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's DVDs have been worth their weight in gold to me already, and I haven't even watched the last one yet! I only have to think of his explanations of which leg to 'over-load' and sit accordingly, and Bella and Jack are in the correct lateral movement. Bella is already so much more supple, from this combining of the movements. I have really noticed it, not only in the movements, but when I give her the treats from the saddle I hardly have to lean forward at all now; she is suddenly nearly as supple as Jack.

The leg to sit towards (on a circle) goes as follows;

Inside Foreleg - Shoulder in.
Outside Foreleg - Renvers.
Inside Hindleg - Travers.
Outside Hindleg - Counter Shoulder In.

I also found it very interesting when he says that in travers, on a circle, because the horse is loading the inside hindleg, the forelegs cross more than the hindlegs, and in renvers the hindlegs cross more than the forelegs, because the outside shoulder is doing the most weightbearing. Renvers and travers certainly 'feel' like very diferent movements on a circle, and I'm sure that practising both will really help with the sweep of our half passes.

I have also been watching PK's 3rd DVD (not that we are ready for much of it yet). I love what he says about introducing Piaffe - that he doesn't like to do it with whips and people on the ground - that it should come from going and stopping, going and stopping; through building a desire in the horse to go, because, as he says, if a stallion in a stable sees a nice mare and starts to piaffe behind the door, he does it because he wants to go, not because someone is "keeking him in ze bot-tom!!!" laugh

He also talks about always doing less, so the horse does more; something which is engraved on my heart these days. I have got upward transitions down to a breath out, with the beath making a 'wh' sound for walk, and a 'tuh' sound for trot (both very discreet, and 'tuh' rather than 't', so that I have to push forward through my abdomen while making it). This way I can get walk or trot from halt and rein back without having to use a leg aid at all, when they are concentrating. My 'light as a feather ankle shake', courtesy of Charles De Kunffy, is now a last resort, for when the breath out hasn't been responded to. I can't believe that Jack used to try to ignore a kick just few months ago! How life has changed! He is now losing weight instead of me!!!

I also noticed that PK teaches Spanish Walk in hand with the horse very close to the wall - in fact slightly bent in towards it, by the look of it, as the horse keeps hitting the wall with it's foot in Spanish Walk, even when it's the inside foot.

I have been playing with Spanish Walk on and off for a while, in the middle of the school, and wasn't getting much lift from the shoulder. I tried it with Bella today, against the bale wall, and she not only lifted her leg a lot higher but it also hovered there, every time. I'm sure that the wall made the difference, though I'm not sure why. This is a real breakthrough, a definate first! She got masses of 'Darks' for that!

I am ashamed to admit that I wasn't sure I liked the look of PK's methods, the first time that I watched the DVDs, but now I have studied what he is doing and saying at length, I think he is pure genius, and he has certainly helped me no end! Everything he says makes perfect sense to me, and ties in with everything I have learnt from reading Charles De Kunffy, and from Alexandra Kurland's books and DVDs.

I have Arthur Kottas, Rudolf Zeilinger and Kyra Kurklund's DVD sets to study next!

This is all so EXCITING! I can't get enough of it and can't imagine ever getting bored with any of it. I loved doing lateral work in hand, but this is HEAPS more fun!!!!! The 'feel' of it all just takes my breath away and I can't believe that they are SO clever and can not only carry me through all these movements, but switch from one to another with such ease, and so little help from me! I also can't believe how we just seem to keep on progressing with such speed all the time.

I do need to start really working on Jack's trot. He doesn't yet have the swing and cadence that Bella has now acquired, and I think that I need to work on that before we try to do much lateral work in trot, building a step or two at a time, from balanced halts and rein backs, as I did with Bella. Jack finds true balance more difficult than Bella, because he has always been more bendy, but he maintains his balance in walk really well now.

Bella can maintain her enhanced working trot for quite some distance now, and offers lengthened strides at times too. She never offers her previous flat, rather stompy trot (because it doesn't earn treats) and she feels so different in trot now, it gives me a real thrill every time! I think that she is just about ready to start ridden lateral work in trot.

Thank goodness Bella and Jack seem to get as much satisfaction from all of this work as I do, because I am totally addicted!!!

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