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.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
I used it as described in the book. My criteria was to have them walking alongside me on a loose rope around the perimeter of the school while I counted. As long as I could keep walking in rhythm and the rope stayed loose they met my criteria. You start with counting 1 stride - click/treat, 1,2 strides - c/t, 1,2,3 strides - c/t, etc. until you reach 300. If your criteria are not met at any point you zero that count and begin that count again, so if I was at the 100 stage and the horse cut in front of me at 99, he would have to start the whole 100 strides again. It teaches horse and handler to chill out and concentrate on a fairly mindless, repetitive task.
I last tried this about 6 months ago with Bella and Jack. I hadn't done it before with Grace.
Jack hated this exercise last time I tried it and I wasn't going to do it again with him. He got really fed up and sluggish, while at the same time he started looking for a reason to exit stage right. I could understand why and sympathised but it doesn't really fit with my wanting him to be kind and tolerant, so I felt that I was wrong to dismiss it as being of value to him.
Having done it again believing that it was a good thing I am now still undecided. He began full of polite enthusiasm. I remember really clearly how he felt last time and this was a different horse, springing along in walk beside me, eager to trot at the slightest suggestion. We walked and I counted. He tried all sorts to earn clicks - shoulder in, Monty Python toe pointing, big strides and little ones, and he had me laughing out loud. I found it really hard not to click his efforts but I stuck with the task and only clicked on the counts.
We had no recounts and he never even thought of doing anything but obliging, and always stayed out of my way and in step with me, mostly with his nose near the floor, but he was pretty fed up by the time we reached 300 (I've never managed it in less than an hour and a quarter even without recounts). I felt like I was squashing all his enthusiasm for work, which I wasn't really, I just wasn't rewarding it, but it seemed a bit sad.
I did notice something really interesting though. By the time we reached about 100 the school no longer had a scary end. It was all the same, all the way around, in his mind and in mine - just the place where we were doing this task. I wasn't thinking about giving him easier jobs and treating him more at one end than the other, or keeping an eye on him more at one end. The clicks and treats came wherever they came, and the task was the same everywhere.
I thought that there was a lesson to be learnt here so, when I brought Grace out I left one pole where it was on the track. You can spend hours clicking Grace for walking over poles but she is always suspicious of them and alters her stride over them. I ignored the pole and began the job.
Grace was quite annoying to begin with. She kept leaning in, knocking into me, getting too far ahead, and walking off before me after the click, so I had to keep zero-ing her. When we got to the pole she would start rushing ahead or hesitate and then jog over it into me. I zero'd and carried on. I ignored the pole, even when she began to walk sensibly over it. It was just a place where we had to pick our feet up a bit higher - no more than that.
By the time we got to 200 that was exactly all the pole was and Grace felt like my long term partner, doing her part to keep with me but out of my way, getting the job done together. When I stumbled she altered her stride to stay with me and if she leaned a little around a corner it no longer annoyed me. We were partners getting a task done and helping each other out as much as we could. It felt lovely and I have never appreciated Grace more. I hope that she felt the same. It also made me realise that Jack had felt like that right from count1, and still did by 300, if a slightly fed up partner by then!
I did it ridden with Bella. Here the task is that the horse just walks on the buckle. You don't steer, just use one rein to turn if you don't like where he's going, or to slow down if he breaks pace. The horse also has to stand for the same count after the click before beginning the next count, and this is also zero'd if he moves off before being asked.
The standing was a bit of a problem with Bella to begin with. It was very cold and although her clip has just about grown out she wanted to get on with it. She did quite a lot of walking off unasked and later reining back, until she worked out that only standing would do. By the time we got to 50 she dropped her head and stood completely square with her back raised underneath me and her neck coming dead straight from her withers. It felt really lovely and I clicked her for standing like that and kept the count no higher than 70 for the stand part. That wasn't the plan but it seemed like the right thing to do.
She had me in stitches in the walking part. I never had to zero her once, although she was looking for an invitation to trot to begin with. She began by trying things to get clicked, like Jack had - shoulder in, leg yield, collected walk, etc. When that didn't work she seemed to be looking for a point to it all. There were 3 poles scattered on the ground and she kept circling over them, then going around the cone circle for a while, then back to the poles. At one point she tripped over a pole , then turned around through 180 degrees and went over the same pole again straight away. I'm not sure what that was all about! She did a bit of counter shoulder in around some of the corners, and some very small circles. She certainly kept herself far more amused than Jack was able to do.
I must try it ridden with Jack and Grace next. I could do with a warmer day though. With all the standing around, by the time we reached 300 my fingers were so numb I kept dropping the treats!
- I have to put this on here, Alexandra Kurlands 10t...
- Especially for Muriel - Jack wearing his SRS caves...
- Alexandra Kurland has done it again!!! I finally g...
- The weather is playing havoc with my training hour...
- I revisited 300 Peck Pigeons today. This is a 'Rid...
- I've been having such a great time. Firstly Jack a...
- I had a go at adding the pirouette onto the end of...
- Christmas Toy and Single Rein Riding Out.
- Classical vs Classique = Splitter vs Lumper!
- ▼ December (10)