equine clicker training

using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people

Alexandra Kurland on Connections and Micro-riding

Micro-riding was the theme of the 2008 clinic season with Alexandra Kurland.  The two posts copied below were originally written for the “the_click_that_teaches” yahoo list and Alex has given me permission to share them here. The first post (5056) is about micro-riding. The second post (5346) starts out exploring the connections between grown-ups and the progression to riding and then connects that to micro-riding. If you are interested in learning more about micro-riding, I have a description of it in the clinic report for July 2008 – which can be found in the article: Clinic reports 2006 – 2008. Alex also has a DVD on micro-riding.

Post 5056

It’s been ages since I’ve sent anything to the list.  I haven’t disappeared down a rabbit hole.  I’ve been nose to grindstone working on not one, but two new DVDs. The first one is titled “Capture the Saddle: The Mounting Block Lesson”.  Yes, we are finally getting to riding!  

The mounting block lesson is a much needed step in the progression from ground work to riding.  At many of the clinics I give people will bring their horses in all saddled up, thinking they are going to ride, but their horses have other ideas.  The rider walks her horse up to the mounting block, and the horse sidles away.  The rider is frustrated, but I’m delighted.  It means we get to work on the mounting block lesson!   This lesson is really more about making sure the rein is connect to the horse’s hind end than it is about getting on.  Great mounting-block manners are a by-product of this lesson, but the main purpose is to confirm that the horse understands and is comfortable with rein mechanics before the rider gets on.  

Once I have the rider up, I can’t really end the DVD there, so it also covers the beginning steps of single-rein riding.  The DVD covers a very simple exercise that introduces the rider to single-rein riding.  The horse I feature was a very wiggly fellow, one of those horses who never really goes where his rider is intending, at least not without a lot of holding things together with the reins.  By the end of the session, he’s working on a long rein, staying beautifully with his rider.  

Because he was so wiggly, I could highlight many important details of single-rein riding.  I can show you the turns where the horse was able to drift through the rider’s seat and hands, and I can also show you the changes the rider made which stopped the drift.  Click and treat for both of them!   I ended up with more material than I could cover in just one DVD so as soon as I finished the mounting block DVD, I started a second one: “Riding on a Triangle: From the Mounting Block Lesson to Three-Flip-Three”.  I’m still working on that DVD.  My travel season has slowed down progress.  I was hoping to get it done before the end of May, but it looks as though it will more likely be July before I get it out.

These two DVDs are so interrelated that I decided to wait until both are finished to release them.  So while this email so far may sound like a new DVD release announcement, all I’m really doing is letting you know why I haven’t been posting to the list for the past month and more.  

Clinic Themes

My real intent in writing this email was to share with you some of the discoveries that have been emerging from the spring clinics. I’m just back from the first round of this year’s advanced trainings.  The clinics are constantly evolving.  The overall format of the clinics has remained fairly constant, but the content shifts, grows, evolves with every clinic. And every year a general theme seems to emerge for the clinic season.      A couple years back the clinics centered around the importance of good food delivery.  You wouldn’t think something that sounds so very basic could take on the importance of an entire year’s clinic theme, but sloppy food delivery can undermine what is otherwise good training.  And good food delivery can become an amazingly powerful training tool.    

Last year’s theme was definitely micro-shaping.  We had tremendous fun with that one. Over the winter I produced the “Microshaping: Learning to See the Smallest Try” DVD which formally introduced the microshaping strategy and “Equine Pilates”.     When the clinic season wound down last fall, I had no idea what the clinic theme for 2008 would be. It emerges out of the work I do over the winter with my own horses. I never know what is going to be relevant to other horses until I start teaching in the spring.  It’s an interesting process, one that keeps me on my toes, constantly exploring the leading edges of this work.     So what is this year’s theme?  In a nutshell: Micro-riding.

I introduced Micro-riding at the Toutle WA advanced training a couple of weekends ago, and again at the Groton and Calgary clinics.  So what is micro-riding?

It evolved out of micro-shaping.  If we’re going to have fine-tuned horses, we need to make sure we have fine-tuned riders to go along with them. So now that I have people looking at the level of detail  that micro-shaping horses entails, we’re ready to turn our attention to the rider.  

The Micro-shaping Strategy for Horses

In all three clinics I introduced people to micro-riding by first showing them clips from the Micro-shaping DVD.  For those of you who have the DVD, we watched the first part of Lottie’s sessions, and a bit of the third horse, Erin.  

I wanted to tune everyone’s eye to the level of detail that that DVD shows so well.  I wanted them thinking micro, and the best way to do that was to watch the DVD together.  I also wanted to remind them of the micro-shaping strategy.  

The micro-shaping strategy refers to a process where you alternate between two distinct behaviors or clusters of behaviors.  You have your primary behavior, the one you are working on to improve in some way, and you have a secondary behavior that you use to give your horse a little break.

The spotlight behavior can be anything.  In the microshaping DVD we were focusing on freeshaping so you could easily end up thinking that the spotlight behavior has to be one where only freeshaping is used.  But micro-shaping can be used in a wide variety of learning situations.  When you slide down a lead and ask for a give from your horse, you are shaping on a point of contact.  

The question is are you a lumper waiting for a big move, or a micro-shaper, recognizing the subtle shift that is the true give?

Over the winter I used the micro-shaping strategy quite a lot with Robin.  We were working in-hand.  We’d do a bit of work on our primary behavior, then we’d switch over to the secondary behavior.  Robin wasn’t that interested in simple targeting. His secondary behavior involved modifier cues – touch left or right.  That’s a behavior that has a huge reinforcement history behind it.  It’s something he enjoys and is good at, so it was the perfect secondary behavior to use.  

I’d do a bit of in-hand work.  We’d be fine tuning some element that had a bit of a snag in it.  We’d get a series of clicks in, then I’d drop the lead and shift to standing in front of him.  With my hands behind my back, I’d give him the cue “Touch left” or “Touch right”.  Then I’d hold out both hands and he’d touch the one I’d asked for.  Click and treat.  We’d repeat this a few times, then we’d go back to work on the primary behavior.
Over the winter I was very pleased at how smoothly our sessions went, and how much progress we made.

The micro-shaping strategy was clearly helping Robin get past the little snags that had crept into his work.  

I think in part what this strategy does is it says “yes” to a block of work.  Suppose someone is teaching you a complex task.  You’ve worked out the first few steps more or less. You’re being pretty successful so you’re on a high rate of reinforcement.  You’re happy.  The clicks are coming at a goodly clip.  You feel as though you’re really understanding what is wanted.  

But then your partner shifts to a slightly different criterion.  Suddenly the clicks aren’t coming at such a fast rate.  You’re confused.  Were you wrong?  Was what you thought he wanted really not what he wanted after all.  You start experimenting, moving away from your original successes.  The rates of reinforcement drop even more, and now you’re both feeling a bit frustrated. Your trainer isn’t sure what went wrong or what to do to get you back on track. And you’re feeling totally confused because what you thought was working isn’t anymore.  What a mess!

