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


Sunday, 18 January 2009

Aspirations and Expectations.

Muriel said in the comments to the last post that I had attributed some powera and virtues to clicker training which were not clicker dependent. She has also said that she is disappointed with the 'Click That Teaches' DVDs she has bought, which I feel quite guilty about, as it was me who recommended them - sorry Muriel!

I guess a lot depends on your expectations and your starting point. I started clicker training with problems with both Bella and Jack that I had begun to think might prove insolvable. Clicker training solved them in the blink of an eye.

I am not saying that there were definitely no other ways of solving them, or that clicker training is the only way, but it was the only way that worked for me and this is a personal account of a personal journey.

Karen Prior, pioneer of clicker training and author of 'Don't Shoot the Dog' says the following;
‘‘A curious but important corollary to training
by positive reinforcement is that it breeds affection
in both subject and trainer. . . . The success
of the training interchange tends to turn the
participants into generalized conditioned reinforcers
for each other. The trainer is the
source of interesting, exciting, rewarding,
life-enhancing events for the subject, and the
subject’s responses are interesting and rewarding
for the trainer’’

My expectations and aspirations have grown alongside the success I've had with clicker training, and because Bella and Jack seem to me to be quite talented, but I'm not kidding myself too much. All I really want is to have happy, soft, shiny, enthusiastic horses who love working, playing and being with me as much as I love working, playing and being with them, and that's what clicker training has given me.

Bella is already producing some extraordinary work but when I say that I don't mean that it would be extraordinary, or probably even ordinary, if Philippe Karl or Anja Beran were training her. I mean that it's extraordinary because I am training her. We're already managing to achieve things that I thought were only possible in my wildest dreams, because I am not a talented rider and never will be.

Bella and Jack were never going to take the professional dressage world by storm, even if they did have a talented rider, and even with the most talented horse in the world and all the coaching money could buy neither was I. If I can train them to happily do a little high school work then I will have surpassed all that I ever thought I was capable off. I will have blown my own socks off!

If I do manage to it will be because of clicker training. Other people can get there without but it will be such an extraordinary, massive achievement for me. My wildest dream before clicker training would have been that some day I might have found someone willing to let me have a sit on their high school horse and experience what piaffe, passage, etc. felt like. The idea of training my own, all by myself, from scratch......

Clicker training makes dreams come true. I'm already making mine come true. But it is my dream and it only has to impress me and my horses. If the work ends up lacking fire and great impulsion but my horses stay sound and happy doing it then I will have achieved everything I have ever wanted.

And I couldn't have managed a fraction of it without Alexandra Kurland and clicker training and I know that to be true.


  1. Oh Helen, I have to look more in AK. But I do not scratch away CT. I still think it is a POWERFUL technique.
    As you wrote you came to CT becuase you had a problem, I guess you have already started to change your mind-set.
    It has been the same for me, I had a problem with my big bully of mare, so I was changing my attitude.

    I think with relate to trainers, according to:
    - our age ( I am 10 yrs younger than you),
    - our culture/background( I am a scientist, video nerd, I like anything New agey, but techy fashion my attention span is one of a video clip. Parelli provides it all for me, slick SHORT video clips, I am also latin, so I have a fairly macho side ^-^
    - what is available for us in our own country.

    In the UK, you seem to have CT trainers, it is not even heard of it in Itlay. The only pro trainer I had access was a Parelli one.

    You should not feel guilty, because I know that if I have to work with Left brain introvert who does NOT want to move, I will use CT, just like Parelli advised. I would also use CT for teaching high school movement.

    If you give me some time, later on today I would like to post about Positive and negative reinforcement teaching for humans. Because I just realised that I had these two different types of teaching.

    But much later on today.


  2. Dont feel guilty Helen, without your posts on the old EE board, I would have sailed past CT, and all the pleasure it has given.

    Muriel, I fell about laughing at your description of AK, as oestrogen driven, as opposed, to Mr P.

    My reactions on first watching her were the same, but hang on in there, I suspect that under that "mother hen" delivery there is someone with the power, which horses pick up on instantly, but in totally different way.

    Horses really flower under her Zen like approach, it seems to me far closer to the world they live in, with no time scales, or target driven angst.

    I think we both fell into the slick marketing trap, which she so wisely

    has avoided. So give her a chance, you wont regret it.

    After all, who would you rather sit on your horse Ak or Mr P, I rest my case!

  3. Npe of them I would prefer Monsieur Karl, simply because I will meet him in May. You goot to think as who you have under your hands. But Mr P. has really mellowed out since being a Grand-Dad!

    However, I think of AK more as alpha mare rather than a mother hen TBH. She has a calm but ASSERTIVE energy!
    A the end of the day, an alpha mare will always scare me more than a stallion Eheheheh!

    Oestrogen driven, because it is very precise minute changes. I am more latin (sorry) so patience is not my forte. I like fast changes, not thing you have to go on and on and on about! ^-^

  4. Ha Ha, that's cheating,and moving the goalposts!

    Monsieur Karl was not in the game! Lucky you going to see him, we shall expect an in-depth report!

