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


Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Snowy Days.

I've given up trying to work my horses for now as we have lying snow which is balling up in their feet, and getting all the livestock watered takes up most of the day, with only one tap thawable and so having to drag miles of hosepipe about.

I'm not complaining though because they love the snow and I love watching them in it. Jack in particular is such a big kid! He has to push his nose along through it all the way to his paddock, and has been known to just HAVE to stop for a roll on the way there, as he can't wait any longer.

Usually in the winter they all go out about midday, for a couple of hours, and I fit in working them either side of that. At the moment, while it's been so sunny and lovely out, they've been going out after breakfast with a pile of haylage, and coming in about 3pm. It means I have to carry water buckets out to the paddocks, as the troughs are solid ice now.

I had a very nasty moment today though. I'd just got Bella and Russell in and tied them in the yard to change their rugs when our Jack Russell, Flora, started barking. I have to shut the dogs in a stable when I need to leave the yard gate open, as Flora has what has been a near fatal attraction to standing in the middle of the road, for some reason known only to her, so the dogs can't be left to free range like most of the animals here.

I had to leave the gate open to let the returning poultry, who do free range, back in to get into their stable for the night. I had the radio on and kept shouting at her to shut up when it eventually occurred to me to wonder why she was barking. Our Golden Retriever often does, in protest at being shut in, but Flora usually only barks for a good reason. I turned the radio off and immediately heard a calf sounding distressed in the cowshed, which backs onto the stables.

I ran around there and OH had shut the cows back out of the front passageway, so he could drive the tractor in, and disappeared. We have two young calves, just a couple of weeks old, and one had become wedged (with a little help from the cow in the pen who isn't his mum, I suspect) with his head through the gate and his bum tight up against a ring feeder. The gate was pressing on his windpipe and he was suffocating.

I tried to untie the gate but he had jammed the knots tight and I tried to push his bum out of the tiny gap it was wedged in but nothing gave an inch. I was shouting for OH, who always carries a penknife, but no joy. I racked my brain for where I could quickly lay my hands on something sharp and suddenly remembered leaving a knife in the shed opposite. I ran over and grabbed it and got back just in time to see the calf go limp as he lost consciousness. Cursing my slow reactions I cut the string and the gate shot open. It had been holding the unconscious calf up and as he fell to the floor he began to gasp again. I stood guard over him, so he didn't get trampled, until he came around and staggered to his feet and then, low and behold, OH appeared!

I apologised profusely to Flora for shouting at her when she was trying to tell me that something was making an unusual noise and needed investigating. If it wasn't for her that calf would be dead now and he's SO cute - red and woolly like a Highland, although he's an Aberdeen Angus. OH would have been distraught and blaming himself for leaving them unattended, and the calf's mum is devoted to her first ever offspring. We all have a lot to be grateful to Flora for.

Bella and Russell were still tied in the yard and waiting, surprised but patiently. I really appreciate my pones endless patience at times like these. The other day my next door neighbour came into the yard for a chat when I had just got Jack in and tied him up. He stood watching us thoughtfully, ears pricked as though taking an interest in our conversation and never moved a muscle. When we finally went over to him he said hello very politely to her but then leaned towards me, as if seeking my assurance that she was OK. I've often noticed him doing this when someone goes up to his stable door in front of me - he will say hello but then look around them for me. It's really touching and makes me feel really close to him. Dales do seem to be quite 'one person' ponies. I am so glad that I'm Bella and Jack's 'person'!

I would be grateful if Bella didn't try to eat other people that go near to her stable though, especially OH. It doesn't endear her to him too much!!!!!!


  1. What a busy life at your farm! Do you have many animals?

    This is a kind of life I would love.

  2. We only have 30 acres so very small by farming standards, and we've cut down a fair bit on numbers of livestock. I don't breed from the sheep any more, as lambing them single handed was killing - 24 hour days when I had a yard full of horses to do too. I am usless at delegating and have to do everything myself.

    We now are down to 16 pet ewes, 1 castrated ram lamb, 3 redundant rams, 2 goats, 9 Bronze Turkeys that Christmas forgot (our old stag is called Bernard, after Bernard Matthews), 5 ducks, 4 Orpinton hens who lay 3 eggs then go broody, 2 Old English Game hens, 5 Guinea Fowl, 1 Gloucester Old Spot pig, 18 cattle, 5 horses (1 is a livery. He has been here for over 15 years) and 3 dogs.

    The sheep have earned some money filming in the past. They are all halter trained, as I used to show them, and very tame. They were in a series called 'The Tenth Kingdom' which was on Sky and then came out as a DVD set. Filming their bit was just fantastic fun. They were in the Great Hall of a 12th century manor house and were so brilliant the cast and crew gave them a standing ovation at the end of their last scene.

    Then I had a ewe in a soap called 'Eastenders' a couple of years ago. That was very downmarket after an American film company!!!

  3. Oh, and two cats! One is a perminant residenton the boiler at the moment and waves a sympathetic paw at us when we have to go out into the cold!

    The other lurks in the undergrowth around the school, waiting for Jack!!!!!!!

  4. Blimey, I didn't realise you had so many animals!!!!!

    Thank goodness the little calf was okay, poor little chap. Good on Flora for alerting you, too.

    It really is bitter, isn't it? Mine are on livery, but I tramped down to Tig's field to (re)break the water trough, check on her to make sure she was warm enough and give her an extra late feed. Loly is in a stable, so it was a case of tucking him up for the night all snug. Not sure they are turning out either at the mo, but putting them in the jumping paddock just by the yard with some hay. All the fields are still covered in frozen snow.....

    -7 on the way home tonight and apparently -10 at the yard this morning!!!!!

  5. Yes, soaking hay is a bit tricky! I weigh it down with breeze blocks and the blocks were so frozen to the nets today that even kettles of boiling water wouldn't shift them! I don't feed it in nets so prized out what I could and left the blocks still attached to the nets. It'll have to be haylage only until it gets a bit warmer. Ours was cut quite late so hopefully they won't put on too much weight.

  6. Not actually quite as cold up here.I am so glad the calf is ok.

    My last water IBC container handle broke ( in he last icy stretch) and I have just got 2 more.( bought a trailer off ebay which am going to collect tomorrow). The one I have at the mo, was used for vegetable oil - and it hasn't frozen up today - wonder whether the little bit of oil has made a difference ( probably not!)

  7. On a good note, the cold snap is supposed to be easing in a few days.......

    My friend had to smash at her soaked hay with a hammer today to feed it!

  8. That sounds like quite a little ark you have there.So glad you managed to release the little calf,bet you thought that you were going to have to do a spot of mouth to muzzle resuscitation. I also love the stage struck sheep, is this before you started clickering?

    We probably are not quiet so cold,-6.9,but thats near the house, we have no snow, but the little brook that flows into the river, is freezing over in the shallows, havnt seen this for years.

    I am full of foreboding for when the thaw comes, as I have beautiful wild and sub tropical garden, with palms and bananas, all tenderly wrap t in garden fleece which now looks like a garden full of giant tampax's.Ah well time will tell.

    Like you all, am having to battle with frozen hosepipes, but luckily managed to thaw out enough to refill all tanks on Monday.

    We only have the two horses,and they are out on about five acres, with Polo Ponies on either side,so Seamus gets a good chance for a crack with the ladies.

    We also have the most adorable energetic German Shepherd puppy called Evie.She is quite a handful at the moment as she needs about three walks a day.

    We start Puppy Classes in a couple of weeks time,she is being clickered also.
    Stay Warm.



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