I brought my 3 Iceys to the clinic: Stormur, my 9 yr old gelding who's been
clicker trained since he came to me as a 3 year old, Krafla, a very green 7
yr old mare who came to me last year as a problem horse, and Tíbrá, a 5 yr
old mare who I've had since she was yearling and who I started under saddle
in the last year. She's been clicker trained from the start.
Since we had a lot of horses in the arena at one time, we started with head
lowering on the ground on Saturday. I worked with Tíbrá; Sarah, and later,
Kate, worked with Krafla; and Bob worked with Stormur. My horses have all
done a lot of head lowering, but, being in a different place amongst strange
horses and people, it was a good review for them, especially Krafla.
When Tíbrá felt like she was calm and focusing on me, rather than the other
horses, I mounted her and rode her around the arena, just asking for a calm,
straight walk. She tends to be a very emotional horse and attached to her
herdmates, but she did very well, working away from them and around other
horses, without getting defensive. Several people rode Stormur, while
Krafla worked on getting some duration in the head lowering on the ground.
When Stormur and Krafla were done, they were put into some pens made out of
round pen panels at the end of the arena. Tíbrá had an emotional meltdown.
Being out amongst those other horses was, all of a sudden, very scary. She
wanted to plant herself next to her friends and not move. Alex came to our
rescue and took Tíbrá in hand and worked on some basic stuff that Tíbrá
knows, giving to the bit, softening through the neck and shoulders, and
stepping more under herself with the inside hind leg. We did some circles
and gradually moved away for the pens. When Tíbrá was going well, Alex let
me take over the controls. Tíbrá proceeded to try to drag me back to the
pens. I had to make a wall with my outside rein and leg, while keeping the
bend with my inside hand. Tíbrá was not too happy about this and kept
wanting to stall out or drag me. She did some kicking out with her hind
legs, but I persisted and finally got her paying attention to me. We ended
with a nice, relaxed walk. It was a great lesson for us both!
On Sunday, after a great session with Sarah and Gregor in the morning, and
some neat work on ourselves, learning what it feels like to do shoulder in,
haunches in and reverse arc circle as we walked around the arena, we brought
the other horses out to ride in the afternoon. I rode Tíbrá and some of the
others rode Stormur. Krafla was put in one of the pens at the far end of
the arena. I worked on getting Tíbrá to do a relaxed, walk around the
arena. She was much better than yesterday, even when Stormur went into the
pen. No meltdowns today.
So I switched her with Krafla and started with some ground work with Krafla.
People and horses were starting to leave and we ended with Dolores and
Cadbury, Julie and Allie and me and Krafla in the arena. Krafla has a
history of aggression with other horses. She believes in attacking first
and asking questions later. She is really a very sweet horse, but VERY
insecure. So it's really important with her to stay focused on the work at
Alex made 2 circles out of cones. Julie and Dolores worked around one set
of cones and I worked around the other. I rode Krafla, doing another
version of the good, better, best exercise: walking across the circle to a
cone and circling it, then going across the circle to another cone and
repeating, using a single rein. I was falling into my old bad habits of
pulling Krafla around, rather than just asking for lots of gives to the bit
and waiting for it. But once I got it right, she did very well.
Then we all walked around the perimeter of the arena, single file, and
practiced moving the horse off of the wall and then back, as if going around
another horse. At first, Krafla did a big spook while going by Panda, but
she settled down quickly and was able to do the exercise. All in all, a
great clinic. Thank you, Dolores, for all your hard work making it
possible. And thank you, Alex, for being patient with us slow learners and
sharing your knowledge with us all!
By Sue Kolbo
Well, in response to public demand (:>....really, I have had so many people
ask me about this mysterious clicker training, once they see what my 10
horses can do and how they behave around people, I just had to "bow to
pressure" and GIVE A CLINIC!
On the spur of the moment, now that our weather finally decided to drop
reliably below 100°, I put out the word to a few friends that the time was
right and I'd like to give a free clinic to introduce this fabulous
technique to our horse community. With only 2 days warning and no
publicity, we had an amazing 15 people and 5 outside horses come over on
Saturday for a one-day session.
