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! 
Years ago 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 disappearing 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!
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!’

Sunday, 16 October 2011

What a Difference a Lesson Can Make!!!!

The Centered Riding and lunge lesson I had with Caroline Phillips on her Andalusian stallion has made such a difference to the way I ride Bella and we've both come on in leaps and bounds since.

The most important changes I've made to my riding are that I've really worked on her suggestion to sit more on the back pockets of my trousers and "trust gravity to keep your bum in the saddle". I try so hard to sit lightly that I've now realized I was hardly sitting at all, which meant my weight was too far forward, weighing her forehand down too much. Since I've started sitting down a bit more her front end has come right up underneath me, and her back with it.

She also told me to take my lower leg back slightly when asking for transitions and use it with an imperceptible squeeze, thinking of lifting her stomach up underneath me. She told me to just ask once then wait, expecting the correct response, giving her time to organize herself and respond smoothly. This worked brilliantly from the very first time and Bella is now giving me consistently round, engaged transitions. I now realize that they were a bit hurried and abrupt before.

The third invaluable think I learned was to concentrate on the 'up' movement of the canter, thinking of really trying to draw her back up under me. With my Dales, who are not bred to canter and all seem to find it quite difficult, I've always been so concerned with trying to keep them in canter that I now realize I've been pushing them forward and not helping at all. The difference to Bella's canter already, in a few sessions, is remarkable. She's completely followed my suggestion to bring her back up under me and suddenly she's round and balanced and happy in canter. Her canter feels light footed and soft and sustainable, and that she might one day be able to manage some advanced movements in it. I can't tell you how excited I am about this and what a huge breakthrough it is. Canter was the one pace I thought would always hold us back and suddenly it feels nearly as promising as her trot does!

The last memorable thing I took from the lesson was about rein contact. I like to ride on a long rein and when I've been told in the past to "support the horse with short reins" this has seemed totally wrong to me - the idea of supporting half a ton of horse by a piece of metal in it's mouth!

Caroline told me that although the horse should learn to carry itself on a long rein, when you're training it helps to horse to use the reins to indicate to the horse that you want it to shorten it's frame - that the rein length just sets the frame for the horse to carry itself within, a consistent length for the horse to organize itself within.

I've started shortening the reins with Bella once she's warmed up and she's understood completely and stayed light as a feather on the end of them while shortening her frame to match, which again as helped her to really engage and bring her hind legs further under her and lighten her front end.

Suddenly everything we do feels so much lighter and softer and suddenly she feels like a mature dressage horse. It's wonderful and I think Bella has heaved a sigh of relief - that I'm finally showing signs of getting good enough to do her justice, and of getting out of her way and letting her do her job properly!!!

Photos to follow asap!!!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Getting Back to Work.

I'm finally finding the time and genuine enthusiasm to get on with working with Bella a bit more regularly.

I've been concentrating on clicking the very best, most elevated strides of trot and on getting her to collect underneath me when I collect myself on top. She is excellent at picking up on very subtle cues from me and has me grinning like a Cheshire cat at how clever and tuned in she is.

I alternate this with asking her to really lengthen, then clicking that too, and she does this with enthusiasm now.

With her canter I've worked on clicking her halting from a canter from very subtle cues from me, just as I did with Grace, and she's suddenly decided that cantering isn't nearly as hard work as she thought it was, and the grumpy faces she used to pull when asked to canter are rapidly disappearing and she's really enjoying her canter work at long last!!!

It's strange how much more success I've had with both of them at getting them enthusiastic about cantering by clicking them for halting from a canter, rather than clicking the canter itself. I guess it's because they have to get into a canter to get clicked for stopping, so the sooner they begin cantering the sooner they'll get to the bit they get rewarded for. To quote a Parelli-ism "Horses are great at knowing what happens before what happens happens"!!!!

It's taken a while to get there as Dales are not noted for being good at cantering (as a breed they were actively discouraged from cantering as it was all about pushing them into the fastest, flashiest trot possible) but both Grace and Bella love cantering now and have well balanced and comfortable canters, and I NEVER, EVER thought I'd see that happen!!!!

We also do plenty of Spanish Walk to keep her loose in her shoulders and loading her hind quarters.

For fun I've also begun training her in-hand to do Tinker (Jive Pony)'s little dance (crossing and uncrossing her front legs in time with me) and to pick up my hat and pass it to me when I drop it on the ground. I want to get her doing a little show with me in my wedding dress in June 2012!!!!

I'm very lucky in that now, at the moment anyway, I have no problems to fix with Bella. She gives me her full concentration and enthusiastic co-operation almost all of the time, and even in the face of major distractions I can get her concentration back very quickly and without any fuss. All we have to do now is build on what we've already achieved and for me to to get Bella fitter and stronger, so she gradually keeps on offering me even more expression and elevation.

Well, it sounds easy, doesn't it?!!!!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Dreaming of Passage on a Black Hairy Pony.

This blog is about my beloved Bella. She is an eight year old 14hand 2ins Dales mare. Her registered name is Daloumie Arabella and she is by a stallion called Wolsey Master Oliver and out of a mare called Daloumie Melody.

My late partner, David, bought her for me when she was just a year old. We have done all our training together and by ourselves, so far. No-one else has ever so much as sat on her.

We have so far mastered Spanish Walk together, all of the lateral movements in walk and some in trot, and my dream is for us to master all the advanced movements and to compete at as high a level as we can manage - not to try to win - just to prove that an endangered rare breed pony and an ordinary rider can do just about anything if they try hard enough.

Just to be there with alongside the professionals with my little old black hairy pony who gave me her heart when I discovered clicker training a few years ago. That's my dream.

Now the hard work to achieve it begins in earnest. We have the rest of our lives together to get there, and I believe that we'll do it!!!