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, 1 February 2009

Horse Of Course.

I found this blog today and I love it! She's not actually clicker training as such but her principals and ethics all ring bells in my head.

I especially love her latest post, 'What's In It For Me', and the last paragraph of her 'Back to Basics' post I found really moving.

I'm spending too much time on this computer! That's what not being able to lie down for fear of drowning does for you! If OH ever goes near another coughing supermarket checkout assistant I'll kill him!!!!!

Horse of Course has very kindly agreed to let me copy a few sentances from her blog. I LOVE reading her last paragraph of her 'Back to Basics' post. Fame is the name of her horse:

"I try not to get disappointed those days when thing doesn’t work out as I had hoped, and after many years of riding it’s not that difficult.
I know that steady work brings us on in the long run, and that there will good days and bad days.
But the good days, aaah - they make me fly.
I keep them as secret treasures in my mind, experiencing the feeling over and over. They give me joy for several days.
And it’s not just the dressage work in itself, or mastering the exercises, it’s the fellowship with Fame.

She’s my buddy. We do things together. And I believe she understands a LOT.
I just have to let all the stress go, and tune in, marvellous!
You rock, Fame.

and from her 'What's in it for Me' post (I only asked about the former so I hope she won't mind but I love this bit too):

"To our training I fill my pockets.
I praise Fame when she does right (that's my “clicker") and a carrot appears. Often a short break to stretch the neck on long reins.
And my horse turns to into the Dressage Queen.
She gets very eager, and tries to do all the tricks by her own, and often before Mum has asked for them.
Sometimes we dance, and sometimes she gets too eager and forgets to listen.
But if it’s not perfect, it doesn’t matter. We will try again the next day.
And we have fun.
She’s always coming to me when I am to fetch her.
She’s leaving the hay in her box when I come with the bridle, and puts the bit into the mouth by herself.
Gives a soft neigh to greet me when she hears my voice in the stable.
I don’t care what the end result will be.
Riding is so much about the road, and not the goal
In the meantime we are enjoying ourselves, both of us.

I could read these words forever and never tire of them. Horse of Course you write poetry and you speak straight to my heart.


  1. Oh yes I agree with you Helen, she describes exactly the relationship that we have with our horses. Bad days are saddening but the good days are sooo uplifting,she's waxing poetical without even realising it.Thanks for the link Helen , think I'll be making visits to her blog regularly

  2. Lovely words - thanks Helen for letting us see them. I'll have a squiz at her blog sometime...when my mind has any space after reading Muriels!!

  3. Her blog is quite new, so doesn't take long to read through. You should see the pics of the Moose she has to contend with when hacking out! I used to worry a bit about riding past Fallow Deer Stags in the rutting season - how wimpy am I by comparison?!

  4. Will a Deet stag charge you on horseback???

    I need to think harder, I have a an idea, but it is tsill not clear.
    Sorry I will post later, when my concept are clearer ^-^

  5. I think it's pretty rare but I do know people it's happened to. Apparently male Muntjac deer can be really nasty, and they're only tiny - not with horses, I don't think, but I have heard of them killing dogs. The Duke of Woburn had them all destroyed on his estate years ago, because one killed his favourite dog. We have lots of Fallow and Muntjac deer roaming wild around here.

    You've got me all intrigued now, Muriel!

  6. Well I think I am going down with flu or something else, so my brain is a bit foggy.

    But basically the idea is that I used to think like most of us. I wanted my horse to express himself, to COOPerate with me etc...

    Now that I am working with a reiner, this idea of cooperation/expression does not exist at all. Yes shocking isn't it. The training for a reining horse is 3 months to teach the movements then 6 months to teach to the horse to complete listen to his rider. Ultimate test being the rider asking the horse to go against a tree, and the horse will hit the tree full on.

    So I wondered WHY? I guess the idea is to become a CENTAUR. The man thinks, the horse has responsability of maintining speed and direction, and looking where his feet go. But the horse has no expression, or does not think alone. He surrenders himself at the will of his rider.

    I guess it makes sense. Horses were men's extension in cattle work or in war, so they better be obedient and submissive.

    Now what happens when you give thinking time to these horses? Well I can tell you. I trialed Giove, who is Saul' favourite horse. The horse is broke. I rode him, because I did not have the discipline or the technique to be present for him ... oh oh oh he did start to think alone and that was not such good thing, I could feel him getting fizzier, winding himself up LOL .

    Now I am riding more and more Western, and I realise that you have to communicate a lot with the horse, but really you look for a total obediance/submission. Actually teh technique for getting there are not harsh, but requires from teh rider to be quite discipline and present.

    Nowadays people are speaking about lightness/légérèté, but it is first of all a mental submission, then you can teach the horse to move well.

    So I am intrigued on how these two different concepts : expression vs submission have been created.
    The full submission, yes I understand, but the expression one ?
    It is a Dressage concept? Robert aalwasy speaks of expression of a dressage horse?

    It is also where I disagree with PK. He said that Dressage was an art which became a sport and then a business.
    But before that Dressage was a necessity to train Horses for WAR ...