Using Alexandra's format that I learned from her Eugene clinic, we started
with an hour lecture inside the house. This startled some, as they had
arrived at the appointed time and were hovering around the round pen,
waiting for some action. After the inside session, with lecture, practice
clicking (I had free toy clickers I finally found for 28¢ each) for my
face-touching behavior while I talked, and...best of all...having a practice
run with one victim/student being clicked into an unknown behavior by the
rest of us, they were all super-enthusiastic to start with the horses. The
lecture part so impressed the participants that they loudly insisted that a
couple of late-comers couldn't work with the horses because they didn't know
the specifics that our on-timers had learned. Yes!!!
We had a nice gelding that needed lots of "whoa" (with a very receptive
school-teacher owner who really understood and listened to what I was trying
to teach). He finally ended up the clinic by quickly learning to "pick me
up" his owner (who loves to ride bareback) from the 6-ft. fence rail...all
Another beautiful green Paint mare had just come back from 60 days training,
being labeled as having such a bad attitude that she'd never be a good
riding horse. The trainer (who gets money for this!) calls her The Idiot
Pig. Well, doncha know, her owner had her politely asking for which
behavior he wanted next in no time flat. She is quiet and thoughtful...the
antithesis of her former mile-a-minute-talking, bigger bit and martingale
professional trainer. These folks now have themselves a sterling animal to
work with, with a brighter future than being thrown out to make babies in a
I was surprised that my biggest difficulty was with Natural Horsemanship
people. Using the somewhat successful pressure-and-release techniques of
Parelli, one gal insisted she had taught her mare clicker training to lift
her feet for cleaning. Really what she did was pinch the fetlock, the mare
raised her foot, and the owner then clicked and scratched. BTW, this horse
didn't have a clue what the clicker was all about, and was one of the few
horses I've ever been around that I never took my eyes off of. The owner
had been attacked...literally, with bouncing/rearing, flattened ears, and
bared teeth...earlier this week when she asked this 2yo home-bred mare to
move over from her feed bin to allow the owner to pass by. This little
palomino is in for a hard life if she doesn't learn how to behave around
people, but the owner thinks she's just fine. With all the flying hands and
whirling lead rope poppers, the owner is a "Yeah, but..." student. She has
read all John Lyons literature, attended Parelli seminars, gone to the
Sacramento horse expo 3 years in a row, but never actually worked with a
horse with a competent teacher nearby. She "knows it all" already, and is
fascinated by the results of clicker training without opening herself up to
learn the principles.
Same with a young guy who demonstrated how he could back his horse clear
across the round pen by advancing on him and then clicking as the horse
reached the opposite side. He was using pressure and release principles
with his "bigger bubble" posture. It worked, but I pointed out the totally
different direction clicker training went. To his everlasting credit, he
understood, backed down from his very competent Natural Horsemanship
position, and learned exactly what the clicker is all about. He was hugely
successful with both the above-mentioned Paint, and a little sorta-snotty
Shetland 5yo that barged around, dragging its handler from grass tuft to
All in all, a terrific day. I am planning another Fun Day/clinic for
November for the many people who wanted to learn but had other plans already
made for last weekend. This is just a tiny introduction, showing what can
be done. We didn't even use my horses, any one of which could blow away
participants with advanced clicker behavior. These folks were all just
ecstatic to be able to get a horse to touch a cone! Yipee!! I hope to
build a cadre of folks who will want to continue on beyond the introductory
level, even with dogs (and llamas..my next-door-neighbor)...maybe with a
bi-weekly get together. All this, and in macho Cowboy Country USA!!!
Came home from the CT Clinic in Galway tonight to read all of the great
responses to my question about what to do when you are not doing CT ...
I understand so much more now ... my brain is totally fried and on overload
... poor Amador ... no wonder he was getting frustrated with me ... Mundi,
you're right ... we made a deal and he understood the deal better than I did
Until this weekend, I frankly didn't understand that in doing CT we are
entering into a partnership that is just like any other aspect of our work
together ... and that it is not just a game that we do only when I feel like
it and in between other things ... it is so much more ... and I saw it first
hand, up close and personal this weekend.
What I inadvertently did, was betray my horse's trust in a fundamental way
... our relationship has always been about giving and listening on both our
parts ... yes he was frustrated because the vending machine wasn't working
when he was giving me what I had been asking for the day before, but more
than that, my lack of responsiveness was a cue that I wasn't hearing him ...
he's not used to that ... I always listen and respond, I think, and that's
partially why he trusts and depends on me ...
