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Monday, 30 April 2012


Bella offered me levade a few years ago and I wasn’t brave enough to take it then. I’ve often regretted that snap decision so, when she offered it to me again today, I didn’t make the same mistake twice!
When I was training her to do Spanish Walk, after teaching her to hold out one leg at a time,  when I first asked her to lift them alternately she knew I wanted her to do something that involved both front legs and did what looked to me like a very respectable levade. I thought about clicking it but she was only 6 and worries about it maybe encouraging her to rear under saddle put me off. She tried it once more then realised that it wasn’t what I wanted her to do and abandoned the idea. At the time I thought there would be another chance when she was older and I was more sure of my ability to control the behaviour but she never offered it again – until today!
When I tie her up in the yard Bella doesn’t like it if I walk away from her towards the yard gateway. She doesn’t mind me dissapearing into the tackroom or a stable but she doesn’t like me leaving the yard when she’s tied up. Usually she just stamps her feet, snorts, fidgets and throws her head around a bit but today, when someone called me away, Spring must have been in the air and she did all of that followed by a really smart looking levade. I tongue clicked and raced back to give her a treat (luckily I had some in my pocket). I’d been some distance away and wasn’t sure she’d heard the click so I got a clicker and more treats from the tackroom and tried walking towards the gate again.
It worked everytime to begin with. She lowers herself right back onto her hocks and lifts her forehand into what looks to me to be a really classic levade, and once she looked like she was going to capriole and kick back from the levade. I was really impressed!!
I thought that once she started to calm down and think she might lose the energy she needs for the movement, and it did take a little more of a wait after the first few clicks but she had understood and began to offer the levade in a much more considered fashion. I’m trying to put this on cue as quickly as possible and quickly added an upward gesture with my hands and the word ”up” to my cue of walking towards the gate, in the hope that I can quickly get the behaviour without having to tie her up and leave her! I must get some photos.
Could there ever be an easier, lazier way of training levade?!!! I LOVE clicker training and Bella is a Dales Superstar!!! 
One day I want to do displays with her and our logo is going to be ’Dales Dare to be Different!’

Monday, 23 April 2012

Ardall Safety Rider.

My Ardall arrived from Ireland last week and I wanted to try it out on some known quantities before I try anything more exciting with it!! I decided to try Bella with ”Seamus” first as I think of her as being pretty much bombproof. This was a mistake in hindsight as Bella has had a very sheltered life – never even been sat on by anyone except me and never been subjected to anyone falling off or even nearly falling off. Grace is very snorty about new things but puts up with just about anything and has been ridden by loads of people, from experienced riders to complete beginners, and has had people fall off, etc. (and me vaulting and standing on her back) so she would have been a much better bet to start with! Anyway it turned out OK but gave Bella and I a nasty shock!

She didn’t mind him sitting on her at all at halt (as you can see) or walk but when I took her in the school and asked her to trot things got very exciting! I had her on the lunge (mistake – I should have let her loose) and she was fine for a few circles in trot then suddenly decided she didn’t like the feel of the Ardall and took off bucking. It has a spring in it and moves in a very realistic, if exaggeratedly so, fashion. Bucking made it sway violently like a drunk on a bronco! Bella was very good and didn’t try to pull away from me but was going so fast on a smallish circle she kepy losing her back end and nearly going down, which was scary and upsetting. She eventually stopped and realised if she kept still the Ardall did too so she didn’t want to move. Having got that far I wanted to get her used to it so kept persuading her to trot a few strides until she started to relax and realise that it was harmless.

I felt dreadful afterwards because Bella is my pride and joy and has never even tried to buck me off so she really didn’t need the Ardall but, looking back, I think it probably was a good thing. If something happens in future and I lose my balance hopefully she’ll now know that the best thing is to stop. It took me a few days to recover from the guilt and think about trying it again!