That’s one scenario.  Here’s another.  You’re learning something new. You work out the first few steps more or less. You’re being pretty successful so you’re on a high rate of reinforcement.  You’re happy.  The clicks are coming at a goodly clip.  You feel as though you’re really understanding what is wanted.  

You offer a particularly good effort that contains within it the seeds of the next criterion.  Your partner wants to emphasize that good moment and let you know that you are very much on the right track.  He clicks at just the perfect moment, and then he brings out a target to touch.  Click/treat, click/treat.  You do a short series of target touches, then it’s back to the previous behavior.  Only now your partner has had a slight shift in criterion.  The clicks are a little slower in coming, but you feel confident that you are on the right track.  Those target touches told you that that little unit of work you just did was good.  It’s something you want to keep.  

You may be focusing slightly elsewhere, but you know that that unit is part of the larger whole.  Instead of shifting away from it, you know you can use it as a building block in the next little unit your partner is working on.  You don’t feel confused or frustrated because the targeting has given you this strong confirmation that you are on the right track.  When you get another little piece of the puzzle, your partner again offers you the target to touch.  More clicks!  More success.  More great confidence that you are understanding the game!

I think this is how the horses use the secondary behavior.  It doesn’t just give them a small break.  That’s certainly important. Little units of process time are clearly very important.  But more that that, adding a secondary behavior is a huge confidence builder.  

This may be anthropomorphizing how the secondary behavior works, but however it functions, the horses have been telling me this strategy works.  If you are freeshaping a new task, if you are dealing with emotional issues, if you are working through a snag in your training, it is absolutely worth incorporating it into the process.

The Microshaping Strategy for People

Over the winter I was playing with this concept quite a lot with Robin, and I was also exploring some minutia in my riding with Peregrine.  I was thinking about bone rotations and Peregrine would answer with some of the best trot work I’ve ever had from him.  He’s twenty-three now so that’s saying a lot.  

I love a process where the horses just keep getting better and better.  But how do you teach this!?  I was thinking about rotating my thigh bone.  Not my thigh.  My thigh bone, and Peregrine would feel that and change.  But if you tell someone to rotate their thigh bone, they go into “try” mode.  They over do.   They turn it into a macro movement with everything being done on the outside, not the inside. The results are just not the same.  

They get stiff and blocked trying so hard to do so little.  We have to go to images, to metaphors to try to approach what I want.  With just words who knows what is really going on.  When I tell you I was rotating my thigh bone, what does that mean to you?  It’s so clear to me, but I’m pretty sure most of you reading this wouldn’t come anywhere close to my interpretation – not from the words alone.

Over the winter I really wasn’t thinking about how to teach what Peregrine and I were doing.  I was just enjoying our time together.  I was playing with an idea I had gotten from James Shaw, the t’ai chi specialist.  We’d been talking as always about bone rotations, only this time it was about rotating thigh bones.  James was telling me about the great changes he was seeing in riders as they learned to use this bone rotation.

So that’s what I was thinking about as I rode Peregrine.  I wasn’t trying to rotate my thigh.  I was thinking about rotating the bone itself.  As I thought about it, I could feel my thigh bone rotate.  Now of course, muscle has to contract in order for a bone to move, but this rotation was at the level of a micro-movement.  It was thought only that created the rotation, not the “trying” action of macro changes.  

The feeling of the bone rotating was clear to me, and it was absolutely clear to Peregrine.  When I accessed this micro-rotation, his trot changed underneath me.  It grew bigger, more suspended, and absolutely glorious to ride.  I changed my thought.  He changed in conjunction.  What fun!  We continued to play.  I was riding at the level of micro-movements, a breath into a muscle and he changed underneath me, giving me precise transitions which flowed effortlessly amazing trot work and some of the best canter I’ve ever ridden.  

The night before I flew out to the WA clinic Peregrine gave me the gift of a glorious ride.  I think he was telling me I needed to share micro-riding. Robin had given me micro-shaping.  Now it was his turn for the clinic theme.   It was time to turn the spotlight onto the riders and bring them into sync with the fine-tuned, listening horses we were creating through the micro-shaping process.

So at the WA clinic I tested out a new teaching strategy.  I must say people were wonderfully good sports to indulge me in my little experiment.  We began by watching part of the Micro-shaping DVD.  I wanted to set the stage, to tune everyone’s eye to the level of detail I was talking about.  It wasn’t enough just to talk about Microshaping.  

I wanted people to see it in action and the most efficient way to do that was through the DVD.  I think the success of the weekend was very much dependent upon the use of this DVD.  Having those common images as our starting point brought everyone’s focus down to the level of detail I wanted to explore.  We were indeed exploring riding within, discovering a level of body awareness many have not experienced before.

But it wasn’t enough to be thinking at a micro level.  I wanted to use the micro-shaping strategy.  This was the new piece.  I wanted to take a horse-training strategy and apply it to the teaching process for people. The outer structure of what we did is easy to describe.  The inner world that was revealed is harder.  

Here’s the lesson:  

I had people work in groups of two or three.  One person was the rider, the focus of the shaping process.  The second person was the monitor.  The third person was the coach.  The coach watched for such details as the timing of the click and the mechanics of the shaping process.  She also had the fun job of watching for changes in the person who was being micro-shaped.  

It can sound as though the coach didn’t have a lot to do, but this process is a wonderful one for enhancing observational skills.  And the coach played a very important role in making sure mechanics remained clean, that the monitor was not leaving her hand up all the time or whisking it away before the click.  She also sometimes needed to remind the monitor that it had been a while since she’d switched over to targeting.

The monitor was the person doing the clicking.  She put her hand on her partner’s shoulder.  Her job was to feel through her finger tips subtle changes in her partner’s body and to click for micro-responses. 

There is, of course, a technique to resting your hand on someone’s shoulder.  If you press too hard, you’ll inhibit both your ability to feel, and your partner’s ability to create the subtle changes you’re looking for.  On the other hand, if you are too tentative, it can be distracting.  I usually cup my hand slightly so my palm does not rest on my partner’s shoulder, only my finger tips.  And I think about the contact I might have with a cat.  I could place my fingers on my cat so that her fur is pressed down, or I could rest them more lightly so that her fur is not disturbed.  It is this later quality that I am looking for. 

That’s what the coach and the monitor were doing.  Now what about the rider?  How do you describe what she was doing?  Her role was to focus within.  She was having a freeshaping/Feldenkrais/tag teaching session all rolled into one.  When I began with people, I told them to think about their shoulder blades.  That’s all the instruction they were given.  

“Think about your shoulder blades.”

