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


Friday, 21 November 2008

Muriel asked another really good question (thank you very much Muriel) that comes up a lot when people are new to clicker training, and that I wondered about myself when starting. I partly answered it in 'comments', but I thought that I would make it part of the main body of the blog, and add more thoughts on the subject.

Muriel wrote: "Thanks for your answer. I find it fascinating the so many transitions.
But don't you find disrupting?

It is something I notice on one of your video. Do you never get in a "zone" when the horse keeps the pace relaxing into the rythm.

One of my instructors was an endurance rider, and she used to get us into a "rythm" which must have been natural for the horse, it is very relaxing.

Do you do that?"

I answered: "I do when riding out but not when schooling. I'm going for balance before movement, and then clicking, hopefully, before we start to lose that balance. I do go for more duration now, than in that very early video, with movements that are well established, but if I am going to click them, then I have to try to click the best of the movement.

It did feel very strange to begin with, because I used to be one of those riders who trotted around for half an hour trying to get balance through movement, but that seems like such hard work now, for me and for the horse, and so hit and miss.

It CAN still be quite hard, to click and end something lovely, like when Bella starts to offer some passage, but I KNOW that this is the way to make sure that I DO get more of it, and that she's happy to volunteer more of it, which she probably wouldn't be nearly so keen to do if we didn't stop before it became really hard work.

The frequent transitions are also making real improvements in my riding too, because I find that if I can ride the transition well, the rest is easy, and I get a LOT of practise at riding transitions!!!!

Of course there are many roads to Rome (as Hilary would say, if she's reading this!) but, for me, this is the easy, most successful, least physically stressful and most fun way for me and for my horses."

The other thing that I should have said is that when you follow the 'Riding With The Clicker' programme you are, as Alexandra Kurland says, "taking the horse's training apart and putting it back together again, only better". In effect this means that you are teaching the horse a completely different way of going, holding himself in the "exquisite" balance that the flexions help him to find, and that all happens quite fast, so it would be totally unreasonable of me (I think) to expect him to keep it up for more than a few strides at a time, between clicks, to begin with, until his muscles get used to this new way of carrying himself and his rider.

With Bella and Jack I have built this up gradually, a few steps more each time, so they find this self-carriage quite easy to maintain now, but Grace has made massive changes very fast and is using muscles she has never used before, and her body is older and more set in it's ways, so I need to build duration even more slowly and carefully with her.

A couple of days ago I watched a very old video of me schooling one of my previous horses. She was a part bred Arab (palomino - really beautiful) and had a nice, naturally fairly well balanced trot and I was trotting her around for ages. Eventually she produced some really lovely strides and I thanked her and gave her a break in walk.

We had spent about twenty minutes trotting around, practising very average (for her) movement, to get a couple of minutes of beautiful movement.

If I had known then what I know now, we could have spent a couple of minutes warming up with the very average movement, then spent the next twenty minutes practising only the beautiful movement (in short bursts between clicks, to begin with), and I can only imagine how much more we might have achieved, and how much more effortless we might both have found it, if we'd been able to do it that way around.

I used to show her with moderate success. If clicker training and 'Riding With The Clicker' had been around then .................


  1. I have good question, but then I do not find enough time to update my blog ^-^

    I have another question for you. When you are not scholing, when you go for a hack for example, do you use CT?
    If your horses are trained with CT, how do they respond to ypur cues, if you arenot using CT?
    Or are you ALWAYS using CT?

    You are right about transition, my last ride with Cutter I did less than 10 transitions. And they are hard to ride. I tried walk-trot-walk transitions without touching the reins. He went ballistic! This lil' QH has so many emotional issue. I wish I could re-train him ...

  2. Sorry Muriel, luring you way from your blog! I do read it but don't really know enough about Western riding to comment very much. I must watch the video clips you have put on it, but need to borrow OH's laptop, as this computer has no sound.

    Normally I don't use the clicker much when hacking out, especially in company. I do occasionally though, to highlight something really good or to try to fix a problem.

    For example, Grace is nervous of high sided vehicles on narrow lanes, so I will click her when she's alongside them, if she's being brave and steady. It means that she will stop while still alongside them (if they're going slowly) and relax, and I can drop the reins, so that's double reinforcement.

    They have all been trained to understand and respond to pressure from my legs and seat, and from the bit; it's just that CT reinforces the response - tells them that 'yes, that was exactly the right answer'- so normal cues are understood, and I wouldn't click every right response once the cue was established, even when schooling. Release from pressure is then the primary reward - only the very best, quickest,lightest responses get clicked as well, and so doubly reinforced, so that the cues can become ever lighter and more subtle.

    I'm sorry to hear that it's not going well with Cutter. I think that that's the thing about transitions - if they are right then all the rest of the work is right, but they highlight any underlying issues, such as Grace's longstanding habit of coming above the bit.

    I've found that if I can crack them, everything else falls into place. The single rein flexions, with imaginary or real reins, are really helping Grace with that - asking for a lateral softening several times before, and then along with, the transition.

    The main reason I don't use CT much out hacking is because I don't expect their undivided attention then and don't always give them mine. We are both looking around at the scenery and relaxing (hopefully). CT, for me, is very intense, requiring SO much concentration from both of us, to get and keep the timing spot on, but I don't know if others would agree.

    These are really great questions because they keep me analysing why I do what I do. Thank you very much for asking them.


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