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


Wednesday, 17 December 2008

I've been having such a great time. Firstly Jack and I, since the 300 Peck Pigeon, have continued to treat the school as if it has no scary end and he is being so brilliant. I have avoided working him in hand in a bridle for ages, as he seemed to regard the bit as something designed to trap him in the school. He now seems quite comfortable with me working him off the reins, even using them to correct him when he jumps slightly, and we both seem to regard them as a tool to get to the clicks more quickly, which means that I no longer try to avoid using them at all costs, and he responds to pressure from the bit instantly, softly and with no visible resentment or anxiety. This is such a massive step forward and I am so thrilled with him.

I wanted to try some new exercises and I tried them, for the first time ever, with Jack first. He was superb. Jack's lateral work in walk is quite spectacular now and he is very supple. I tried an exercise that Hilary kindly pointed out to me - walk half pass into walk pirouette and back to walk half pass again. I love this exercise! I was on the outside of the bend and, to get the pirouette, used Jack's inside rein across his withers, with a feel on the rein as his inside hind began to leave the ground, to ask the foot not to travel. The outside hind then just stepped in front of the inside hind foot, instead of crossing over underneath. To get back into half pass I then just had to omit that rein aid and push the outside hind back under and across.

Jack was brilliant at this and Bella and Grace managed very well too. I added another exercise to our repertoire today, again courtesy of Hilary and Rodrigo Da Costa Matos. This time it was the opposite exercise - haunches in up the three quarter line, into a half reverse pirouette (the ultimate renvers on a circle - turning around the inside fore) and off into haunches out.

Renvers on a circle is my absolute favourite lateral movement, and Jack is especially good at it, so I thought he would cope if I could communicate what I wanted effectively.

I was on the outside of the bend and, for the reverse half pirouette, I used the rein on the opposite side, across his withers, to ask the inside foreleg, by a feel on the rein as the foot was leaving the ground, to limit how far it travelled to a minimum, while keeping the outside hind going under, and VOILA!!!! We do a lot of renvers on a circle anyway so Jack caught on really quickly and I clicked every time the foot responded to my request, to begin with. Jack is very supple and managed it on both reins equally well. I then did a bit of the half pass to pirouette and back again.

Bella found it a little harder than Jack, especially on one rein, but we got there. It's so lovely to have Jack being better at something, and quicker to learn something, for a change. I was absolutely delighted with him, and he was quite chuffed too!!! I don't suppose that I will find it quite as easy ridden - I always find in hand easier as I can see what's happening and when to time the aids.

It inspired me to have a look through Charles de Kunffy's 'The Athletic Development of the Dressage Horse' and there is the same exercise in there, but, after 180 deg reverse pirouette you stop the inside hind, activate the shoulders and go straight into a normal pirouette (rotating around the inside hind). I can't wait to try adding that on.

Thank you, Hilary, you've really inspired me to look for ways to push our boundaries a bit now and try things I would have dismissed as being too difficult and complicated before.

Mind you, I must move the cone circle. Poor Jack suddenly stiffened up in the middle of half pass. I was just wondering what he was worrying about when a cone appeared underneath him. Being on the outside of him I hadn't seen it and had made him half pass right over the top of it! Good job it wasn't Grace - she would have had a nervous breakdown!!!!

I also found this photo of Bella in travers, which I think I missed before. It was taken in August and she is more uphill now (and I hope that I am more upright too), but I am always saying that she lacks bend, so I love this photo proving me wrong. Just goes to show that comparisons with Jack ARE odious!!!


  1. Bella looks lovely :-)

    I say it again, I'm very impressed you can co-ordinate all of this inhand. I agree that you can see things better though from the ground.

    I can see that Tig is going to find her life a lot more interesting. She's always enjoyed lateral work so perhaps its time she did a bit more. I always worry about her doing too much with her arthritis, but I'm sure she'll tell me if its too much.

  2. Thank you very much, both of you.



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