I view CT differently now and need to integrate it into our relationship
together in a more fundamental way ... it seems to me that the communication
that we can develop through CT is much like the communication and partnering
that we see in fine Dressage ... they both look like two paired as one in a
dance ... and each partner is mutually interdependent through their
independence ... the dance emerges over time once both partners have learned
the basic steps ...
I will return to the barn on Tuesday with a new mindset ... and I will begin
where My Boy is ... he will tell me and this time I will listen ... he knows
better than me ... my goals for the day will be based on what he tells me
What else did I learn from this Clinic that I missed in my reading and
viewing of the first 2.5 videos? I totally missed rate of reinforcement ...
mine wasn't nearly high enough ... even though I hadn't gotten very far to
date, I was trying to up the ante too quickly, which would have gotten me in
trouble soon ... I was too rigid in my little goals and not listening to my
CT can be sort of a meditative very relaxing experience ... it is, I think,
about focus, patience, perseverence, calm, and connection in the moment ...
without those elements the dance can not emerge. For those of us who are
newbies at this, that initially takes a huge amount of energy. But watching
other CT folks at the Clinic who had been at this for quite a while I could
see that as soon as they were with their four-legged partners, they were
engaging in that dance and there WAS nothing else.
Alex is what she teaches ... if you know what I mean ... and a Clinic
experience with her is holistic in that way ... there was an ongoing
dialogue ... in the indoor, during lunch, talking about the work in the
indoor, over dinner, looking at videos, putting on boots and tons of
clothing to go back outside ...
And then there is Panda ... I had saved the posts about her because I knew
that they were important but I hadn't read them ... having met Panda I can
now go back to those posts and appreciate what they have to offer ... What a
girl!!! We celebrated her first birthday Friday night with her human Mom,
and Alex, her Nanna and coach. We ate dinner Friday and Sat night in a
circle, with Panda, one German Shepherd and one Australian Cattle Dog
peacefully sleeping in the center of the circle. And, from time to time, a
human moved over or even got up to give couch space to one of the
four-legged creatures. Even as we ate and talked, Alex worked quietly and
effortlessly with Miss Panda ... if you weren't watching you might not even
have noticed Alex at work as Alex never lost track of the discussion at hand
... Panda poses by the way ... and she never had an accident in the house
... okay, well there was one close call ...
Here's hoping that some of my reflections as a newbie will be helpful to
someone else out there who is also just starting out ...
Thank you to Alex, everyone at the Clinic and this List ... what special
people! And Amador thanks everyone too!!
Just returned from another wonderful clinic with Alexandra Kurland in
Galway. Dolores Arste hosted. The good company, interesting stories and
delicious food were incentive enough to attend. But most importantly, I
came away with a good understanding of how to refine my handling practices
with my young mare and what exercises I can do to help us get to our
ultimate goal of her leading quietly by my side.
It was a powerful learning experience to be able to just sit back and
observe a variety of horses with their handlers. It was very helpful for me
to see the horses as they went through a range of emotions while adapting to
a new situation. Seeing the power of the foundation exercises (head
lowering, backing for example) to bring them back into a relaxed, focused
state was really helpful for me. I also saw the immediate effects of
altering one's intent, body language, energy, speed of movement, and timing
of the click. The horses really demonstrated how seemingly small things
make a big difference in their behavior.
I came away feeling more relaxed and confident about where I am with my
horse. I am also more clear how to move forward in areas of her training
where I felt "stuck". I found out where I can be more relaxed and fluid in
my applications, where I need to slow down and take more time and where I
needed to persevere.
Love the positive, supportive atmosphere of these clinics where everyone
is rooting for everyone else.
The first success actually came Friday when Charisma walked into the
trailer without a pause, and rode quietly for more than four hours. I
was very proud of my girl.
Saturday morning I decided to show Charisma the arena before the
clinic began. She was calm and focus until other horses started to
arrive. Then she became visibly upset. When we started the backing
exercise she started a meltdown and Alex suggested we shape the head
down exercise inside one of the temporary stalls so no one would be
hurt. We ended up chunking down the request so that if Charisma stood
still without pawing she was rewarded. That took better than an hour
to accomplish. Then I moved on to head lowering, and finally to
The backing exercise was causing her some real anxiety. Thankfully,
Mundi Smithers joined me at the stall. She took the clicker and
watched the hind legs while I watched the face and shoulder. With two
trainers working with her, Charisma finally settled down and focused.
