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

Operant Conditioning, etc.

I meant to write this bit before now but forgot; I was too busy with the trees and forgot about the wood!

When I saw Becky at that clinic and saw how much empathy and natural ability she obviously had with horses, I was a bit surprised to hear her enthusing about clicker training. Why would someone like her feel the need to use something that sounded so alien to everything I knew about horses?

I had read a (very) little about clicker training and had found it a complete turn-off. The problem for me was the language. For me, everything to do with training horses is about emotions and personalities, earning trust and respect, winning hearts and minds and, hopefully, earning love. The language of clicker training sounds like computer programming – operant conditioning, variable schedules of reinforcement, etc. etc. – it all sounds so cold and impersonal. Compare it to the language of dressage – piaffe, pirouette, and courbette. Where is the poetry, the soul? How could anything so that sounds so dead have anything to offer in the training of my beautiful, warm, living, breathing, sensitive horses?

I still hate the jargon, and try to avoid using it whenever possible, but I have found that clicker training HAS been all about emotions and personalities, earning trust and respect, showing gratitude and sensitivity, always being focused but polite, turning the horse into a willing and enthusiastic partner who is eager to work with you and play with you, and creating and preserving harmony between two very different beings.

The language of clicker training always will be, for me, totally lacking in charm, but clicker training in its-self is all about feeling and beauty, joy and magic. Clicker training bears no comparison with computer programming whatsoever. I am so grateful that I found that out.

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