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

Withholding the Click.

I thought that saying that Bella was doing a lot of work for nothing, in my previous post, made clicker training sound a bit mercenary, so I should explain.

With an experienced clicker horse, it ceases to just be about the treat. The click means ‘YES, you are brilliant and that was so wonderful that I am going to reward you for it’. Asking for something and not clicking the response, unless as part of a chain of behaviour, or prolonging whatever they are doing, (in both cases I would tell them that they were right but to keep going and a click and treat will soon be forthcoming – I use the word ‘good’ said really warmly) does, by implication, mean that whatever they did either wasn’t what I wanted, or wasn’t good enough, and they will have to try again or try harder.

Particularly with a horse like Bella, who lives to prove how clever she is, and is usually trying her heart out, this seems, to me, really mean and demoralising. It’s unavoidable, because it’s how they learn what you DO want, but I feel beholden to try to always make everything as easy to get right as possible. That is what Alexandra Kurland means by being a splitter not a lumper – split everything down into the smallest component parts that you can, and teach them all individually before you put them all together in the whole lump.

Clicker training does involve frustration, for horse and trainer, and learning to cope with that frustration is an important part of the process, because goodness knows, it can be hard enough to communicate with human beings who speak the same language, let alone another species entirely.

When I started clicker training, teaching them to pick up a target, which is a very good way of experimenting with how long you can not click for without losing their interest, I used to berate myself for being greedy and trying to get too much too quickly. I may have gone a bit too far the other way now, but it is all part of the learning process, and I still have so much to learn!

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