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

Well, at the risk of speaking too soon, I think that Jack is fed up with being seen as the 'special needs kid' and has decided to give Bella a run for her money. I have ridden him 3 days running in fairly strong winds, in our spooky school, and he hasn't spooked once. I am ashamed to say that a pigeon suddenly flapped against the branches of a tree today and made me spook, but not him.

We have a set routine now, involving going straight to the back of the school to his mat and him putting his head down, then along the back of the school, two steps forward and one back - head down, repeated for a while, and the tension that used to build in him before when it was windy seems to have just melted away. I don't use the demand cues for head down (tai chi wall stuff), he just knows the pattern, and if he felt that he couldn't offer it I wouldn't try to make him. Also, I still haven't worked on acceptance of the outside rein, as I don't want to do that until conditions are non-scary, and I am riding him on the buckle as much as possible, but I will have to start using the reins again soon, because, when trotting on the right rein, he has for some reason best known to himself, decided to go in shoulder-in ALL the time. It feels great, but must be very hard work.

I think that at last I may have found the key to him. All the trying to distract him, keep his feet moving and his attention on me, only stopped him being able to think straight, and made him decide to try to get away to be on the safe side. It's actually a big relief. There is nothing I can do, at present anyway, to influence him when he is worried (I've certainly tried most things), except try to be a still, calm, relaxed presence and give him as much time as he needs while he evaluates the situation. If he decides to spin and run (which he hasn't since I began giving him time and waiting for him) well, I haven't fallen off yet, mostly thanks to my St. Merryn, so I will just try to go with the flow (just wish our school was fenced). It's made me feel quite serene about the whole thing - I don't have to try and make anything happen, I've taught him all the skills he needs to calm himself, I just have to chill out and wait, and for the last three days I haven't even had to do that!

The last time he got worried, four days ago, he thought he saw something, his head shot up and his body went rigid. I dropped the reins down onto his neck, sat still and relaxed, and waited. He stood still on red alert, then relaxed a little, sniffed the air a couple of times, dropped his head down with a big sigh and carried on as if nothing had happened.

I can hardly believe my luck; Jack, forward going, feather light off the leg and totally relaxed. Even if the wheels fall off again tomorrow, at least I know that it IS possible, even in the school on a windy day.

Alexandra Kurland had better hope that I never meet her, because I would have to give her a great big kiss!!!!

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