I would be listening for a response through my finger tips.  That’s in large measure what this lesson was about for the monitor – learning to listen.  I was feeling for movement, any movement, no matter how subtle under my finger tips.  I was not looking for the big movement you’d feel when someone, for example, hunches their shoulders.  This was much more subtle, below the level of our usual awareness.  The first time I clicked, the rider usually looked puzzled.  She hadn’t felt anything.  How could I be clicking for something she wasn’t even aware of?

“Think about your shoulder blades,” I would say again.  I’d wait with my eyes closed, listening inside, and again I would feel that tiny hint of movement through fingers.  Click.

We didn’t worry about delivering any treats.  The click was information.  We trusted that it would be enough without any need for additional reinforcers.   Immediately after I clicked, I took my hand away for a brief moment.  The click was important.  The release was important.  They created a series of discrete learning events for both monitor and rider.

I would click my partner several times for that oh so subtle shift under my fingertips, then I offered her my hand as a target.

Now this part may sound almost silly.  The targeting may make sense for the horses, but it’s meaningless for people – right?  


In all three clinics everyone agreed that the targeting was a much welcomed, and very essential part of the process.  This micro-riding process requires intense focus.  The targeting provided welcome breaks.  I know in the mornings when I was the monitor for eight or nine people, I could not have sustained that level of intense concentration without the breaks and process time the targeting provided.  And for my riders, I think it was even more valuable because most of them were not used to this level of internal concentration and focus.  

In the clinic I just finished people started referring to the targeting as their “cookie”.  If one of the monitors forgot to switch over to the targeting, the rider began to demand her “cookie”.  I thought it was interesting how quickly the targeting took on this meaning for them.

So while it might have seemed a little strange at first to be having someone target a pen, or your outstretched hand, it very quickly became a well-integrated and much welcomed part of the process.

After the first targeting session, I would ask my rider to think about moving her shoulder blade in a particular direction.  Now this was interesting.  People would begin by either doing nothing at all or way too much.  For example, if I asked them to move their shoulder blade up, they’d begin by hunching their shoulder up, but that’s not what I was looking for.  I wanted their shoulder blade to move.  

Our shoulder blades have been with us all our lives, but it’s amazing how little direct control we have over them.  What is normal is that they have become “attached” to our ribs and held tight by muscles we are no longer overtly aware of.  

So the question was: “What can you let go of to move your shoulder?”

I was listening, waiting with my finger tips for the first signs of the answer.  I’d feel it as a slight breath that released a bit of tension in their back and allowed their shoulder to move.  It was never much.  I was listening for the beginnings of movement, the micro-movement that creates the larger response.

One quick aside: I keep using the word “listening”.  The pragmatists among you will read this literally and be confused.  “What sound could she be hearing?  I thought this was about muscles moving? How does that make a detectable sound?  Maybe a bat could hear these changes, but surely not a human!”

There are many ways to listen.  I am using that word quite deliberately.  The American Heritage dictionary defines listen in this way: be attentive, attend, concentrate.  Those are good words.  Listening means you are focused on someone else.  You aren’t formulating your next response.  You are attentive to what they are saying.  In this case, the listening was done through my finger tips.  I was waiting for a tiny breath of movement.  Click!  Take my hand away.  Repeat.

Learning to listen, to truly listen to your horse is an important skill, a great gift.   Listening means with your whole being.  This process takes you another step inside his world.  Listen with your finger tips, with your breath, and he will answer with his heart. 

Listening and answering takes tremendous focus so again after three or four clicks, I’d give my partner a break and let her touch the target a couple of times. 

Then back to monitoring.  I’d close my eyes and ask my partner to think about moving her shoulder blade down.  Sometimes down would be easier than up, or vice versa.  And sometimes down would not be there at all.  It was all good learning.  

“What could you let go of to find down?”  The answer never came directly from me.  It had to be found by the rider, but click! the first hint of it was clearly marked.

We explored up and down, in toward the mid-line, out away from the mid-line.  

That was usually enough for the first session.  Watching each rider we saw huge outward changes created from these ever so subtle shifts.  Everyone looked so much more grounded and balanced.  They reported that they felt great.  That their usual stiffnesses and habitual aches were gone.  In the afternoon sessions out in the arena their horses told us they very much liked the changes in their riders.

Day Two

We could have explored this micro-riding strategy in just one of our group sessions and then moved on to other things, but I knew it was important to revisit this lesson.  Done once, it is an interesting exercise in body awareness, but it doesn’t become a clinic take-away.  You need to experience it over several days to see how much each person changes.  Is Day two just a repeat of Day one?  Or has the level of internal control and awareness increased?  That was the question I posed to the group at the beginning of our second morning session. 

We worked in the same small groups that we had the day before.  I kept hearing from each group delighted comments about how much more people were feeling.  The monitors were more confident about what they were clicking their partner for.   And the riders all had much more of a range of movement in their shoulder blades.

So now it was time to take them deeper into this inner world of riding awareness.  I led the group through a demo of the next stage in this process.  

With my hand on my partner’s shoulder, I asked her to think about the top of her femur.  Again that’s all the instruction I gave.

 “Think about the top of your thigh bone.”

I stood behind her, eyes closed, hand on her shoulder blade, listening for that first hint of awareness.  It was always tentative, more imagined than real, but it was there none the less, a subtle change in the breath that took her thoughts beyond the habitual holding in her diaphragm.   Through her shoulder blade, I could sense this slight shift in balance. Click!  Take the hand away.

“Think about the top of your femur.” 

Listen, eyes closed, waiting.  There it was again, that faint whisper of awareness.  Click.

“Think about the top of your femur.”  

Again it was there, clearer this time, more definite.  Click!  Target.

From this awareness I directed people to think about rotating their thigh bone out, and later in.  This was very revealing for people.  Some people were clearly very one sided. And of course this was reflected in the one sidedness of their horses.  “Oh! – no wonder I can’t get both canter leads!” I heard more than one rider exclaim.

From the thigh bone we moved on again, thinking now about the “bubbling spring”, the balance point of the foot.  I would wait, listening for that first sign that the rider could take her awareness past the normal tightness in her pelvis, past the below-conscious-awareness holding of her breath to find her feet.  Click!
For some people this was enough for this session.  We ended there, but with others we could move on to another level of this work.  I could begin to ask riding questions.  “What does a transition feel like?”  “What does a turn feel like?”

We explored this on a micro-riding level.  With my hand on her shoulder I would ask my partner to think about an up transition.  Sometimes I felt nothing, or I would feel a disconnection from her grounded structure.  No wonder she had to do so much on the macro level to get her horse to move!

So we borrowed some ideas from James Shaw, the t’ai chi specialist whose work I have shared before.  We experimented with micro-movements of the shoulder blades which let people breath into the back of their hearts.  That’s one of the eight energy gates James talks about.  It lies between the shoulder blades.  Most of us pull our shoulder blades in or at least hold them so tight that we can’t really breath into our backs.  Our breath gets caught in our upper chest.  We may try breathing deeper, letting our breath fill our abdomen, but we often still keep the below-awareness tension in our backs.

