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Friday, 4 January 2013

Gallop to Freedom by Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado.

I've just finished reading this fabulous book by Frederic Pignon and Magali Delgado, the founders of the horse spectacular Cavalia. Magali has also trained and successfully competed a Lusitano stallion at Grand Prix level dressage.

This book would be worth buying for the beautiful photographs alone but it is also packed full of their training strategies and insights into their horse's personalities.

Their training ideology was developed as a result of having to deal with a very difficult and aggressive Lusitano stallion, Templado, who had been badly handled by previous trainers, and who became the star of their show and their best friend.

His training had to be based on finding something that he really enjoyed doing and using it to earn his co-operation, then building on that. They say that "Games properly set up and used can be an aid to motivation, concentration, and memory, and help understanding between you and your horse to grow. They can also be used to push the horse to do more........Learning to go beyond what he (the horse) has already achieved brings an increase in pleasure and develops intelligence. This in turn enables the horse to better control his fears and to acquire a high standard of physical and mental health." They emphasise the need to "....encourage the horse to think for himself and "act on" rather than "react to" my wishes. They say that "Through the use of games a horse goes on discovering new and better ways to learn..... The 'distance' between us shrinks and our pleasure in the horse's company grows."

They are very clear about establishing boundaries and not letting the horse walk all over them but they avoid conflict as much as possible. They say that: "A common mistake is too much 'snuggling up' to the horse from the beginning. You should keep the distance appropriate to your relationship. I don't immediately let the horse invade my space. Quite apart from the danger, it puts you on the wrong footing. Once there is total confidence and respect in both directions it becomes another matter."

However they say that "Too strong a use of pressure results in opposition. Why? Because you have introduced the concept of conflict" and that "People have the misguided idea that you must 'win' every disagreement with a horse - but it is not a war. And sometimes you must be prepared to 'lose'."

The book also states that "Confidence between man and horse is not something that arrives on a plate. And you cannot just wait for it passively - you have to work for it. ...We both have to earn it."

Something I found especially interesting was an observation about contact between faces. I have noticed that since I started clicker training my horses love to get their faces close to mine and especially their eye really close to my eye, as if they're trying to peer in and work out what I'm thinking! Fredric and Magali say that once a horse really learns to trust you they find comfort from contact between their face and yours and that it signifies to the horse that "things are good between you. It is the same with two horses who feel good together." Thinking about it horses who are good friends often do stand with their heads close together but it wasn't something I had especially thought about before.

I loved this book - I loved the beautiful Baroque horses and Frederic and Magali's brilliant insights, thoughts and observations. They warn the reader that the book isn't a training manual or method (and they warn against the strict following of methods as every horse is different and unique and should be allowed his quirks and individuality) but I found loads of useful information within it's pages. I loved the way Magali competed at top level dressage to prove that horses can be trained using freedom and fun, and 'tricks', and still achieve top competition results, even with a breed not ordinarily chosen for top level dressage competition. My dream is to one day to prove that clicker training can do the same!


  1. Happy New Year to you all! I can see from your post below that Christmas was absolutely wonderful!!

    This book sounds super and well worth a read. Top trainers who produce the kinds of shows like Cavalia surely have an insight into horse behavior and training AND cooperation beyond the norm. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Happy New Year to you too Jean!

    That's exactly what I thought and the book was even better than I thought it would be - a beautiful book in every way!!!



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