In order to get the bend in the corner, we had to ask for the tiniest
step backward. Too much pressure and she would swing her haunches
into the center of the stall. Thank you Mundi for all of your
patience and support.
Sunday I asked to experience the lateral ground work with a horse
that already knew what was expected. Alex let me do the shoulder in
work with Stormur. Once I found the correct pressure points, the
sweet black horse performed like a pro. I particularly like the way
he lifted his inside shoulder as he curled around my inside rein.
Alex worked Charisma in the lateral exercises. She was really focused
on getting Charisma to give at the poll without twisting her head and
neck into awkward angles. Clearly this was very difficult for the
mare and Alex rewarded her generously for the slightest try.
Now, at home, I have discovered an interesting hole in the backup
work I have been doing. I had backed arcs in the outdoor arena and so
wasn't aware the Charisma totally refused to back up along a
wall. When I moved the exercise back into her stall, she would
immediately push her haunches away from the wall, so there was no way
to bend her thru the corner. Asking her to move closer to the stall
wall provoked a temper tantrum. Soo. I have had to chunk this
exercise down even more. Currently we are working on backing on a
straight line along the pasture fence. No corners yet. I am asking
that she stay parallel to the fence line and only two feet from the
fence. She can only back one or two steps before the haunches swing
out. I am totally amazed that this is so difficult for her. But it
does explain some other difficulties I have been experiencing so I
think this will be time well spent.
One of the more memorable moments of the clinic occurred Saturday
morning when Charisma was protesting aggressively about the head down
and backing exercises. Alex told me that Clicker Training should not
be used to "sugar coat" unpleasant exercises. I'm still
trying to get a handle on this concept. Am I actually overmatching
Charisma with these simple requests? Is positive reinforcement not
sufficient on its own as a training device?
So thanks everyone, and especially Dolores for this wonderful
opportunity to expand my awareness's. I am looking forward to the
winter get-together to hear everyone's ideas.
Dolores Arste hosted another Alexandra Kurland clicker training clinic
in Galway just before Thanksgiving. I was fortunate enough to be able to
attend, my sixth clinic with Alexandra, all taken this year. Yes, I am
hooked! What keeps me coming back for more is the fact that I am learning
so much more than operant conditioning theory and mechanics. I am also
learning the language and concepts of dressage, John Lyons, and Natural
Horsemanship. I am learning how to train, improve my horses' carriage and
my own riding skills. And having fun while doing it, as well as meeting a
lot of special, supportive people who have fascinating stories to tell.
At each clinic, I have learned something new, something I didn't know
that was missing and that missing piece made a difference in my
training/riding skills. I have watched some masters of training on videos
and at other clinics. But I would come away with the feeling that, although
it was impressive what they could do with a horse, it wasn't something I
would be able to do. With Alex's clinics, I always come away with new
learning that I not only saw but practiced. I come away with a "feel" as
well as a concept. The best part is that I come home with something I can
use right away and it makes a difference.
The big hook that draws me back over and over are the changes that I am
experiencing in my two horses and in myself. We all have learned to be more
focused, are more motivated, and are enjoying our interactions so much more.
My goal for my 12 year old mare has been to be able to take her trail riding
safely, both with other horses and alone. That includes trailering, when
necessary. Understand that my mare had become barn sour and herd bound over
the last several years when it came to trail riding. It began just 3 weeks
after I first purchased her. I was a green rider and trying to follow the
adage of "just make her do it" when she was reluctant to go by some pipes at
the bottom of a field, not far from the barn. That led to her bolting.
Trying to turn her led to both of us going down on a paved road. I was
lucky. I only got a goose egg under my split helmet, two sprained ankles,
and a big dose of fear. My mare was fine but it was now clear to both of us
who was really in charge in our relationship. Happily, I can report that
after 11 months of clicker training (and much learning, mostly mine), my
mare now willingly leaves the barn when I request it and we have wonderful
rides in the 20 acre field near the farm where I board. Last week, I rode
out with another rider. Even though her horse was resistant, jigging, and
determined to go back to the barn and go fast, my mare minded her own
busines, kept a steady relaxed walk and gave me no resistance. Once, when
there was a noise from the nearby woods, she coiled as if to flee. I asked
for a halt. She gave it to me. Click/treat! We went back to the barn on a
loose rein. Oh...as for the trailering, my husband and I successfully
trailered Serena to and from the Groton clinic this past September. While
at the clinic, my mare was calm, responsive and did me proud when we showed
off the new skills we had learned through Alex and clicker training.
