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

Poor Jack has suffered a bit of a crisis in confidence in the school, thanks to one of my cats. It shot out of the undergrowth beside him and scaled the entire face of the stack of bales, bottom to top, accompanied by the sound of claws in plastic all the way up, and all on his bad eye side.

Jack seemed to handle it fairly well at the time but since then he has gone back to getting stiff and tense every time he goes around the top corners where he has to turn his hindquarters towards the bales. This is all quite minor, with none of the spinning and running that he used to go in for, but it's very disappointing when he was so confident. I did think of putting a contract out on the cat but then it occurred to me that perhaps this was the right time to see if he can give me the last part of the jigsaw needed for him to be a safe, reliable in all circumstances horse.

He has been really trustworthy since I began the strategy of giving him the reins and leaving him alone when he was worried, trusting him not to over-react and to think first rather than run first, but if I am ever going to be able to take him out alone in heavy traffic or anywhere where it's essential that he listens to me and stays under control, I need him to decide to accept my judgement and trust me to make the decisions for us both, especially when he can’t see whatever’s worrying him.

We both know that I can’t make him listen to me, and up to now he hasn’t been able to when he’s worried, and trying to get his attention back has always resulted in pushing him over the edge into flight, in those situations. I hope that he might now be able to trust my judgement enough to begin to hand control over to me, as I have done with him until now. Having him a bit nervous again in the school seemed a good opportunity to try, but the bottom line is that this is his decision to make. I can try to make it as easy and gradual a process for him as possible but it has to be his decision. He is too powerful and determined for me to be able to force it upon him, even if I wanted to.

I am starting with him in hand, to make it easier to ask for a low head carriage, and in a bridle, asking him to yield to a contact in all circumstances. The deal we have going at the moment is that if he softens laterally and in a downward direction when I take a light feel on the inside rein I instantly click and let go of the reins completely, so he is then free to take whatever course of action he sees fit. Of course he is highly unlikely to run away just then, as he is waiting for his treat, but I will not oppose him if he feels it necessary, as long as he has yielded momentarily to me first.

This is working SO well. It’s a form of Alexandra Kurland’s ‘Why Would You Leave Me’ exercise, around the whole of the school, but with at least double treats in the scary places. He has begun to stiffen and raise his head a few times, but then softened and dropped it again when I asked, giving me his attention back even though he is worried. This is a huge ask of him – a massive leap of faith and trust – and so far he has been able to manage it. I am even taking him into the school when he is bound to be at his most nervous (because he would be recovering his composure by now anyway), when the light is going and there is a lot of bird activity and sudden sounds and movements, and he has been consistantly brilliant, so far anyway.

I am hoping that the end result of this will be that he finds that if he listens to me even when he is scared nothing bad happens, and actually there was nothing to be scared of anyway. I am asking him to let me be the missing part in his field of vision and trust me to look after him in all circumstances. If he can’t completely manage that yet I will just have to work harder to prove myself worthy, but if he can then he will be the ‘special needs kid’ no longer and the world will be our oyster. It’s not going to happen overnight but I have begun to believe that it will happen, later if not sooner!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive


About Me

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