I decided to let Grace decide if it is a reasonable thing to ask a horse to put up with and if it upset her I was going to stick it on eBay! Grace was a star! She took a few minutes to get used to the sight of it and let it come near her but after that she was fine. I studied it in motion very carefully this time and it does sway an awful lot in trot. In walk and canter it hardly moves at all and is no real problem, but even Grace looked momentarily suprised when she first started trotting. After that she seemed to like it and was was really using herself. I think she appreciated the nice light weight for a change!

I bought the Ardall to make Merlin really safe to ride (and because there are a couple more youngsters I’m helping people back this summer) and I think it really will do that. Once a horse is used to it I think it would never again worry about anything that happened on it’s back ever again. However there’s no way I can see of preparing them gradually for the motion of the Ardall in trot, so there is some doubt in my mind about just how horse friendly a training aid it really is. The bottom line is as long as it’s girthed up properly there is no way it’s going anywhere, and it can’t hurt them, so it has to be preferable to someone frightening a youngster half to death by falling off them and probably catching them badly in the mouth while doing so, not to mention possible injury to the rider. On a horse that had been deliberately bucking people off I’d use the Ardall without hesitation, and with a well prepared youngster I think the long term benefits will outweigh the short term fright it will undoubtedly give them but I’m still thinking hard about it before I use it on Merlin or any other inexperienced horse!!!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Rico's Blog.

Rico now has his own blog:

Working with Merlin again.

I’m just starting Merlin again after very lightly backing him last summer.

Merlin was very nervous when he arrived here after a traumatic time at stud, then at a cattle market followed by the worst sort of dealer’s yard. He’s now confident about most things but when he does get tense he starts to rush everything a bit. As he’s quite short necked and carries his head rather high when he’s worried I want to try and get him really relaxed before I introduce a bit or I could see his head carriage becoming a problem. At the moment I think it would be very difficult to get him to reach forward into a contact and if he’s still getting tense without the bit introducing one now would only make things worse.

To begin with I’m leading him in the school in a head collar (and his saddle) and clicking him for walking alongside me with a relaxed head carriage and his head near my shoulder.

When he gets tense he hurries and gets a bit too much in front of me so I make a point of deciding where I want to go and going there, and if he’s too far forward and blocking me I just keep going and expect him to get out of the way (I have taught him a few steps of turn about the haunches to make it possible for him to do this).

This really made him think and encouraged him to keep in the right place so he didn’t have to do any complicated fancy manouvres to get out of the way! By the end of the session he was much more relaxed and quietly attentive and the clicks and treats were much more forthcoming.

I do have to be careful with my food delivery with Merlin as he’s quite ’mouthy’ but we had a session focussing soley on that and he’s getting much more thoughtful about how he takes the treats now. I just need to remember to keep an eye on it along with everything else!

Following on from the work in a headcollar I’ve re-introduced Merlin to a bit and started working him in hand to try and establish a nice, quiet, responsive mouth and relaxed head carriage.

Merlin has only had a bit in his mouth a few times before so he’s still quite ’chewy’ and uncertain what to do with it. I’ve done two sessions now working him in hand and he’s so small (13hands) that I can work with one hand over his back which makes life very easy! I just take up a light contact on both reins, as though I was riding, and him around the school. At the moment all I’m looking, and clicking, for are the moments when his mouth is closed and quiet and his neck is fairly low and relaxed, as he has a tendency to raise and contract his already rather short neck.

Merlin is picking this up very quickly and is already much more relaxed about everything. Clicker training makes mouthing SO much easier because I can explain to him EXACTLY how I want him to respond to the bit. It saves him from so much frustration and discomfort.

I’m a big Sprenger fan and I’m using a Sprenger Dynamic RS which is the bit that my Dales seem to like best (after the Portuguese Working Equitation Pelham which is their favourite of all).

I’ve also been getting him to follow a very light feel from the reins downward (head lowering using the bit) so that I can show him that I want his head lower when I’m working on things like halt and reinback, where he has a habit of throwing his head in the air.

He’s a lovely pony to work with and I’m very pleased with the last two days work. I just wish he was a hand or so bigger!!


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