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


Monday, 23 February 2009

Paul Belasik - Contact and Connection.

The third audio tape 'An Interview with Paul Belasik, an Overview of the Classical Principles Behind the Training of a Horse and Rider is entitled 'Calm, Forward Riding'.

Paul Belasik speaks of the need to first insist that the horse respects and yields to pressure from the bit by, as Alexandra Kurland would say, the rider becoming a 'post': resisting any pull from the horse but never actively pulling back. As soon as respect has been established he says the following;

"Contact has to be merely a connection and I would use this analogy - the same as, if you would imagine, the reins were live wire, and when you touch the rein you would instantly make contact - you would make an electrical circuit. Now, if you're on the business end of that that circuitry, no matter how carefully the reins are touched, you're going to get a jolt.

I think one has to approach the reins in that way - that contact is not always something that can be measured in pounds of pressure, but it is really a connection, a completion of a circuitry, from your body, through the reins to the horse's mouth, and if you think of it like that you get the idea of the rein as, I love this phrase, the 'live' rein. You get the feeling that life, or a certain amount of energy, goes through that rein the moment you touch it.

He goes on to say, in answer to questions about riding a horse 'through':

"Every horse has an inherent rhythm and you have to find that rhythm - the inherent rhythm that the horse is comfortable with. Go ahead and take a horse that has such and such a tempo and advance it a few beats faster and watch what happens - the horse gets more and more nervous. Take one and ride it continually under power all the time and the horse gets sluggish, distracted, starts looking around.

Each horse has, within itself, an inherent tempo, or an inherent rhythm within a tempo, and it's up to you to find that heartbeat, that sound, that musicality that will relax the horse and all work HAS to begin with relaxation.....

You're always trying to develop this connection, this bow of energy - the hind leg engaging, putting in a certain amount of power and thrust, coming up through the round, full back - a strong resilient back - and out through an extended neck. If the horse extends its neck in an arch, that physical process...... when the neck is in proper extension, the musculature is drawn out, it's in a relaxed but a strong arch. When the horse is making a cresting gesture it pulls against the spinal processes of the withers and draws the back up. You must make the equation work at the back end. The hind legs ... must come under the horse and when it does that it has an equal draw, lifting the horse, so then you get to that old concept of a ring of muscle - the ring is continuous around the horse - the neck is arching, the back comes up, the hind legs come under and there's this beautiful, rolling, continuous ring - circuitry again coming into play.

If you inhibit the back you WILL NOT GET access to the back legs! When the neck is curved in such a position there is a lift in the back which will allow the back to swing. If you want to get access to the back legs - the power source - and want it to come 'through', it must start with engagement of the hind legs, but you MUST NOT impede it anywhere along that chain. If you shorten the neck you depress the back. If you depress the back you cut off access to the back legs. You must get the horse to come up in the back and meet your seat, so that you have access to the back legs.

He emphasises that all these things - the arched, extended neck, raised withers and back - are not just for aesthetics, just because they look nice, but because they are scientifically and bio mechanically necessary to produce engagement and collection.

I love the way he explains these things and you can hear the passion, conviction and enthusiasm in his voice, as the words spill out at times. All of this made perfect sense to me and also reinforced everything I believe that I have been trying to achieve by following Alexandra Kurland's 'Riding with the Clicker'.


  1. Helen, thanks so much for the last two posts,they have made very aspirational reading, I can only live in hope.

    Managed to get a slightly longer ride in, yesterday,but still can't rise to the trot,knee is improving all the time tho.

    Hope all goes well at your end.

  2. Another fab post - isn't it nice when it all makes sense? Not sure I can achieve it, but at least I have a clue where I'm headed!

    You do have a gift of pulling out the key things from various texts and vids - thank you so much for putting it up here for us to learn from!

  3. Aww, thanks both of you! I've made notes on the next tape, where he talks about impulsion, engagement and collection. It will be the next post.

    I wish more people would make audio tapes. It's such a brilliant format for me, as it makes mucking out so much more interesting, and I think there's something quite special about just listening - one sense only to concentrate with. For me it's better than reading because of being able to hear where the emphasis is. I'm a great one for trying to get straight to the bones of the matter!!!

  4. I love audio tapes too - I have many books on tape/cd and I love to listen to them in the car.

    Where did you find horsey books on tape though?

    Hoping you and David and okay :-)

  5. I only have this set, which I think was supposed to be the start of a series of 'Classical Overview' interview tapes, but I've never found any others, plus a set of Joni Bentley tapes and Jane Savoie tapes. I'd love some more if anyone has come across any.



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