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

My riding dialogue with Jack has changed again. Before clicker it was "Even when you are worried you MUST listen to me and do as you are told", to which he answered "In your dreams!!!" The harder I tried to keep control of him when he was anxious, the faster he panicked and although I could turn and stop him after he had spun and legged it, I had no chance of stopping him from spinning and running in the first place, as he demonstrated to me time and time again.

Then I taught him the ways of calming himself down and told him "You MUST use these when you are scared". Although Alexandra Kurland does talk of using demand cues for head lowering, Jack told me that, for him, it wasn't going to work like that, not when he WAS scared. It was free choice or not at all.

Eventually I realised the obvious and said "Ok, I understand now. What if I surrender all pretence of having any control over you? If I just ride you holding onto the buckle of the reins will you use the skills I have taught you? If I leave all the decisions to you, can I trust you to make good ones?" He has proven to me repeatedly that I can and he will.

Now I have started to ask him "If I ask you to come up into a contact, can you come up and stay soft, round and relaxed, and even give me inside flexion when your bad eye is on the outside of the school, if I promise that, at the tiniest hint of you getting worried, I will surrender the reins to you completely and leave you free to do whatever you need to do?"

Tonight I had to work him in the school late again (lots of flappy pigeons, quite windy) because he has a touch of conjunctivitis, and I wanted to wait until the sun and flies went in. He felt so settled and confident that I went back to teaching him about fore leg and hind leg buttons, and he did some leg yield that was nearly as good as Bella's. We even had the ****** guinea fowl shooting in and out of the undergrowth and not once did he stop concentrating or show any signs of anxiety. It was like riding a bigger, beefier version of Bella - a distraction free horse. I think that's a great big "Yes, I CAN do that, and I can throw in real enthusiasm for going forward too!"

I am so, so proud of him!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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