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

When I think canter my body (core) arranges itself ready and my legs drop into the right place as a result. I've arranged myself 'holisitically', if you like, so my legs are there ready, should I need them, without me having to 'put' them there. If I were teaching them something they didn't already know how to do, then I might have to do more and make myself more obvious, but they know how to get themselves into a canter on both leads now, and the way I can best fire up their enthusiasm for work is by giving them every possible opportunity to prove how clever they are, especially Bella, by making myself as subtle as possible, so that they get a chance to think and work things out. I ride the with the attitude of it all being a big game and showing me how clever they are makes them SO PROUD of themselves, and, ontop of the clicker, inspires them to pull out every stop going. Using my legs as well, when I know they can manage without, would to me seem like insulting their intelligence.

I know that I might not be able to ride a dressage test like this but this is about means, not ends. I want their whole-hearted enthusiasm and participation. I want it all to be fun and a game for them, giving them as much room to be a partner, rather than a servant, as possible. My attitude is not 'do this and do that' or even 'please do this and please do that' but rather 'show me what you can do', 'impress me', and, especially in Bella's case 'bet you can't make that even better', to which she always replies 'oh yeah, just watch me!'

When I 1st started clicker training and working through 'Riding With The Clicker' everything was new and Bella was full of enthusiasm. Then, once she knew how to do something I would ask her very clearly and politely to do it and her enthusiasm would start to drain away. She very quickly began to play her own game with me called 'How little effort can I put into this and still get her to click me?' It was a game I could always win, as long as I kept my wits about me, but I didn't want to have to.

The way I ride her now, keeping her mind on me and fully occupied with working out what we are going to do, she is enthusiastic and takes a pride in her work all of the time. She is very clever and doesn't need everything spelt out for her. The way to get her to do anything has always been to let her prove how clever she is and why not? She is! Using that, along with the clicker, makes anything possible.

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