This micro-riding process opened up that awareness and let people experience what it meant to breath into their back, into their ribs, their pelvis, even their feet.  When the rider found her bubbling spring, you could almost feel her horse springing up underneath her into a beautiful transition.  What did a down transition feel like?  Not a blocking or bracing against energy.  It was a thought translated by breath and micro-movements, clear, quiet, powerful.

This was usually as far as I took people on this second day.  Again, looking around at each of the groups, we saw huge changes.  Everyone looked relaxed, but oh so wonderfully grounded.  People reported feeling so much better.  Various habitual aches and pains were no longer bothering them, a very welcome side benefit to this exploration of riding.  

What does my horse do when I . . . ?

In the afternoon the horses again told us that whatever we had been doing in the morning they were liking very much.  I know I was.  I was seeing enormous shifts in the quality of the rope handling and the riding.  People were softer, quieter, more deliberate.  They got so much more from so much less.  

We played the “What does my horse do when I  . . . ?” game. 

  • “What does my horse do when I breath into the back of my heart?” 
  •  “What does my horse do when I rotate my inside thigh bone to the outside?” 
  •  “What does my horse do when I breath my shoulder blades down?”  

It’s an observe without judgment exercise.  You aren’t trying to make a specific response happen.  You are collecting data.  You’re seeing what response your horse gives you to each of these subtle changes. I described this exercise in the riding book, but there’s so much packed into that book I think many people miss it completely.  

Whether you are an experienced rider micro-riding from the inside or a more novice rider macro-riding on the outside this is a useful process to explore.  It raises a lot of questions.  How independent is your seat, are your hands?  Can you move just your right shoulder or does your whole torso also move even when that’s not your intent?  How does your horse interpret these actions?  What do they mean to him?  Does he indeed turn when that is your intent?  Or does he do something else?  Do these changes in your position mean anything to him or do you need to add more information to get his attention?

In clicker training parlance what are your cues?  If this were a dog would “sit” spoken softly be enough to get a response, or would you need to add a hand cue, stand in a specific orientation to your dog, be wearing a pink hat, while also standing on one foot with your left hand behind your back?  How clear and specific are your cues? Or have you muddied them up over time and created superstitious links you never intended?
Does your cue have a “get ready, get set, go” component to it, or does your horse take off at the first hint of the cue whether that’s what you wanted or not.  If you think about cantering, is he already up and running, or does he wait as you breath into your back signaling him to get ready before transitioning on your specific “go” cue?

With the fine-tuning of awareness these questions became all the more interesting.  The answers created some spectacular work.  It’s hard to single out any one horse.  We had such great work from everyone, but one of the standouts was certainly Marla Foreman’s anglo-arab, Beauty.  Beauty is an exceptional athlete.  Marla has gotten used to the first part of every lesson being simply about gawking at her gorgeous horse.  
Beauty is always fun to watch, but the rides she had in this spring’s WA clinic were exceptionally gorgeous.  

On the last day Marla rode her in the outdoor arena.  We’d had snow the day before.  It had melted away by the time we went out to the arena, but the footing was soggy in sections, and the horses had chewed it up playing in the snow the day before.  It was far from an ideal dressage arena, but that was our work space.  Beauty floated over it as though it was the most perfectly groomed surface.  Marla commented several times on how easily Beauty was handling the footing.  

Her trot was certainly spectacular, very cadenced, beautifully suspended.  It was the best I’ve ever seen her go.  And then Marla lost her micro-riding concentration for a moment, and Beauty got a little strung out.  Suddenly she was stumbling over the ruts in the footing.  Ground which just a moment before had made no difference, now was tripping her up.  Marla and Beauty regrouped.  They regained their micro-connections, and the ground evened out underneath them.  It became the well-groomed surface that it had not been just a moment before.  The contrast in Beauty’s ability to handle the uneven footing was a wonderful illustration of the importance of looking within for riding answers.

Day Three

On the third morning we again worked in our groups of three, and people noticed even more changes.  The monitors found it even easier to track changes and to feel subtle shifts.  And the riders were all so much more internally aware.  

When the changes we’re looking for are so very, very small it seems wrong somehow to say that their range of movement was so much greater, but that’s a very accurate statement.  When you release the habitual tension that normally restricts joints, the ease of movement within each joint becomes so much greater.

On day three we reviewed the work of the day before, and then we explored to an even greater degree micro-riding.  Again I asked my riders to think about an up transition, or a down transition.  

What do you do when you think about a turn? What could you access now that you can breath into the back of your heart, now that you can think about your thigh bone and have it rotate?  What happens when your thoughts bubble up energy through your feet?  

When you slide down a rein or a lead, while you’re waiting – listening – for a give from your horse, what could you release that would help him to find the feel you are looking for?  What do I feel under my hand that I can click?

Again, no answers were given, just the freedom to explore.  The click marked changes I could track with my finger tips.

I loved this process.  It gave us a way to ask questions of one another.  “What do you do when you ask your horse for more energy?  How do you use your seat, your back through transitions?” 

The language of riding is such a challenge.  We’re trying to transform a physical experience into words, a weak translation at best.  Here through our fingertips was a way past the words into real awareness. In each of the clinic groups we had a wonderful opportunity to compare notes and learn from each other.  We had some very experienced riders who added some wonderful insights into what it means to ride on the inside.  What a great gift these riders shared with everyone in the group.  

I hope some of the people who participated in these clinics will jump in with their own observations and ah has.  What did you learn?  What did you take away from these experiences.  I know what I saw later when we worked with the horses – more energy in all gaits, clean, crisp transitions, softer handling with less overt action.  The morning sessions certainly made my job as a riding coach so much easier.

And what did my own horses tell me about micro-riding?  When I got back from the Groton clinic, it had been at least ten days since any of the horses had been worked.  Peregrine in particular usually takes a few days to get back on track.  But on the day after I got back I took him into the arena and was blown away by the quality of his trot.  He was telling me whatever I’d been doing over the weekend – he was liking a lot.  

I’ve shared this micro-riding process with three groups now, and with each clinic I’ve taken people a little further into this exploration of riding from the inside.  We’re learning to listen, to observe, to feel.  We’re learning to understand and use subtle shifts in breath and muscle tension.

We’re finding those little places where we hold tight and block the ease of movement, and we’re learning to breathe into those places, to let go.  We’re finding a way past trying so hard we end up creating tension.  Instead of trying and becoming tight, we’re learning to think and allow, and we’re discovering a connection with our horses that goes beyond the ability of words to describe.

And speaking of words.  I’ve written enough of them for one post.  I wish you all great rides, and I look forward to sharing this process with all of you I’ll be seeing at this year’s clinics.

