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, 29 December 2008

Classical vs Classique = Splitter vs Lumper!

I have just watched the first half of this DVD, 'Classical vs Classique', featuring a discussion between Philippe Karl and Christoph Hess, following the furore that PK' s book 'Twisted Truths of Modern Dressage' caused within the German National Equestrian Federation. I'm not going to venture into the rights and wrongs of the two systems but I was fascinated by discussion between the two men, and wanted to get this down before before I watch the ridden lessons part of the DVD.

Bearing in mind that clicker training is all about being a 'splitter' not a 'lumper', what immediately struck me was that Christoph Hess is a self confessed 'lumper' and Philippe Karl is a self confessed 'splitter' (not that they used those terms). Christoph Hess accuses Philippe Karl of breaking the horse into separate parts and working on only one bit at a time, whereas he says that he looks at and works on the whole horse as an entity. Christoph Hess trains according to the German 'scales of training', concentrating on rhythm first and foremost.

Philippe Karl says that he works on the most sensitive part first - the mouth and contact with the bit (through flexions) - and gets that right before moving on and concentrating on another part of the horse. He says that concentrating on rhythm first is only possible with a horse born with perfect paces, and that the 'ordinary' or problem horse needs many hours of careful training to find it's rhythm (which has been my experience). He accuses the German system of having no answers to problems, except for telling students "That's not a dressage horse, get another horse". He says that if you have four Ferrari's in your garage you'll learn much less about mechanics and driving than if you have an old Volkswagen.

Christoph Hess says that if you work through the scales of training, and your horse has enough talent, which not many have, then you will arrive at Piaffe and Passage. Philippe Karl says that, with correct training, almost any horse can learn Piaffe and Passage, and if you start with a horse that has no trot, rather than a horse whose natural trot is half way to Passage anyway, then that really is training!

My overall impression, so far, is that, being a 'lumper' Christoph Hess is big on theory but short on solutions. Philippe Karl, as a 'splitter,' has a solution for every problem and a strategy for overcoming every shortfall, for every type of horse.

Having the equine equivalent of three Volkswagens in my stable, who had 'no trot' and two of whom are now just beginning Piaffe and Passage, I know who I find the most practical, inspiring and motivating, and his methods seem to me to be very comparable to 'Riding With The Clicker'!!


  1. Fascinating - do you recommend the DVD then? One of the things I like about PK is that I think he believes any horse can be trained to its best ability and that good training beautifies any equine.

    I love the fact on his 2nd DVD that he says he wanted to train an 'untalented' horse (Queila) to see how much he could improve it....and he looks STUNNING!!

    Have you seen the Richard Hinrichs one yet (I seem to recall you said you were getting it for xmas?). I also got a copy and found it quite interesting - loved the fresian at the end doing all the movements bridleless!!

  2. oh, forgot to ask - you mention you are starting to teach your lot Piaffe & Passage, can I ask how you are approaching it?

  3. I was just going to edit the post to say that 2 of them are beginning Piaffe and Passage - they're a bit beyond Grace yet!!!

    I found the DVD fascinating so far, but need to watch the rest first - I have to watch when David's not here or he moans and goes on about paint drying!

    I LOVE Motivating Dressage Horses!!!! I'm going to write about that next on here. It was watching Richard Hinrichs that inspired me to try working towards Piaffe in hand and, believe it or not, this time Jack is going to get there first! I'll describe what I'm doing in my next post but it's much the same as on the DVD - walking backwards slowly (me that is) and asking for trot, but at slow walk speed, only I'm using a whip to cue it on their quarters, rather than hind legs - just letting the whip bounce on top of their quarters. I'm only asking for a couple of strides but the bounce that Jack gets in his hind quarters is amazing! I'm so thrilled with him, and he is too!

    I'm also long reining the way that they do on the DVD - both hands resting on the hind quarters, and I've finally managed to get Bella into her baby Passage where I can see it (instead of being on top). I'd forgotten about Richard Hinrichs using this method of long reining and I love it! It's all I've done for the last few days (keeps me warmer than riding) and Bella and Jack are doing some really lovely lateral work off a headcollar, now I'm starting to get my reins organised!

    Will write a proper post about all this tomorrow.

    By the way, I've emailed you about some videos on eBay.

  4. Lovely post, I had to scratch my head at the "splitter" and "lumper" ^-^ you got me confused for a while ^-^

    If you are a subscriber of Horses For Life, go to read the interview of PK, he speaks mainly about this DVD.
    Very interesing stuff. LOTS have been cut off, PK does speak his mind! Well he is very French ^-^

    Keep posting your comments, I have not yet bought this DVD, it is on my list ...

  5. Sorry Muriel - it's an Alexandra Kurland expression - she implores us to be splitters and not lumpers.

    I don't subscribe to Horses For Life - just read the free bits! I keep meaning to but I would prefer it in hard copy. I have read the free bits of the interview and it is just as he says. I was impressed by how dignified, restrained and polite the 2 men were to each other though, considering the depth of feeling.

    The practical parts of the DVD are fascinating too. They both give a lesson to a pupil of their own and then to an unknown horse and rider with problems. CH has the rider trotting and cantering endlessly to no visible effect, other than the horse gets fed up.

    PK, with his unknown horse, undoes the noseband, does some in hand flexions and then rides himself. The stallion he rides was constantly grinding his teeth and leaning heavily on the bit until PK gets on. It is sheer poetry to watch! The horse's rider gets back on and is visibly delighted, and even CH is quietly impressed. It's wonderful viewing!!!!



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