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, 19 January 2009

First Time Evers.

I has a really exciting day today with 'first time evers' with all three of my Dales.

I am still working Jack in hand and the hover I have been building into his front feet, with the Monty Python stuff, is finally beginning to really surface in trot and today, for the first time ever, I had the beginnings of real elevation in his trot to click. He looked so impressive because there is so much of him to elevate! I'm really missing riding him but concentrating on in hand is paying off. The sarcoid on his girth line has now started to peel away on one side and has lost about a third of it's area of attachment so I'm still hoping it will fall off without treatment.

With Grace I got some perfect downward transitions for the first time ever. The breakthrough was watching Philippe Karl and reading 'Twisted Truths' which made me realise that she needed to raise her head but I had to explain to her that she should do it by lifting through the top of her neck and withers, instead of contracting the top of her neck and hollowing her back.

I have been explaining this to her by lifting the back of my own neck and 'withers' and she has 'got' this so well now that I can often stop her instantly by doing this alone. She feels like a totally different horse when she halts like this - there's an elegance to her top line which looks and feels beautiful from on board. I need to get some photos taken to confirm what I'm feeling. This has improved her rein back as well, and she feels as though she has suddenly taken a massive leap forward in terms of balance and engagement, and all the previous jerkiness has suddenly vanished from her upward transitions too. Everything feels smooth and easy. If I could just add in some more elevation to her paces....

Riding Bella was the most exciting part of the day for me. Bella performed her first ever steps of Spanish Walk under saddle and I got to ride my first ever steps. It felt SO weird! I have to really think of sitting towards one hind leg and then the other, to free up the opposite shoulder enough. I wonder if it feels a bit like one time tempi changes do? I felt as though I was sitting on a horse for the first time, it felt so different and alien to sit, but it's very exciting and she puts SO much effort into it. I had to race into the house and tell OH afterwards, I was so excited!

Another dream come true. I never, ever really thought that I'd be able to train my own cobby Dales pony to do Spanish Walk with me in the saddle, and it's happening by my just lifting the reins alternately and saying "Spanish"!!!

With the discussions we've been having in 'comments' I was wondering today what attracted everyone else to looking at alternate ways of training their horses? With me it was a free Parelli DVD in a magazine. I loved the liberty work and raced out to try it with Bella in the field (even though it said not to begin with liberty work!). Bella seemed to like it too and I loved the idea of being able to really 'play' with her, so I had to know more and bought the 'Level' packs.

What inspired everyone else to look outside traditional methods?

Oh, and the other reason I've had a really good day is because I've managed to install a new USB network adapter! The last one had packed up and this one is faster and I managed it almost single handed! It might not be much of an achievment for Bill Gates but for me it's massive!!!!


  1. Oh Wow Helen, what a wonderful wonderful post. All 3 'first' are amazing on their own, but all in one day? I'll imagine you are still smiling to yourself!

    I can relate to the lovely downward transitions - when a formerly downhill built horse starts to balance, its a truly wonderful feeling. Hylo, too, is really offering power in his trot and when I sneak a look in the mirror, his neck and forehand looks totally different - I must get some video footage.

    As to spanish walk on board - whoooooopeeeeeee! Well done you. Hylo understands to lift his leg, and can do 4 in a row but he still seems unable to lift his leg that high and I guess he needs more time to develop the strength.

    As to what introduced me to other ways of horsemanship, I was having real problems with tig. She couldn't be bridled OR unbridled, she'd run off if you tried to ask for any contact, she bolted....etc etc etc. All 'normal' approaches had been rejected by her and I saw an advert for a Parelli demo in Wiltshire. I also didn't like the look in her eyes when she was being held in or pushed, so off I went.

    At the demo, I heard things that made sense to me or at least things that I thought might work with us. I enrolled on a day course and promptly was stuck in a corner with the only hyper horse as those others (who happened to all be more phlegmatic) moved through the games. I was still trying to ask her to accept touch without escaping when they were going to backup...

    Anyway, I persisted and after much standing in the school with her looking confused and me wrapping the carrot string round the fence, I went on a 2 week PNH course at his ranch. So, that started my journey but there have been many twists and turns to take me here....and thats perhaps for another day!

  2. Sorry Helen. I was not ignoring you. Yesterday was a very busy day, plus I had a migraine for 3 days. So I felt too drained to be able to write a coherent reply.

    I had to laught at the youngest 51 yrs old ^-^. My long suffereing hubby will tell you that I am more 14 yrs old than 38!

    I do not exclude AK for PNH. But I feel that with CT I need to introduce the clicker properly with targetting etc... Or it is impossible for me as the horses are NOT mine. Same with PNH I do not do any friendly game with the carrot stick. But I do it with the fly-spray, the rugs etc... My pockets are full of carrots tho ^-^, most of the horses have linked "bravo, brava" to a carrot. but there again if I get "caught" I may get a bollocking for spoiling the horses ... this is Italy after all. ( in fact I already have ...)

    I definetely WON'T sell my AK's DVDs. When I have my own horse, I will definetely explore CT.

    On another very positive note I enjoy reading AK's book. She is a beautiful writer. I love her style, it is clear and easy to read, always a bonus with me being foreigner.

    My friend Susan, who got the DVD with mat work, already had some results. She did the taichi wall with her horse. She went very slowly because it was teh first time, she did it, and her horse did a MEGA jump backward. She was VERY impressed!

  3. What an exciting day,and many congratulations.Thing is where are you going to draw the line, I bet we will be treated to one of your addictive posts saying Oh by the way Bella preformed "Airs above the Ground, today!

    I also have had a lovely day and managed to get out for a short hack! she was such a good little girl and gave me a smashing ride.Have been using the rein triangle,which for us is very easy,as I can practically ride her from the seat alone,but dont know if this is correct? She is doing some lovely 3 flip 3 and the walk pirouettes are more from the school of Dumbo than Fred Astaire ! but she is really trying, when we went to get them today she came trotting across,I think David was surprised.

    Muriel hope the migraine has evaporated, they are hell.I think you are right that it is easier to clicker train when you have your own horse. Something to look forward to?

  4. Thank you all very much.

    Charlotte, did you meet Hylo while you were out there? You and Hilary have been to such interesting places!

    Muriel, I'm so glad that you like the book and your friend is having success with the techniques. I can just picture you doing secret training!

    Janette, isn't it lovely when your horse is ALWAYS pleased to see you? I read about people not being able to catch their horses and think, what??? Mine won't leave me alone! Sounds as though you and Sophie are doing great!

  5. Ah, Helen, you guessed!!! The whole Hylo story is most bizarre but yes I did 'meet' him in Colorado.

  6. You can't stop there, Charlotte, that's just teasing!

  7. Helen your Dales are how it began ( the road to enlightenment that is ).I used to follow your thread on EE & it was your success with Jack that inspired me so as his attitude was soooo like my Highland,built like a tank & with a talent for ignoring me.While I seriously doubt we'll ever get as far as "fancy stuff" it has already given me a method of getting "into his head " ( always have got what I requested once I was in there,but he could shut the world out when he felt like it ).Now when he doesn't feel co operative you can almost hear his thought processes as he remembers the click & treat.Oh the native love of food, they're always ready to sell their soul for even the possibility of something tasty.

  8. Awww, thank you very much, maryka!

  9. Hi Maryka, I have a highland too! Lottie of Langley -she is a yellow dun.
    ( and very cuddly!!)

  10. Ah Hilary mines dun too he's Quaich of Craignetherty but not always cuddly,often has a "leave me alone woman look about him & sighs deeply.



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