  Alexandra Kurland, theclickercenter.com

Post 5346

I haven’t written anything for a long time so I’m guessing this is going to be a long post.  I’ll begin with the usual thank yous to the rest of you who have been posting, most especially for the recent posts on the June clinics and the micro-riding.  They’ve made for great reading.  The current threads have been excellent.

Perfect Horse Article

Before I jump in to the clinic catch-ups, several people have mentioned the Perfect Horse article on trick training.  This is now the third article of mine that has appeared in the Perfect Horse magazine.  When the first two articles came out last year, I asked people to write to the editors to let them know how much you appreciated seeing articles on clicker training.  They clearly were listening as evidenced by this latest article.  

So once again, I’d like to ask everyone to send The Perfect Horse an email, thanking them for including the article in the magazine.  Perhaps you could share stories of your own favorite, clicker-trained tricks.  You can send your emails to: Jenifer Sullivan at: jenny@…

Clinic Reports

It’s hard to know where to begin.  I’m just back from a month of traveling.  Beginning at the beginning is usually the way to start, but I think in this case, I’ll jump in more in the middle.  I had the very great privilege this past month of spending some time with Becky Chapman.  Becky is one of Mary Wanless’ senior instructors, and she is also a clicker trainer.  She runs a training program that is totally committed to clicker training.  When people send their horses to her, it is with the understanding that she will be clicker training them.  It’s been fun for me over the years that I have known Becky to watch her integrate more and more of the clicker training into her existing program.  

On the way from the train station I was asking her what she’d been learning over the past year.  She talked about how much more she’s been using the foundation lessons in her training and teaching, and how she keeps finding herself using phrases she’s picked up from me.  Spooky really.  We had a good laugh over the sound of my voice echoing in her head as she reminds people that “everything is everything else.”   

Throughout my visit I made sure to use as many of these catch phrases as possible, but three really stood out. Everything is everything else – yes absolutely.  And add to that two more principle ones for this current round of clinics: “a give is a little thing, not a big thing” and “single-rein riding is not single-hand riding.”


Everything is everything else speaks to the connections between ground work and riding, between the foundation lessons and the more complex exercises that follow.  Years ago the historian, James Burke, created a television series called “Connections”.  He presented history as an intriguing jig saw puzzle linking a discovery made a thousand years ago to some modern day invention.  The connections were never straight forward, and his journey through each link in the chain took him all over the world.  

Everything linked to everything else.  He spoke at a whirlwind speed.  At the end of each hour, I remember having been thoroughly entertained, but also totally overwhelmed by the amount of information he threw at you.  How had he turned gold into nuclear weapons, looms into computers?  It was all too much to remember, but it gave me an immense appreciation for connections.

Seeing connections is an important part of clicker training and more particularly of the t’ai chi rope handling skills.  I know when people first encounter this work, they feel the way I did when I tried to follow all the twists and turns of a James Burke history lesson.  “Where had we been?  Tell me again how this step led to that one?  My head is spinning and I feel lost.”  

When the show first aired back in the seventies, there were no VCRs to record the program, no ordering the DVDs from Netfix. If you didn’t follow everything on the first run through, you had to wait until your local public television station ran it’s annual fundraiser and showed the series again.

It takes more than one repetition to understand all the connections.  That’s true of a James Burke history lesson, and it’s certainly true of clicker training.  As I’ve become fond of saying, I’ve been to all my clinics, and I’m still seeing connections that I didn’t appreciate before.

The clinics this past month really drove home the point.  It’s easy to think of the different exercises as separate, distinct lessons.  Grown-up, head lowering, “why would you leave me?”, etc. could all be thought of as isolated units, not as links in a chain.  But when you begin to see the connections between them, when you see how the new skill you learn for one makes the next exercise possible, you begin to appreciate the details of the lessons, and – swoosh! – that takes you into micro-shaping, micro-riding and macro-success.

This past month my own whirlwind tour of connections began with what was essentially a five day course at Nick’s.  The first two days were a start-up/ clicker review.  The last three days took us beyond basics into lateral flexions and the set-up for single-rein riding.

At times I felt like James Burke racing through the centuries trying to squeeze in as much as I possibly could into the small amount of time I had with people.  In the first course we began with basics, with grown-ups are talking and finessing some of the other foundation lessons.

Grown-ups are talking is such a key lesson.  Everything flows out of it, all the details of the mechanic, all the steady, non-reactive clicker-training focus. Out of grown-ups evolves the mechanics of single-rein riding.  All the time you are practicing this lesson, teaching your horse patience and good emotional control, you are also creating habit patterns that will serve you well when you ride. 

Sound confusing? Intriguing? As mysterious as James Burke spinning nuclear energy out of gold dust?  Here are the connections:

Grown-ups is a rung on a ladder.  The supports of the ladder are built on the principle that you can’t ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your horse.  At the stage where you are teaching your horse clicker basics you have not yet activated the lead.  Now that doesn’t mean that your horse doesn’t yet have an understanding of lead ropes.  All of the horses we’re working with at clinics know more or less how to lead, but the lead rope has not yet been turned into a clicker-training tool.

That means for grown-ups it’s out of bounds.  Yes, I could slide down the lead to move my horse’s nose away from my treat pouch, but I would be violating my foundation principle. I don’t want to use the lead until I have gone through a teaching process to explain to my horse how it works.  

Which really takes us to a link in the chain that comes before grown-ups and that’s basic targeting.  When people are first learning about clicker training, there’s a lot to think about.  Details which are so very important to the links that are coming can be easily lost.  

One of the most important links is the dynamic nature of the food delivery.  “Feed where the perfect horse would be”.  There’s a phrase for Becky to use with her students.  If I put a horse in a stall with a stall guard across the door, I don’t want my horse pressing up against the restraint to get his treat.  The perfect horse would be stepping back from the stall guard and taking his treat on his side of the barrier.  

So in that very first lesson I encourage people to step into the horse to encourage him to back up.  I am essentially introducing the horse to leading 101.  Targeting coupled with food delivery acts like a swinging door pivoting on a central pole.  The door is your torso. Swing the door towards the horse, and he backs up.  Swing the door the opposite way, and you invite him forward to touch the target.

Later when you add in a lead rope, your horse will already understand the underlying body language.  Open the door – go forward.  Close the door – back up.  Easy.

Grown-ups is neutral.  The door is neither opening nor closing.  That’s your torso taken care of, but what about your hands?  What do you do with them?  

You could hide them behind your back, tuck them in at your sides, cross them across your chest.  All of these will satisfy the basic criterion of being non-reactive, but to be a link in the chain that connects us to single-rein riding, I want people to get in the habit crossing one hand over the other and holding them still at the level of their navel.  This is the non-reactive, body neutral “grown-ups are talking” position out of which I’m going to grow all the t’ai chi rope handling skills.