One new discovery this week at Dolores' was how to line up my pelvis
over my legs and use my center to keep my legs strong. I finally figured
out the "pinch" that Mary Wanless has described in her books on riding. I
discovered that every time I stretch up to make myself tall, I hollow my
back and lock my pelvis. That makes my balance wobbly and my legs feel
weak. Oh, by the way, I didn't discover this on horseback. It was a new
learning while Alex was having us do the "tai chi walk" down the side of the
ring. We were learning the differences between shoulder-in, reverse arc
circle and haunches in. She told us that if you want to figure out what
your horse is doing or how to have your horse do something, practice it
first in your own body. It worked. We could feel the differences between
haunches in and shoulder in. And I discovered that once I tucked my "tail"
and "lifted my back", my hip was no longer hurting during the make believe
shoulder-in. It felt so much easier.
Thinking about what I felt, made me think about how my mare used to get
a sore hip and she would ask for rubs over her pelvis and hips by backing up
to me. That was back when she was high headed and hollow backed at the trot
and canter, sometimes tripping. Not fun to have your horse go down to her
knees at the canter, for either of you. We thought it was an old injury
bothering her or that she needed a trim from the farrier. But, you know,
she hasn't been asking for back rubs since we have been doing so many head
downs and she hasn't been stumbling since we learned shoulder in...hmmm.
That is what Alex's clinics do for you..start you thinking and wondering and
making connections and finally understanding. Now I know why those lessons
of dressage are so important for me and my horse. She is getting a more
comfortable body and I am discovering how to focus on my pelvis instead of
my legs. Find strength through balance, not gripping.
Understand that I am a pleasure rider, literally. No interest in
competitions, just wanted to get out there in the fields and mosey along
without my horse tripping or bolting. Never appreciated how much training
it takes to get a solid trail horse. Never had any interest in
dressage...it was a foreign language for a different kind of person. Wrong.
I am learning that language and the skills. Discovered dressage could get
my my horse off her forehand, supple her, strengthen her, make her light and
balanced. She had been stiff necked, hard mouthed, resistant and people
complained about how much work it was to ride her. No more. She is so much
lighter, she is responsive. Reaching around for the treats suppled her.
She muscled up, improved her top line...and it was done at the walk with a
lot of click/treats. Every time we stopped she had to shift her weight back
to reach around for the treat. Now she no longer shifts back. She is
already there. Best part is that I no longer get back aches when I ride and
it has been a long time since Serena tripped at the trot. (We have a ways
to go before we go back to canter, but it will come.)
Sunday afternoon, Julie had me click her mare, Allie, for "the pose"
while Julie groomed her. She wanted to make sure Allie was keeping her head
vertical and centered in front of her chest so she asked me to stand in
front. Within minutes, we had Allie shifting her weight back during the
pose. When I came home, I tried it out on my mare. I had taught her the
pose at the Groton clinic...free shaping her in her stall every time I
happened by. I came home and waited longer before clicking the pose. It
wasn't long before Serena was arching her neck beautifully and there it was,
a weight shift. Click! Now we are practicing a chain of give at the jaw,
preak at the poll, elevate sternum, shift back...hold that posture and walk
forward....Click! I think that is called a collected start. Think today I
will try it from the saddle.
Well, I could go on and on like that...little bits and pieces of the
clinics that gave me new tools or insights or "feels". That is what keeps
me going back, time after time. In the first clinic, I learned the theory
and mechanics of clicker training. Then I started learning
"behaviors"...then I learned how to link them. I started learning sequences
or pathways that lead to better balance for my horse and better riding
skills for me. It is similar to learning to read...first you have to learn
the letters, then how they go together in words, then sentences...before
long you are entering whole new worlds through reading. Clicker training
and going to Alex's clinics have been that way for me. I feel like I have
entered whole new worlds with my horses and we are now having wonderful
If you get a chance to go to a clinic, do it. I know I am glad I
For more information and horsemanship tips for handling and training your horses: