I have been working on training some new things with my pones. Grace has always found cantering quite difficult and it's taken her a lot of time to find her balance. I have always clicked her for cantering and she has become brilliant at canter to halt transitions as soon as she hears the click.
I decided to work on how small I could make my aid to halt. I tried a fast trot to begin with and just leant back slightly and closed my legs, with the reins lying free on her neck. She caught onto this really quickly so I tried it in canter, both in the school, out on hacks and in the field. She is superb at this already, after just a couple of sessions but it's also had the added bonus of making her more keen to canter, even though I'm clicking her for halting. I suppose that's because she has to canter first to get to the halt and click.
Bella has always been quite grumpy about cantering. Her natural balance is a lot better than Grace's but she just doesn't like cantering much and tends to have her ears back. Again I've only ever clicked her for the canter rather than a downward transition out of canter. I thought I would try the same exercise with her, clicking her for the halt rather than the canter and after just a few clicks she was cantering without the grumpy faces, which I was beginning to think would never happen!
I can really belt up the field on them and do a sliding stop with no reins at all and I think this could be a useful way to show people how safe a clicker trained horse can be.
With Jack, who loves nothing better than mimicking me, I've been trying to copy the clip of Ronan, the Jive Pony, in walking crossing his front feet in front of each other while I walk backwards in front of him crossing my feet behind each other. Jack's crossing over is a bit big at the moment, so he has to move the other foot out to rebalance first, but I'm finding it quite difficult to do myself, being very unbalanced on my own two feet! I have trouble doing Spanish Walk myself, on foot, too, as I keep losing my balance. I really need to start working on my own balance on foot as well!
Jack's concentration when doing these things these days is complete. He bears no resemblance to the spooky, over-reactive horse that he used to be. Grace and Bella have always been calmer than Jack so the change in them is not as obvious unless you know them as well as I do. They were all coming on well due to clicker training before I had the chance to study a really talented and empathetic teacher of people in action, but now that I copy his attitude when he is teaching his younger relatives, and me, how to do things, my horses progress, confidence and delight in their training has been phenomenal. I have told him all of this repeatedly but he doesn't believe me and I think that his humility and modesty is part of the secret, along with the endless patience, consideration, good humour, affection, empathy, competence and a very quiet but total determination to guide us all in the right direction and equip us all to be able to attain the same level of competence.
He makes us want to try our hardest and gives us the confidence to try. That's exactly what I try to do for my horses and, thanks to his example, I seem to be suceeding.
I read this passage in Margrit Coates book, 'Horses Talking' and I love it. It's written by Todd Merrell, Director of the International Center of Equine Arts, Vancouver, Canada. Another for the wall!
"The horse is one of the last few elders, like the whale. Their evolution has spanned an eternity. Only Equus has walked and danced upon the earth with man in this unique way - as a spiritual brother, energetically entwined."
This is my new blog to continue my journey with my Dales Ponies. It will also be the story of my building a new life for myself, alone now, except for my friends, horses and dogs, since my partner died in March 2009. We had lived and worked together, mostly twenty four hours a day, for nearly 28 years and I have never lived alone before. It is a tribute to my wonderful friends that I am still here, still sane(ish) and ready to re-invent myself. I love them all more than words can ever say and can never thank them enough for all they have done and are still doing. It is also a tribute to Alexandra Kurland and 'The Click That Teaches' that I know how to save myself now. To new beginnings.......