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

Some new bales of haylage have appeared in the school. They are last year's, so lots of flappy plastic, and black this time. It was very windy today and even Bella thought that they were a bit scary, so I took Jack in there at liberty this morning, to see how he coped without my being tempted to try and hold onto him if he got too scared.

I walked slowly but purposefully over to them and leant against the stack. He followed me but was not at all happy. He tried to sniff some plastic flapping above his head, bless him, but it was too high to reach. I clicked and treated him for touching them, head lowering and staying with me, but from time to time it got too much and he shot off bucking.
However, even though there is nothing to stop him leaving the school and going back to the yard, or up the track to the other horses in the paddocks, he didn't. He kept on coming trotting back to me and trying again. I was very pleased about that, but a bit sad that I couldn't convince him that there really was nothing to worry about.

In the afternoon I decided to change strategy a bit. I took him out there on a lunge rein and gave him the choice of staying calm and doing quiet clicker stuff by the new bales, or, if he started spooking, trotting energetically around on the lunge, but with no whip and no recriminations for choosing the latter; just harder work and no treats.

I expected to have to do a lot of lunging and be out there for quite a while, but after two short trots he made it quite clear that he was then going to stick with clicker training, got his head down low and didn't spook again. The only thing he couldn't quite manage was backing toward the bales, which was a big ask, but if I'm going to ride him on the buckle again out there I need to stack the odds well in my favour, especially as loads more bales will be appearing any day now.

We went back out there this evening and he was perfect, even backing towards the bales, and he was only on a head collar and lead rope. He got a big jackpot!!

I have just bought Charles De Kunffy's 'The Ethics and Passions of Dressage' and a paragraph has aleady struck a cord. He says:

"However, we want his (the horse's) submission to be voluntary; we must earn it, not impose it. Only that accomplishment will honour us. When the horse submits his attention to our disposal, he surrenders the energies of his haunches to our use and offers his back to carry us. He serves, but with pride, and the recognition that we honour that service. Respect between horse and rider must be mutual; in that sanse, we surrender to him too."

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