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

Treat Delivery.

Alexandra Kurland puts a lot of emphasis on how the treat is delivered. I could see that giving it away from your body was a good idea, to discourage mugging, but I couldn’t really see why anything else would matter. I was giving the horse something that he wanted so why would he care how I gave it?

Then I remembered something. I used to do some work for someone who, when they paid me, handed the money over in an offhand and slightly begrudging fashion which offended me. I wanted the money but the way it was delivered reduced my pleasure in receiving it and how I felt about that person. Maybe horses would feel the same way.

I tried delivering the treat with the flourish Alexanda Kurland describes and demonstrates in the Tai Chi Rope Handling Exercises DVD and I could immediately see how it impressed them. They had always been polite about hand feeding anyway, but they took the treat in a very thoughtful, deliberate way that is hard to describe.

I tried it with an old horse here who has always been ‘gobby’ – the sort with no fine motor control so your whole hand disappears inside his mouth. For the first time ever he hesitated, and then he took the treat in a far more careful, respectful way. I was a convert!

I have since read Alexandra Kurland compare it to the way a waiter delivers food to the table; with a flourish or just throwing it down in front of you.

I have played around with different aspects of this – how quickly or slowly I take my hand away afterwards, and fiddling about in my pocket, as if I am having trouble finding the treat, to get the horse’s attention back onto me if he has been distracted between hearing the click and receiving the treat. The latter is proving very useful with Jack when he is feeling on edge.

Who would have thought that such a seemingly trivial thing could have so many possibilities, and I suspect that I am still only on the tip of the iceberg.

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