When you first introduce your horse to “grown-ups are talking” you’re in a stall or small paddock.  Your horse doesn’t have much incentive to leave.  You’re the most interesting game in town.  After all you’ve got the goodies!  You don’t really need a lead to keep him attached to you, but I put one on nonetheless.  I want him to become accustomed to it’s presence and to begin to link that body neutral position with the feel of the snap hanging straight down from his halter.  Later when I activate the lead I’ll be sliding down to lift the snap up.  That signals to my horse that I want something.  Lift the snap – I want something.  Release the snap back to neutral – thank you, you just gave it to me.

So becoming aware of the snap is important.  For example, a common error in the mechanics of the head lowering lesson is people fail to fully release the snap.  The horse’s head is all the way down to the ground, but there will be just enough of a take on the lead to keep the snap lifted up.  I equate that to driving down the highway with your emergency brake on.  

You are saying to the horse – I don’t really trust you enough to let go.  That little bit of tether will keep you and your horse emotionally stuck.   Head lowering is not a forward moving exercise.  When you figure that statement out and can truly release the snap so it hangs down in its neutral position with your horse keeping his head down and his feet still, you will have solved a big piece of the emotional-control, body-balance puzzle.

In grown-ups we don’t push the horse’s head away or activate the lead.  Initially the behavior we want is free shaped.  When the horse moves his head away, click, the handler shifts out of body neutral position to feed where the perfect horse would be.  The handler then returns to body neutral, her outside, feeding hand resting over the one that is closest to the horse.  Her horse moves his head away again, and click, she once again shifts out of body neutral to feed where the perfect horse would be.

Good habits are being established. The handler is learning to begin and end each request from body neutral.  She’s developing the habit pattern of working on a release, not a constant ask. Taught this way grown ups forms a central link in both the tai chi rope handling skills and the single-rein riding. 

The “you can’t ask for” principle isn’t the only principle that’s key to this lesson.  Another phrase we repeated often at Becky’s was “for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.”

With grown-ups you must move every now and then to make sure your horse doesn’t become rooted to one spot.  We want the position to generalize, not just become localized to the one spot where treats magically happen.  So every now and then the handler should walk off casually around the stall.  Walking off casually has a very particular meaning.  It doesn’t mean take up the lead and walk off.  It means walk off with whatever length of lead you happen to have given your horse.  Your hands will remain in your body neutral position.  

You take a short turn around the stall or pen, then come back to a stand still.  Your horse is learning to stay oriented to you and to follow your general body language, going with you when you walk forward, stopping when you stop.  And if he overshoots, backing out of your space – a skill learned from the treat delivery of his targeting lessons.  It’s very much like heel work for dogs where the animal learns to keep himself in a particular orientation to his handler.

You are in essence teaching your horse the “pre-why would you leave me?” lesson, but you are doing it in a small space where the horse is likely to stay near you.  Hands at neutral, one resting lightly on top of the other is your basic position.  I want to program this in early so the feel of it becomes second nature. Your hands return to this body neutral, grown-ups are talking position without your even having to think about it.  For most people this is a position that has to be actively learned, mainly because we’ve spent a lifetime actively avoiding keeping our hands anywhere near our bellies.  Who really wants to be reminded how many abdominal crunches they haven’t been doing!

Sliding Down a Lead

Now the beauty of the t’ai chi rope handling is you only have to learn two basic skills.  The first is this “grown ups are talking” body-neutral position, and the second is sliding down a lead.

Remember the third of my key phrases, the new one I added to Becky’s list? “Single-rein riding is not single-hand riding.”

Let’s look at what this means using another of the foundation lessons: backing.  You want your horse to back up.  You’ve taught him to move back from food delivery.  When you step towards him, he’s begun to automatically back-up.  That’s the perfect set-up for introducing the lead.  You’re standing next to him in grown-ups. You’d like him to back up, so now you don’t just turn into him, you also slide down the lead.

You’re adding in the new cue of the lead to augment the cues he’s already understanding and responding to.  
Sliding down the lead means your hands slide apart.  One hand goes towards the snap while the other heads towards your horse’s shoulder.  You’re setting up a t’ai chi wall relationship.  Your hands work together to activate the lead.  

It isn’t one hand reaching up to the snap while the other pushes against his chest.  “Single-rein riding is not single-hand riding.”  Your two hands slide apart to create the dynamic barrier of the t’ai chi wall.  

Your horse shifts back, you release, sliding your hands back together again into your grown-ups are talking position.  It’s so easy.  Here’s a new mantra to use in your ground work.  Grown-ups – t’ai chi wall – grown-ups – t’ai chi wall.  The two positions interconnect. You want something.  Slide your hands apart into a tai chi wall.  Your horse responds, slide your hands back together again into grown-ups.  T’ai chi wall – you want something.  Grown-ups – he just gave it to you.

This simple link between two rope mechanics carries you forward into the duct tape lessons and the pre-wwylm and wwylm lessons which then takes you into three-flip-three and hip-shoulder-shoulder.  You slide down the lead towards the snap asking for a change from your horse.  He gives it to you, you release the lead touching base momentarily with the grown-ups position before initiating the next request.

Simple.  Except anyone who has attended a clinic will tell you that sliding down a lead is anything but simple. Sliding down a lead is more than just moving your hands along a rope.  Sliding down a lead means learning to involve your whole body, learning about core balance and bone rotations.  Sliding down a lead means learning about connections.

There’s that word again. Connections. 

In this case I’m referring to the connections between your two hands and your core. What this means was illustrated beautifully at Nick’s first course.  We had a group of Icelandics to play with who had never done any lateral work.  Their owners were all familiar with clicker basics so it was easy to move from the foundation lessons out onto the “why would you leave me?” circle.  

The Iceys were all amiable, easy-to-get-along with horses.  Basic leading was not an issue.  They weren’t pushy, or spooky.  They weren’t troubled by any of the big issues that take all the fun out of training.  But they were all in need of balance tune-ups.  So on the “why would you leave me?” circle we explored what it means when I say that single-rein riding is not single-hand riding.

It’s easy when you are asking your horse to come forward and around you to become one handed.  You slide down the lead towards the snap with your leading hand and forget that your other hand has anything but a minor supporting role.  Leave out the tai chi wall element, and you are quite likely to pull your horse down and around you onto his inside shoulder – not good.  When you slide your hands apart into the tai chi wall, your leading hand goes to the snap and your “buckle” hand goes to your horse’s shoulder.  

You want your horse to step over so he remains outside the boundary line set by your two hands.  You are setting up not one, but two points of contact.  Leave out the connection into your “buckle hand” and you may very well be pulling your horse down and around onto his inside shoulder.  Find your tai chi wall connection, and he will be lifting up and over into his outside shoulder, into better balance.

