their heads are (as they are all black). This helps me get out of the habit of looking down and accentuates just what everything does feel like.

  4. Hello Janette, thank you very much and lovely to have you here!

    Have you considered working through 'The Click That Teaches - Riding With The Clicker' book? It sorts out balance and confidence issues, and, as AK says "physical balance leads to emotional balance".

    I have probably said this before but I thibk that Alexandra Kurland may just be a genius!!!!


Blog Archive


About Me

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