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


Thursday, 22 January 2009

I found these clips on You tube yesterday and they really excited and inspired me:

After watching them I wanted, today, to try to get Renvers, Travers and Half Pass at liberty by drawing my horses towards me from the inside of the bend, rather than 'pushing' them away from me from the outside of the bend, which is how I've always done it before.

It was tricky. I knew that the back end was going to be harder to draw than the front so I began by asking their outside hind to step underneath them towards me, by staring at it, stepping slowly backward and beckoning it towards me with my nearest hand, much as in the video clips.

Jack stood with his head down, thinking and trying SO hard to work out what I was asking, but I don't think he could see me well enough on his bad eye side. I didn't think there was much point in doing it on one side only so I found something to click him for and abandoned the exercise in that form.

Bella understood really quickly and stepped underneath, towards me, with her outside hind. I clicked and treated her madly for that and it was then quite easy to get her to target my other hand with her nose and draw her into the movement, but I did find that her front legs drew more easily and took bigger strides than her hind legs, which is what I thought was happening slightly in the video clips. I need to find some way to emphasise the 'push' of the outside hind, to keep the power of the stride.

What really, really blew me away was how hard they both tried and how much mental effort they put into trying to work out what I wanted. I don't usually do proper liberty work (as opposed to just letting go of the reins) in the school, because there is a lot of grass growing in the school, and grass is something they're allowed very little of, so it's often been too much of a temptation.

They didn't even look at the grass. There was nothing to stop them wandering off but they stayed with me and gave me every last ounce of their thought and attention. That is something I wouldn't have dreamed possible with young horses, pre clicker. I shouldn't be surprised, having seen Hilary's Lottie on the 'Microshaping DVD but it still amazes and humbles me every time.

I don't think I've EVER seen Jack try as hard as that anywhere, let alone in the school. He might have been the one who couldn't work out what I was asking but it certainly wasn't for want of thought, attention and desire to please. His mental effort was written all over him. Once again he was my hero among heroes!!!


  1. Thats fabulous Helen - it really is fantastic watching them work out what you're asking, isnt it? Mind you, I have to think so hard about how I present things because if I'm a little woolly poor old Loly gets quite desperate! Tig used to throw tantrums if I wasn't clear.

    I want to thank you SO much for posting these clips for 2 reasons - 1. I hadn't thought of using targeting to help with my bend in travers right to stop the 'leg yield effect'(doh!!!!) and

    2. All this liberty lateral work is something I can do with Tig because to be honest I've been a little lost with her lately and felt my relationship slipping away. I know she needs to feel good about herself (okay perhaps I am anthropormorphising) but its like she doesn't have the same joy as she usually has at the moment. She definitely responds to doing special things so this will be right up her street.

  2. SUPER! FANTASTIC! I found the clips on YouTube and I forwarded them to my friend Susan.

    One thing I have noticed that the horse (grey) has his ears really pinned back.
    Do you knwo why?
    Dominance display?
    Concentration display?

    The ears are just not back, they are really pinned back.

    I do not know how to read this body-language cue, do you have any idea?

  3. I'm so glad that you both love the clips as much as I do!

    Muriel, that's an interesting point because I was thinking how my ideas on ears have completely reversed lately. I used to like to see their ears pricked forward but now the horse that looks the least well attuned to it's trainer, to me, is the palomino, who has them pricked nearly all of the time. I couldn't understand why they'd included the clips where he's racing around admiring the scenery and taking no notice of the person in the middle.

    I think you really need to be able to see the expression in the horse's eye to be sure but I think witn the grey it's mainly effort and concentration. However the things he/she's doing are quite 'macho', and he does look to take the odd nip at the trainer occasionally, so it's probably because the movements are bringing up his natural aggresion too. Looking at the colour of the horse he looks very young.

    The thing I found most impressive with the grey is that he CAN control him/herself to the extent that it doesn't get out of hand, even doing those expressive movements at speed and at liberty, with the person completely at his/her mercy, and that she trusts him so much that she CAN ignore the odd slight nip.

    So much trust, affection and understanding in all those relationships, and so much concentration, effort and self control from the horses/ponies. Awesome!

  4. Glad it wasn't just me who wondered why on earth the palomino was in the clips just zooming around!!

  5. Agree wit the Palomino, by now *i* really do not like pricked forward ears, unless it is jumping, and the horse has locked onto the next obstacle.

    The Grey is amazing becuase he looks pissed off, but he is so much under-control.
    Very impressive.

    but the ponies are SO CUTE ^-^

  6. They are just gorgeous, aren't they! There's one clip where she gives one of them a big kiss on the end of his nose!

  7. Reminds me of the bit on the PK DVD, when he tweaks the little pony's nose who is looking over the stable door making 'beep beep' noises!! (PK, that is, not the horse!!)

    On the subject of ears, I just posted a pic of Loly on the combined blog with a (sort of)analysis of what I think his ears are indicating. Tried to find one to compare with where he's obviously grumpy but the only bit I have is on a camera clip taken from a phone and I can't work out how to take a snapshot.....



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