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

More Freeshaping.

I continue to be astounded by how quickly, easily and completely freeshaping (observing behaviour and clicking desired behaviour but doing nothing to make it happen) can totally change a horse’s motivation and opinions.

Since I finally realized that Bella had outsmarted me by training me into incorporating her favourite tongue fiddling habit into a chain of treat earning behaviour (she fiddled, I cued her to stop, she stopped, we did some work, I clicked and treated, she ate her treat then started fiddling again, I cued………….) I have refused to play her game and played my own. I get on and keep her walking on a loose rein, otherwise ignoring her, until she decides to stop fiddling of her own accord, then we begin treat-earning work. I can’t click her just for stopping fiddling, as we would never get any further than that, but it is the first step in MY chain of treat earning behaviour.

Walking on a loose rein for ages might be seen as a reward by a non-clicker horse, but for Bella, with no opportunity to earn treats, it’s dire! After two sessions, once she had stopped fiddling at the start of the session she didn’t start again. Today, for the first time ever, from the moment I put her bridle on until the moment I took it off, she never fiddled once. Not even a quick, subtle, sneaky one. She has never earned so many treats in one session! To say that I was amazed and delighted just doesn’t even begin to cover it.

We decided to freeshape my friend’s Dales to accept the Saddlechariot, which she didn’t like the look of at all, and hated it touching her. We knew it would take a while, but thought it was the best way to do it – with her loose in the field, totally free to stay or leave as and when she pleased.

After just three sessions she will follow it around the field at walk and trot, load herself into the front of it forwards, stand still while we drag it all around her, rest the shafts on her back from either side and from behind, stand without flinching while we drop it alongside, in front and behind her, and while we load her into it from behind, banging her sides as we go. All this totally relaxed and ears pricked, waiting for her click/treats, and she has never been a brave horse.

It would seem that by leaving the horse free to make all his own choices, with absolutely no pressure or expectations, but having first given him the motivation to want to try out work out what you really want him to do, you can make massive shifts in the horse’s confidence, co-operation and attitudes. It is the easiest, kindest, safest, laziest, most fun way of training imaginable, and I’m beginning to think that it’s often the fastest too!

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