  5. PS, what about the days and days students had to spend riding the rail, that was a real no brainer,do you still have to do that in the programme?

  6. You lucky lucky thing Muriel going to see PK!!!

    Anyway, I have to admit that I bought AKs videos a few years ago after having such success teaching my horse to accept the bridle....and they left me a bit cold. I was very much into PNH at the time and it was all a bit longwinded for me, so put it in my back pocket for another time. I pulled out ct every so often when Tig needed assistance, but it wasn't my main teaching technique.

    Fast forward to the training I've done with Ken Faulkner and I began to really like the tiny shift of weight and balance he focuses on. At this point I was obviously ready for the tiny details in Alex's work. But although I was making great strides with my knowledge and how Hylo was going, there was still something missing.

    I knew from the willingness Tig showed to clicker that there was something in it, and Hilary had been having clinics with AK so I thought perhaps it was time to revisit it. Also, the DVDs had come on a long way since the early ones, and I enjoyed them much more when I watched them.

    It wasn't until I attended a clinic with her that I really began to get it (and I mean began, because I am sure I won't ever be as patient or as observant as either AK or many of her students!). I didn't manage to switch Hylo onto clicker properly until we went on a clinic - even though I'd tried several times.

    I now enjoy the tiny details but can also have a nice hack just to have fun and enjoy a natter with friends. I am sure I'd be interested in the new parelli patterns, but I might teach them differently :-)

    I agree absolutely with Helen that trainers such as Anja Beran or PK can achieve all kinds of things with ordinary horses - indeed Alex says that Bettina Drummond can get horses to really perform using negative reinforcement as of course did Nuno Olivera.

    I, however, am an ordinary rider with no experience of riding or training high school movements (or medium moves for that matter!). to be able to teach Loly lead changes and lateral work is a total joy; the icing on the cake though, is for him to want to try for me. Thats worth EVERYTHING.

    (still like short clips though, myself, Muriel!!)

  7. Though I have been hosting Alex for quite a time, there has been sometimes when I wasn't sure whether I would continue or not. Not that I didnt enjoy the clincs, but I was also continuing to work with Ken ( I remeber getting bollocked one whole clinic for having outside hand higher than inside!!) I have recently ( last year) decided to continue with Alexs stuff becasue I see the differnce it has made. I will not forget Ken because there is so much crossover, but I won ride, as the rein mechanics are so different I cant cope with that! I will still watch and learn though

    Alex has a lot of power - pretend to be a horse, she slides down that rope, she can transfer your energy and literally move you off your feet,.
    but she has the power coming from a martial art, using bone rotations to deflect power . But there is no confrontation to her power, ( am thinking of Karate Kid now) , and therefore the horses are less likely to fight back.You certainly DO want to follow her feel.

    I agree Alexs partic first vids ( I dont know what ones you got ) are hard to watch ( I have fallen asleep) but over the time her latest ones are so different - she has got used to being the other side of the camera.

    Alex does work on minute changes - she spent all winter one time analysing the weight shifts of an inside turn - that isn't my cup of tea - but I will take what she has learnt, and use it.

    I still have "normal" lessons ( though saving money at the moment) - and I do use pressure/release and neg reinforcement at times . And I remember to have fun!

  8. Thanks for your comments, I am glad I am not the only one.

    How do I use PNH? Well I am a kind of "head-groom" at my yard. So I have to handle horses unknowm of me, who are NOT mine. Some of the horses ( mainly Englis riding horses) are really "ignorant" no ground manners and fairly spoiled or just punk. So yes i use PNH to keep me safe. last time I took a mare from the farrier back to her paddock, thrice she tried to jump on top of me. Sorry but I cannot click and treat in these cases.

    With some of School horses I work on building a relationship. I ask permission to go into their stall, I give them a carrots, then I walk away. I must be the only one not asking anything from them.

    This is all PNH but learnt from the new-not-anymore-available level 2, and from Horse liberty and behaviour.
    BTW Charlotte there are TEN DVDs in that course. sorry but i won't review them all. ^-^

  9. I've got computer problems at the mo so missing out on this discussion but, Muriel, why does it have to be a choice between Parelli and AK? Can't you just take the bits that you know you can make work for you and use them together?

    If I had a horse trying to jump on top of me I would certainly go back to Parelli-type techniques for a short term solution to getting their attention but then I would just as quickly look for some tiny thing to praise and reward them for. It's not either or; it's keeping safe and preventing the behaviour you don't want, then trying to demonstrate and communicate a better way of getting along together.

    By the way I told OH that you had said AK appeals to me more than to you because you are 10 years younger than me. He laughed like a drain and said that although you are factually correct if you ever meet me you will find that I am incredibly juvenile and unlike any other 51 year old on the planet!

    I don't think he intended it as a compliment but I choose to take it as such!!!

  10. Sorry if that last comment sounded a bit abrupt and judgemental, Muriel! I wrote it in a hurry and while arguing with OH about whether I should be on his laptop or not!

    If you really don't like anything on AK's DVDS you just chuck 'em in the bin or sell them on eBay! We all have to find our own way and one man's meat, etc. We're all different.

    BIG HUGS to you too!



About Me

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