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


Philippe Karl explains, on his DVDs, the canter strike off in a way that I hadn’t thought of it before. He says that to strike off on, say, the inside leg, the horse has to weight and slow down the outside of it’s body, to allow the inside to lighten and swing through.

He demonstrates how to give the horse maximum chance of obtaining a correct strike off, on the horse’s most difficult rein, in several different ways. One of them is to ride a jig-jag away from the wall of the school and then back again, meeting the wall at almost an angle, and asking for canter just as the horse’s head and neck have turned around the corner back onto the track. This, in effect, gives plenty of inside bend while slowing down the horse’s outside shoulder and pushing him back onto his outside hind, at the moment of the transition. The rider helps the process by sitting towards the outside. He says that this will give a 90% chance of a correct strike off.

I have been avoiding tackling Bella and Jack’s canter as I was looking for a strategy that would give them a chance of a high rate of success on their left reins. This sounded like the very thing! I wanted to find a way to adapt it to use from the ground to start with, so that I could see exactly what was happening, and hopefully get it well established before they had to cope with the added hindrance of me on top.

I decided that if I put them on a lunge rein and aimed them at the wall of bales at the back of the school, asking for canter as they turned the corner, that should have the same effect. I have had two sessions each with Bella and Jack and the same results each time.

To begin with they went into canter exactly when asked and were 100% successful. This is two horses who I have hardly ever seen canter on the left lead in any circumstance! After a few tries they started to occasionally anticipate the request to canter and struck off early on the right lead. However, and this is the amazing bit, as they turn at the bales onto the track they both do a flying change, every time they are on the wrong lead. That’s a big, correct flying change every time. I have never, ever managed to teach a horse to do flying changes, and these two are the least naturally talented in canter that I have ever had!

Bella makes me laugh out loud every time it happens. She stops dead (I am clicking the transition) and looks at me, head high and eyes shining, with a “did you see THAT?” look on her face. I don’t think that she can believe it either. Jack gets so excited that he usually has to follow the flying change up with a buck, but hopefully the novelty will wear off. I couldn’t not click his first flying changes, and I do get the click in before the buck, so I’m hoping that he realises that the click is for the flying change and not the buck!!!!

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