The key to this is discovering the truth of our third phrase: a give is a little thing, not a big thing.  The tai chi wall is not a harsh, hard correction.  It is a redirection of energy.  It can feel light as air and yet be so amazingly, wonderfully irresistible.  When I’m teaching the t’ai chi wall, I have people learn the mechanics like links in a chain.  I have them practice first just sliding a little way up the lead, and then releasing back down to their original starting point.  Slide up, slide down.  Slide up, slide down until the process feels smooth and easy.  

You can practice this with a friend, or simply tie a lead to the back of a chair or to a fence post.  Slide up, slide down.  Practice until it becomes second nature.  Then slide up two loops of the lead and slide back.  Can you go back down the lead as smoothly as you went up it?  Is your release soft or do you drop it so it jars your partner?  Slide up, slide down until the two directions feel equal to you.  As you practice you’ll become aware of your feet.  You can’t be smooth and stiff at the same time.  You have to involve a shift in balance with the slide down of your hands.

When people can slide easily up and down the lead, I have them practice going all the way to the snap.  Then I show them the bone rotation that creates the ‘tai chi wall” position.  Here’s a place where small details really matter.  When I step up into my triangulated, “tai chi wall” position, I want to make sure I go first into a body-neutral position.  What most people do is they push into their partner as they rotate into position.  This does indeed send their partner back, but the step they get will be unbalanced.  Both their horse and human partners will stagger back.  It’s a first approximation, but it can get so very much better once you first learn to find your body-neutral position.

in clinics I’ll demonstrate the technique with someone.  I’ll go through each of the steps, sliding down the lead into a fully-extended, upside-down arm position.  Then I’ll rotate my arm from my shoulder as I step up into a triangulated, but body-neutral position.  I’ll pause there briefly, long enough for my partner to experience the position, then I’ll activate my t’ai chi wall, and my partner will step lightly, softly back.  She’ll often have a puzzled look on her face as if to say: “Why did I do that?  I meant to resist. ” 

The question I ask is do you know what I did?  I get more puzzled looks, so I tell her.  “I wiggled my toes.”  And then I show her.  I slip my foot out of my shoe, set up another body-neutral t’ai chi wall, wiggle my toes, and she slides right back.  It sounds so odd written out this way, but it’s not magic, or some weird, touchy-feely hocus pocus, just effective use of mechanics.  And the best part of this is the process is teachable. You too can learn how to wiggle your toes and send horses sliding softly out of your space. 

Here’s some of the science behind the magic.  When I slid up the lead into my t’ai chi bone-rotation position,  I first connected with a body-neutral position.  I did not push into my partner before first establishing my own position.  Our hands were touching, but I was not pushing into her.  If we had wanted to, we could have slide a piece of paper between our two hands.  

To find this balance I had to rotate my arm using my shoulder blade.  If my shoulder blade remains rigid so I’m rotating just with my arm, a casual observer might not see any difference, but my partner will most certainly feel a difference.  I won’t get that lovely melting back out of my space, that soft step that appears to come from no effort.  Rotating using my shoulder blade is such an important part of this process.

On the “T’ai Chi Rope Handling” DVD I show you a couple of the clinic exercises that I use to give meaning to the words: rotate through your shoulder blade.  Two exercises in particular are important for this.  The first is the exercise illustrated on pg. 145 of the riding book where I have you lift your arms out to the side and then rotate them so your thumbs point forward, up, back, up, forward, down and then behind you.  The second exercise is illustrated in both the “T’ai Chi Rope Handling Skills” and the “Shaping on a Point of Contact”  DVDs.  In this exercise I want you to discover what it means to have a fully extended arm.  

I illustrate this by standing just beyond the reach of my training partner.  With my arm raised out to my side my finger tips are about an inch away from her shoulder.  That’s before the magic happens.  When I rotate my arm from my shoulder blade, I can extend my reach so my finger tips now press against her shoulder. 

If I have her lean against my hand before I add in the rotation, she’ll be able to shift my balance onto my outside foot.  After I rotate, she won’t be able to shift me.  Instead, she’ll find herself rebalancing away from me.  Learn how to access this shoulder rotation and horses will melt out of your space without a fuss.  It’s one of the internal keys to good work in-hand.

The directions for this shoulder rotation seem simple enough, but it’s amazing how many people really struggle to find it.  They have very limited mobility in their shoulders, and only sometimes is this because of an injury.  More often it is simply because of lack of use and awareness.  It’s so easy for our shoulder blades to get “attached” to our ribs.  So how do you get people unstuck and aware of their shoulder blades?

You introduce them to micro-riding.  Sneaky isn’t it.  We’re back to connections again!  We’ve gone from the basics of “grown-ups are talking” to the tai chi wall to leading 101, and arrived here at a micro-level of training.  Everything is connected to everything else.

There have been some wonderful posts recently on micro-riding.  Thank you Amanda, Kathy, Nick, and Hilary for sharing your experiences with it.   It’s hugely appreciated.  Your posts confirmed what I was seeing at the clinics.  They were great fun to read, and I know they will be extremely useful for all the people who can’t make it to a clinic.


I wrote a very long post about micro-riding back in May.  During the June courses I made sure each group had at least one micro-riding session, and in some of the courses we managed to use it every day.  I knew we’d have people from each of these courses at the advanced training at the end of the month, so I wanted to be sure everyone had had some prior experience with it.    My question going into the advanced training was an open one.  What could you do with micro-riding?  

The answer went beyond anything I would have imagined.  That’s always the fun of this work.  Here’s another expression for Becky’s list: “the longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you find it can do for you.”  That’s certainly been the case with micro-riding.

In one of the earlier courses we did several sessions spread over the four days.  In the first session I began as I usually did with the shoulders.  “Can you think about moving your shoulder blade up?”.  Yes.  I can feel a slight initiation of response.  Click.

“Can you think about moving your shoulder blade down?”

These are such simple questions, but it is amazing how stuck shoulder blades can become.  We’ve had them with us all our lives, but for many of us we’ve paid no attention to them.  Shoulders, yes.  Those we can move, but not the shoulder blade itself.  That stays anchored to our ribs.  And since ribs and shoulder blades are firmly in control of not breathing, is it any wonder so many of our horses are more than a little bit stuck!

In the micro-riding sessions I have people work in groups of three.  One person observes, one is the monitor, and the third is the “rider”.  The monitor rests her hand lightly on the rider’s shoulder blade.  Her job is to click when she feels the rider respond to her instructions.

In each group there are always people who worry that they won’t be able to feel anything.  They doubt their ability to feel any of the responses.  Beginning with the shoulder blade eases them into the process.  It’s a huge confidence builder. I love the startled expressions of delight when people discover that they really can feel their partner’s shoulder blade move.  But that makes perfect sense.  The monitor’s hand is resting on the rider’s shoulder blade.  Of course, they can feel the shoulder blade move. The question is how small a movement can they detect? Can they click on the thought of movement or are they waiting until they feel a larger, more macro shift?

