October 20, 2020

Aeres Riding Update: CGP Lesson and Contact Breakthroughs

A couple of weeks ago, I hauled Aeres over to CGP's in order to take back to back lessons on both ponies. I felt like a rockstar, especially when she had a cancellation between my two lessons and told her groom to help me swap horses in between. And when, after my second ride, the groom wandered down the aisle asking everyone if they wanted a glass of hot apple cider with apple whiskey. This barn takes full service to a whole other level!

Standing like a baby deer for some reason in her brother's stall after just getting off the trailer

Up to this point with Aeres, I hadn't really pushed her buttons on her issues under saddle. Between clicker training and ulcer meds, she was already a completely different horse on the ground at this point, but under saddle she retained a lot of anxiety.

So happy and round <3

CGP loved her - said she looked like a lot of fun and compared her to her up and coming imported young horse a lot. But she said that it seemed like she never developed an understanding of the contact in the snaffle bridle, which makes sense in the context of her former owner's words to me, that she "goes best in a double". 

Basically, without the leverage of the double to keep her head down, Aeres had been a head flinging, anxious mess under saddle the whole time I'd had her, which may come as a surprise to anyone who follows me on social media, where I've carefully cherry picked the best few seconds of each ride to share, since Aeres is kinda sorta a sales horse and doesn't need her dirty laundry aired out online.

CGP also said it seemed like this horse probably had her previous rider's number to an extent, and that she (Aeres) was used to getting her way all the time, so this lesson was going to be a lesson in "tough shit, sister". And that's what we did. She told me to keep my hands as wide as my knees and to be sure to keep the contact at all times and never let the reins go slack or the contact inconsistent no matter what Aeres did. She had me do the same flexion exercises that we've done with Connor to teach him he needs to follow the bit with the slightest pressure, first at the halt, then at the walk, and then at the trot.

Happy girl in private turnout

Aeres objected strongly to not being the boss (mares!), so there was a lot of waiting her out, but by the end of the ride, you could see a glimmer of understanding coming through. Also, not to mention, she was absolutely foot perfect about hauling, getting a bath from a stranger in a new place, and all that stuff.

When I got home, I started clicker training under saddle for the first time, clicking for the right responses to contact and flexion primarily, and a week later when Mary came out to ride her, she had to pick her jaw off the floor.

"Jen! She's like, a different horse! Her relationship to the contact is TOTALLY changed. What have you been doing with her? She's so much fun to ride now!" It was true, Aeres was polite in the contact and more dramatically, hadn't tried to suck her neck back into her body like a turtle a single time the entire ride.

From a month ago - this is a good moment but with a lot of tension


Last Sunday with Mary aboard

Is it completely fixed? No. But the combination of earning her respect in the CGP lesson where I finally pushed her buttons plus doing the clicker under saddle really vaulted us forward.

Even more exciting is that her attitude under saddle is changing. Her ears and eyes showed anxiety, fear and tension before, but now they're developing the same softer look I'm used to seeing on the ground now. Her default walk used to be so rushy, you'd swear she was going to break into trot at any moment, but now it's more of a prowly panther walk. And this deserves a longer blog post, but she seems to find comfort in being asked to do the same thing over and over again, whereas Connor would see that as drilling.

I love watching this horse develop!


  1. It's so nice to follow your progress with Aeres on your blog - I'm sure her improvements are even better in person. Sounds like she's starting to feel like it's finally okay to relax!

  2. That's so great you were able to lesson with Aeres! Sounds like you're having a lot of fun together. It's really impressive the changes in her!

  3. I am loving these updates about Aeres! (Connor, too!) I am just starting down the path of clicker training and I would love it if you'd share any resources you've found. I'm at the very beginning stages, but I'm finding it a bit confusing about how to apply the principles to specific behaviors or even under saddle!

  4. Just super cool. I'm sad she's not destined to be a dressage pony superstar!

  5. Mmmmm yeah you're gonna need to keep her... ;)

  6. Look at you go :D I am in awe and proud, if that's weird? I dunno lol I'm proud

  7. Can I ask a question? I've started clicker training with my "dominant but also herd bound and anxious" mare...We're still at the "touch the cone with your nose, click, treat" stage and have started moving to click and treat when she stands still for things. How long did you leave it before moving to just the clicker, with only intermittent positive reinforcement with treats? Thanks!