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

Working Long and Low.

I have been thinking some more about head lowering and one rein riding to get the horse engaged and 'up' into collection.

The thing that upset Jack the most yesterday was the pigeon flapping noisily just as I was collecting him up. The day before we had guinea fowl flying out of the undergrowth when he was working in hand, which should have been far more frightening, but he ignored them completely.

I used to find working him in hand in the school when it was windy impossible, because he would get more and more tense until he broke away from me and galloped of out of the school.

Since we have done all the head lowering he has been perfectly relaxed working in hand in the school, even in the wind. He always keeps his head quite low and I let him, even doing lateral work.

The one rein riding teaches them to soften and flex laterally to the inside rein, and then adds in engagement of the inside hind leg. Introducing the outside rein teaches them to soften and flex vertically to both reins at the same time and to engage both hind legs. This brings them into a more uphill frame.

I wonder if, (especially before the horse is really practised at and comfortable with the process and there is still a little mental resistance to handing over full control to the rider, so that they are not totally relaxed and 'through') this may also increase their unease because their carriage makes them look more like a nervous horse and so feel more like a nervous horse, just as head lowering makes them look like a confident horse and so feel like a confident horse.

I wonder if, with young or nervous horses, there are actually mental health benefits in being worked with a low head carriage, and whether, at least most of the time, I should still be encouraging Jack to work with a low head carriage when ridden, just as he does through preference in hand. His head and neck are actually set on reasonably high, so he doesn't just choose to work like that because it is the easiest or most natural option.

Maybe there is more to working 'long and low' or at least 'low' than first meets the eye, from the horse's emotional point of view.

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