That was session one with this group.  In session two, I rested my hand on my partner’s shoulder blade and asked her to think about the top of her thigh bone.  Click.  I looked around at the ring of observers and saw lots of puzzled faces.  What was I feeling?  How could I possibly feel any change under my hands.  What connection could there be between her thigh bone and her shoulder blade?

There’s that word again.  Connection.  And everything is connected to everything else.
When we get people freeing up their shoulder blades, we are doing so much more.  We are freeing up the breath.  And when the breath frees up, you really can feel a change under your hands when you direct your partner’s thoughts to her thigh bone or to the balance point of her foot.

I turned people loose to experiment with this within their groups and kept hearing squeals of delight – or maybe it was shock.  “I felt that!!  Oh, that’s just too bizarre!”  

It may have been bizarre but it was very gratifying to watch how the micro-riding sessions in the house carried over into superb handling when we went out to the horses. People thought about their shoulder blades rotating and their horses rebalanced into lateral flexions. It wasn’t that their handlers were abandoning the lead.  They were sliding down it as before, only not as before.  They really could empty out the make-it-happen muscle that stiffens horses.  In its place they put the power of intent with all of its politeness, all of it gentleness, all of its effectiveness.

And what was really exciting for me was seeing everyone in the groups succeeding with this process.  It wasn’t just one or two people who could figure it out.   In each of the three roles, observer, monitor, rider, everyone discovered they could see, feel, do much more than they ever would have thought possible. 

So that was the prep I gave to each of the groups.  In the final course we began with a review of the micro-riding basics.  In the role of the rider most people discovered that they had much more mobility and awareness than they had had the first time through. And in the roles of monitors and observers they were feeling and seeing with greater subtlety.

That was a good beginning.  Shoulders, thigh bone, the balance point of the foot, these are all good points to explore, and we did so in much more detail than we had before.  But then I added in new points.  What happens when the person thinks about the roof of their tongue.  We had a discussion about what this meant.  It’s one of those things that’s hard to describe.  You want to point at your tongue while talking – somewhat difficult.  It’s rather like describing a spiral staircase without using your hands.  What I mean here isn’t the tip of the tongue, but more the middle third.  

I wasn’t sure what if anything I would feel when I directed my rider, Amanda, to think about resting her tongue against the roof of her mouth, but amazingly, I could feel a change under my hand.  

And later when I directed her to think about giving at the poll her whole spine lengthened under my hand.
Amanda has written a wonderful post on what how this has impacted her work with Classic.  And others from this group have shared their experiences as well.  So let me share my great ah ah moment when I got home from my trip.

Robin was the first horse I rode.  He hadn’t been worked in over five weeks.  Normally I do a bit of ground work first with him, but he wanted me to ride, so that’s what we did.  

I have become fond of saying I’ve been to all my clinics.  What that meant for me in that ride was I had just had an intense month of micro-riding.  Even though I was usually just observing as others worked, I was still benefitting from the process.  I knew more clearly than I ever had before what it feels like to think about my thigh bones.  I knew the feel of it both within myself and what that would feel like to someone else.

As I slid down the reins, I thought about my thigh bone and Robin melted deep into his corner.  That was neat.  I thought about my thigh bones again and Robin flowed onto a perfect circle.  It was so clear.  It was so easy.  I thought about opening my head chakra, a phrase that would have had very little meaning before, and Robin energized his walk and lengthened his own spine.

Very spooky!

It was as if we’d had no break at all in our training.  I hadn’t been on a horse in over a month, but in many ways I was riding better than I ever have.  Just like lots of the rest of you, I have jammed-up, stuck programming in my body.  It effects my riding – all the old layers that float around and glum things up.  That old programming wasn’t there.  I don’t know really how to explain this except to say that the baggage simply wasn’t there.  It wasn’t just that it was set aside for the moment.  It was gone.  I rode Robin with a freedom and a level of awareness that was a delight for both of us.  

Connections.  It was Robin who led me to microshaping.  What he taught me, I was able to share with others through the clinic process.  Microshaping led this year to micro riding.   And now through the clinics I am able to turn around and give back to Robin a ride that connects to all the good work that is in him.

So thank you to everyone who has participated so far in the 2008 courses.  Your combined efforts have given me a superb ride on my horse!

Trust the Process

There is a final phrase that is important, perhaps the most important of all, and that’s trust the process.  Julie Varley gave me that one, and her mare Allie is a beautiful example of what happens when you do just that.  Process is what I am teaching with this work, not end results.  End results won’t help you if you are starting at a point where your shoulder blades are glued to your ribs, your feet are disconnected from your hands, and your breath is something that you are only dimly aware of.  

It’s like asking someone what his cues are for a particular movement.  What do you do to get a canter depart?  I could tell you what I do, but the words probably wouldn’t help you.  I use my seat.  Now how meaningful is that?  And the more I describe to you what I do with my seat, in all likelihood, the more lost you will be.  

How many of us have been in lessons where the instructor told us to use our back more, or use our seat?

What does that mean?  Use it how? How do you translate those words?  And how do you activate them in a meaningful way in your own body?  My starting point is not yours.  The use patterns I have in my spine do not match the use patterns in yours.  

If I give you directions to Chicago from my house and you follow them exactly beginning with turn right as you go out the driveway, you aren’t going to get to Chicago.  Your starting point is not my starting point.  But if I teach you how to read maps and use other navigational travel skills, you’ll get there with ease.

The ground work, and the single-rein riding teach process.  In Katie’s very timely post this morning she also talked about connections.  And she and others talked about how the single-rein process changed how they rode.  It is the process that teaches.  The process of sliding down the lead or rein and asking for a give creates a change not just in your horse, but in you as well.  With each give you are generating more body awareness and control which in turn creates more subtle cues.  

The fun of this for me is it is a very dynamic, very creative process.  If you are new to this work, don’t worry if you aren’t following some of this discussion.  Micro-riding isn’t something to be afraid of or to push against.  When you are ready for this layer, you can dive into it.  At the advanced trainings we explore out along the leading edge, seeing where the work can take us. The books and the DVDs give you the stair steps.

They’re the “bread crumbs” you can follow to track the work.  

In the fall we’ll be coming up on the tenth anniversary of the publication of my first book “Clicker Training for your Horse.”  When it came out, I said in ten years we won’t recognize the horse world.  I should have been more specific. I would say that in general the horse world looks pretty much the same as it did ten years ago.

Pockets of it have changed a bit, but in general the terrain is pretty much the same.  But the clicker training horse world – now that has changed.  We’ve discovered so much that we can do via clicker training, things we hadn’t even thought of in 1998.  We’ve tapped into such beautiful, dynamic balance.  The horses I see at clinics just knock my socks off.

So I’ll say again, in ten years we won’t recognize the clicker-training horse world. Standing where we currently are we can’t begin to imagine what those changes will be, but I do know that if we trust the process, they will come.  Have fun!!

  Alexandra Kurland theclickercenter.com