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


Friday, 5 December 2008

Alexandra Kurland has done it again!!! I finally got around to watching the 'Helen House Horse - The Mechanics of Single Rein Riding' DVD. I haven't been in a hurry to watch it because, although I was sure that I'd find some useful tips on there, I knew that it was all about the finer details of single rein mechanics, and with no horses, so I thought that I'd have trouble staying awake.

Oh, how wrong can I be?!!! As soon as the action began I got the tingling feeling of excitement that I always get when I know that I've found something that's going to make a huge difference. I had sort of worked out the basics of the mechanics about right. Some minor details I'd found for myself - the necessity of having my little finger inside the rein, instead of the rein being between ring and little finger, and the taking the slack from the inside rein by lifting the buckle hand rather than reaching forward down the rein (not something you do if you think your horse might suddenly spin and run) - but there is SO much more than that to be had!

As Alexandra Kurland says on the DVD, if you have a confident, easy horse you can get away with blue murder, but the more difficulties and uncertainties the horse has, the more all the tiny details really matter. As I watched the riders working through the finer details of the mechanics - the lifting of the reins from the shoulder blades, the bone rotations followed by setting the shoulder blades down - the riders were transformed. They all began to look like martial artists; so grounded and centred into the saddle, that it would take an earthquake to shift them.

This is all achieved in a relaxed way, that leaves the rider neutral, with no tension or stiffness anywhere. Their stability is tested by someone pulling on the reins, which is resisted with ease and with no alteration to the rider. You can see how effortlessly powerful the rider becomes, but in a gentle, receptive way. The rider becomes locked into their own core, and the horse responds from his own core.

There are also the details of the mechanics of the emergency one rein stop. I've had to do this twice with Jack and, although I did manage to stop him, it didn't work as quickly or easily as I'd hoped. I can now see why, and, if I ever have to use it again, it will work much better next time.

It was fascinating listening to AK explaining that how far you need to go down the rein to find your horse's hip alters all the time, depending on how connected to you, and to himself, the horse is, mentally and physically. I'd noticed this myself, without really realising what was going on.

Alexandra Kurland says that, by paying attention to the finer details of these mechanics, you can take control of the horse in a way that makes him feel safe. That you can learn to begin to do the things that very talented riders, the sort that "just get on a horse and the horse melts underneath them", take a lifetime of riding to perfect.

These are exactly the details I need for Jack. If I only had Grace and Bella I might think that it didn't matter too much (although I know that they are going to benefit from the results too) but I have known all along that, while giving Jack the reins every time he gets anxious works well for us at home (now that he knows how to keep himself calm), I can't rely on it out on the road or at a show. He doesn't have enough experience or see well enough. I've known that I have to find a way to persuade him that he must listen to me, without the idea of him giving away control pushing him over the edge into flight.

Now I have! These details will give me the all the tools I need to be an irresistible leader in all circumstances, even with Jack, and the way they anchor the rider to the saddle will give me that last bit of confidence I need to keep myself calm, focused and centred, no matter what.

I've got a lot of work to do, perfecting the bone rotations and making everything effortless, fluid and automatic, but the final result will be SO worth the effort - a horse who is always trusting and confident, happy and willing to let his rider make the decisions!

What would I have done, where would Jack and I be now, without Alexandra Kurland? I am so, so grateful to her. All this information is worth it's weight in gold to me!


  1. Hi Helen,
    As I hope Santa is going to give me one of AK's newest DVD's,which one would you recommend I really would like to see the finer points of one rein riding
    So is it Helen's house horse?

    Also a word of warning about using the one rein stop,
    in an extreme situation,it can be extremely dangerous if done to hard and sharp,as I know to my cost.I had owned sophie for about three weeks only and was returning from a ride, when a huge clap of thunder and lightning exploded right above us!
    She absolutely took off up our lane, towards home.

    All I could think off was to get her off the lane before we ended up as Strawberry Jam on a neighbours windscreen.

    We have a small track behind us and I tried to do a one rein stop to get her off the lane.We both came skidding down and ploughed along the ground.

    I don't remember much more, but a neighbour found us at the side of the lane. Both with bloody noses and me with concussion.Could have much worse. So be careful how you use it.

    Poor little Sophs what a bum steer!
    regards Janette

  2. Hello Janette,

    I don't really know which to say if you can only have one (they are only about £15 each, for a 2 hour DVD, and you have to order them direct from the States anyway). The trouble with Helen House Horse on it's own is that you don't get to see how it works in motion, on a horse, and the responses you are looking for, from the horse, so you know exactly when to release and what to click, which can be quite subtle, so one (or both) of the other 2 as well would be the ideal.

    Poor Sophie, sounds very nasty! I've had a couple of horses fall with me jumping. It makes you feel so guilty, doesn't it?

    AK does emphasis that if the horse is already in a canter, then it's too late for a one rein stop, for the reason you describe, and that you then need to work on one side of the horse, then the other, etc.

    One thing that I really love about my horses never having been shod is that I no longer think of roads as being slippery. I always had my horses shod in the past and some of the road surfaces around here were lethal, like polished ice. Now I never have to worry about it at all.

  3. Hi Helen,
    Glad to hear that you are barefoot too! Sophie has never been shod and we transitioned Seamus a good few
    years ago,David and our farrier [who is a good friend}
    attended a Pete Ramey clinic a couple of years ago and were completely blown away.We have never looked back,David trims his lad, and ralph does Sophs.Do you trim yours?

    We had such fun this afternoon.We taught Seamus to play football. Of course he's been dying to play,and he has picked up the basics in ten mins.
    heard David tell him that he would be playing again tomorrow, so I think the penny is dropping about clickering. We'll see.

    He also noticed the change in Sophie's attitude from a Come on and make me! to Me Me with little shining eyes! Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings

  4. Hello Janette,

    No, I must admit that's the one job that I don't do myself. Just doing my sheep's feet kills my back and our farrier is also a good friend too, so we would both miss him!

    My David was a clicker-sceptic too, but he is just amazed at how my ponies have changed and how much fun I'm having with them. I don't think he can get over the shock of me always having a big grin on my face whenever I'm riding, or doing anything with them. He always makes out he's not THAT impressed, when I show him Bella retrieving a dog toy, carrying it back and placing it carefully in my hand, or Jack mirroring me, doing leg yeild and half pass at liberty in the field, but I can see that he is.

    Jack loves making a noise - slamming doors or rattling buckets - so I think I'm going to get him one of those toy pianos for Christmas.



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