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, 1 January 2009

Motivation of Dressage Horses - Richard Hinrichs

I received this DVD for Christmas as well and it's just fantastic. As well as it being beautiful to watch, Richard Hinrichs says some very interesting things which are very similar to 'Riding With The Clicker', and not just the emphasis on reward, including food rewards.

He puts a lot of emphasis on getting the horse completely relaxed by riding it in a long, low outline - not just young horses, but also advanced horses at the beginning of every session (and this includes Iberians, for whom some people seem to think that riding long and low is detrimental).

The reason for this is because he says that "A horse with it's head held low is clearly releasing less adrenalin than one with it's head held high." He says that "If the horse learns to stretch forward and down from a signal from the rider, and a conditioned reflex becomes automatic, one can also calm the horse in difficult situations and control it's behaviour". He says that this method of calming a horse was first described in 1710 by a trainer with the Spanish Riding School.

He also says that you should begin a session with right turns and circles because "Most horses calm down in right turns, whereas in small left turns they tend to get excited". I hadn't heard that before.

He says that when warming up the rider should keep on varying the stride length and frequency because "If, at this preparatory stage, the trainer already occupies his horse with many small variations, it will look forward to new demands as a pleasant change and not an unpleasant interruption of the status quo". I thought that that was especially relevant to clicker training, with all it's stops and starts. Richard Hinrichs talks a lot about keeping the horse interested in the rider with frequent changes - he says even the reward of walking on a long rein should only be for very brief periods, or you loose the horse's interest and attention.

Richard Hinrichs is also very keen on using voice aids first and foremost. He says that Pluvinel referred to the voice as 'the spur of the mind', and he (Hinrichs) talks of obtaining a "state of mind where the horse offers the exercises of it's own accord. He says that anyone who regards riding a horse this way as 'poodle dressage' should ask themselves if they could obtain such lightness in their horse's work (this is while a little Camargue in a western saddle is performing a stunning piaffe, as calmly and lightly as a feather).

It is a beautiful and inspiring DVD, featuring a range of different horses. The Friesian performing a wonderful ridden piaffe with no bridle was just spectacularly gorgeous. I love this DVD and it has inspired me to revisit long reining, using his 'hands on' (literally!) approach, and to start to work toward piaffe in hand with Jack and Bella, which seems far more attainable having watched the DVD.

One of these days Jack and Bella (and maybe even Grace) WILL be the Dales equivalent of that Friesian!!!!!!!!

PS. Now I just need the school to thaw out so that we can get on with it!


  1. Well the concept of long and low vs head high is confusing for me.
    Because PK keeps anting the head UP. But does it not wind up the horse, especially hot horses, or is it just a part of the puzzle and the mise-en-main (release of the jaw) then makes the horse relax???

    I am a bit confused between the two concept.

    I agree with asking a LOT of variation.

    But still coming back for warming up long and low, I do not agree. From my (very limited) experience I would prefer to ask the horse mouth straight away and for some flexions etc...

    Just not wondering around long and low which can be also on teh forehand.

    But then I ALWAYS warm-up on the lunge. So when I ride the horse is menatlly ready ...

    Well that is the idea ^-^

  2. Happy New Year Muriel,

    I think that it is more difficult to get a horse to relax initially with a high head carriage. Richard Hinrichs does emphasise the need to keep the horse working through it's back at the same time, and not just ambling about, although I would agree that the horse is more likely to be more on it's forehand in this frame.

    I think it's really a question of training according to priorities. For me the absolute top priority will always be a horse who is calm and relaxed in his mind, because I believe that is the way to keep them sound and happy in the longterm.

    I love watching PK himself ride, but, for me, his pupil on the 'Classic vs Classique' DVD's horse did not look very happy, except when jumpimg. Perhaps, to follow PK's methods to the letter and get the results that he gets, you need to be as skilled a rider as PK himself? I don't know, because this was the only pupil of his I have seen.

    I do wonder if it doesn't take a huge amount of skill and experience to keep a horse's head high without making him tense and hollow. Richard Hinrich's horses ARE sometimes seen to be behind the verticle on this DVD, but they are choosing to go there occasionally, rather than being made to hold themselves there, and their work, to my inexperienced eye, looks exemplary.

    I also have a 20yo who I bred and he has always been impossibly tense and spooky - for 20 years! Head lowering is totally transforming his attitude to everything. For the first time in his life he could at times be mistaken for a bold horse, but only, at the moment, if I let him keep his nose on the floor whenever he feels the need. Before I taught him head lowering he always had a high head carriage.

    No one who knows him could doubt the power of a low head carriage on influencing a horse's emotions, and giving him the tools to control them himself.

    Bella has always been the total opposite - very bold by nature - and teaching her to get her nose off the floor was the difficult bit!

    Maybe the main conclusion might be that, for mere mortals, all extremes have their dangers and an open mind and willingness to try can be our best tools?

  3. Thanks for the review Helen - its a great DVD isn't it? What I also liked was that Richard is not a stunning rider (by that I mean unattainable as PK often seems to be) and seems HUMAN. Plus his riders and pupils are mortals, too. I so love the work on the inhand DVD, too and his horses are gorgeous. (of course, I couldn't help but notice there's a tiny segment of a quarter horse on the new DVD)

    Regarding long and low, I absolutely 100% agree on head down for calming a horse but as you allude, long and low on the forehand is not of any benefit and I think it takes great skill to ride a horse with their head really low but not fall onto their heads. BUT the long and low he achieves is - generally (apart from the hyper young iberian) at the withers and only very low for short periods. This is different to long and low where horses heads are held down low as seems to pass for L&L in some places!!!

    It does depend a little on the horse, of course. Long and low for Hylo sent him further on his forehand as I didn't know how to keep his shoulders up when allowing his head to be at his withers. Tig, on the other hand, needed to learn to lower her head.

    As you say, its all about balance. Hylo warms up best with tons of transitions, not allowing leaning and variations of stride, he also doesn't warm up well in walk whilst Tig warms up brilliantly with lots of walk circles, laterals etc.

    Apparently Ruth Giffels who trained with Richard comes to the UK to teach sometimes....

  4. I love seeing the more 'ordinary' looking horses doing advanced work too. That little Camargue - just an ordinary looking pony, calm as a cucumber - doing extraordinary tempi-changes and piaffe! As you say, it gives the rest of us great hope and inspiration.

    I also fell in love with PK when he said, on Classical vs Classique, that his pupil's horse was "precious but not expensive - precious because we like him"! Ahhh!!!!!

    Does PK ever come to the UK, does anyone know?

  5. Don't think PK comes to the UK - too busy teaching in Germany, Sweden, France etc (you can see the schedule on his website). I am wondering whether I could go and watch one of the ones taught in English this year........

    It is astounding what amazing movement an expensive horse can be born with, but to see an ordinary horse transformed is something else!



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