  7. I think that one of the nearest similarities is bullfighting. Yes, you want a horse that is totally obedient to you, but then he knows his job, and going against the bull is a partnership rather than a centaur. Similarly in war, I would want my horse to be a partner , who are both fighting against the same cause. Ultimately he will do as I say , yet I want his set of eyes to be working for me, rather than me directing each tiny movement.
    I have done little western, but rode a cutting a horse once - that horse sure knew when to turn, to do his job, despite me on board!!

    To equate it to humans. When I was in uniform, I had infantry medics working with me. They had to learn 2 different concepts. As an infantryman if a senior rank asked them to do somthing, and they didnt know what to do, they would just pretend they had done it ( and do it very badly)

    When they were my medics , I expected them , ind of to act differently, in different scenarios. In times of crisis ( OK a casualty), I would "tell" them to do things, and I would expect them to be done immeidately and correctly. I however, had a responsibilty to ensure that I had trained them well enough to do these tasks immediately and wthout question.
    In nonacute situations, I would ask them to do things, but would expect them to tell me if they didn't understand either what I had asked, so I could explain, not just pretend they did understand . I had to ensure I gave enough cues so they could see what the situation was..

  8. I once went to try a showjumper that had been trained by a professional but didn't have enough talent to stay in professional show jumping. The man who was thinking of buying him competed at riding club level.

    Approching the first jump I told the horse when to take off and he cleared the jump effortlessly. The second time I kept him straight but sat still. The horse nearly fell over the fence and knocked it flat. He'd been professionally trained from scratch and had never had to make his own decisions before.

    I told the man that if he thought he could always see a stride into a fence then he should buy him, but I can't always and need a horse who can help me out, so he wouldn't be the horse for me.

    I like proud horses who can think for themselves and help me when I need them to, and are obedient because they choose to be, not because they have been forced or drilled into it.

    If I'd had a horse who would gallop into a tree I would have killed myself and the horse out hunting in woods, many times over. It's why I love ponies - for their personality and intellegence. Why would I not want to make use of it?

    What's the expression, 'there's no pride in being a king of slaves'.

  9. It is interesting because you took it straight away as an extreme and negative training. You both thought of slaves, forced and drilled training.

    But both of you have done Parelli. What do you think the passenger lesson, the follow the rail is for and the tit for tat are for?
    Did you have to force your horse to do it?

    The horse responsability is to look where is going, that is one thing Englsih riding is often forgotten, and people micro-manage their horses all the time.

    The horse going against the tree was because the rider did not change the driection. In ranch work a horse has to look where he puts his feet while running after a cow.

    IMO, the western training has horses smarter than English, usually because the horses have responsabilities!

    The jumping horse you try Helen, nobody told him to watch where he was going.
    Dressage horses who have to be spured at every strides to maintain gaits etc ....

    Remember Dressage is training for war.

    Western horses trained AND competing or working in cow work, are usually smarter than the jumping or dressage horse. First they have job, AND they have responsabilities. But yes, they are submitted to their rider. The rider chooses the direction and the speed.

    I find interesting that you thought of them as slaves going throught forced training.

    IMO Dressage horses are slaves being drilled again and again for looking pretty in arena, and who spook t anything !

  10. My conclusion of Parelli was that ultimately, if successful, it led to repression rather than true, willing submission. If the horse isn't allowed to express his opinions then how do you know if something's wrong and he SHOULDN'T be doing what you're asking at that moment in time, for his own good (pain, for example)? How does he ask you for help? Where is his safety net?

    I'm all for rules. I do think that 'expression' can be used to excuse rude or dangerous behaviour that the trainer would really rather wasn't there but doesn't know how to eradicate.

    Alex says that her horse's are allowed to express their opinions if they're not happy about something (pull faces, etc) but they're not allowed to act on them (bite or kick).

    To maintain that sort of contract with the horse, it then becomes the trainer's responsibility to always listen to the horse's opinions and try to understabd his point of view and help him out. That seems to be the ideal situation to me.

    I WANT my horse's to tell me what they're feeling. I WANT conatant feedback from them. I want to fit my training in with what they need, because it's their body that I'm using.

    Do you remember the very successful racehorse who the jockey, on the way to the start of a big race, didn't feel was quite right. The vet and trainer watched him trot up, said he looked fine and he came under orders. His lrg shattered half way through the race and that was that.

    If he'd had some way of expressing an opinion about how he felt that day he might be alive now.

    It doesn't have to be force that breaks horses down - lack of communication is all it can take.

  11. By that I meant allowing two way communication. Learning to communicate with the horse in a language he understands is great, but how about teaching him how to communicate back in a language that WE can understand, and then AWLAYS being prepared to listen and act on that communication.

    If I was training my horse for war then I might feel differently but I'm not, thank God, I'm training them so that we can entertain each other and enjoy each other's company. Anything else is secondary to that. Being compliant isn't enough - I want whole hearted enthusiasm and mental participation. If they can't enjoy it then I'd rather not bother.

    If that sounds too idealistic I can only say that I KNOW that it's possible, ALL of it, with Clicker Training.



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