Pedestals – The Panoramic View!

Posted in: Classical Equitation, Clicker Training, The Journey – Dancer

Building emotional control, body awareness and trust

Spring is officially here in the UK! It’s beautiful, warm and the sun just has this amazing way of lifting ones spirits after the long and very cold winter we have had this year. The smell of fresh growth beginning to spring back into all living things, little shoots of green everywhere, daffodils smiling into the sun. Blissful! It is by far my most favourite time of year!


I have had a lot of fun working with various exercises both on the ground and ridden over the winter months and the balance and physique in Dancer has improved beautifully. I have also noticed over the long winter how very different both our horses have become too. They seem so much more able to deal with their emotions, to contain and control them, but not by shutting them down or attempting to hide them. Instead they are able to deliberately make the choice themselves not to panic, move their feet or flee where as before it would have been instinctive for them to do so. It’s quite clear through their body language and their eyes that they still feel these emotions such as fear, anxiety, heightened awareness, higher adrenaline levels; they just don’t react to them in the same way anymore. Instead they actively use the tools we have taught them to take control of their own emotions.

We absolutely know that Clicker Training produces this emotional control by enabling the horses to learn deeply and easily through the use of positive consequences. As such the horses are really able to use what we have taught them when they need to – they really do own the behaviours we teach them. It is still quite amazing to actually witness the reality of this, the very real effects it has and see it happening before one’s eyes!


The other area I have also noticed big improvements in is within the realms of the deep trust we now have with the horses and vice versa. They truly 110% trust in the click and its meaning, its ability to communicate that things are ok and safe when they hear it. This has developed over quite a significant length of time and by allowing Clicker Training to become a part of all our interactions with them.  

I know that the scientific evidence is there which proves that clicker training is not about the food, since the dopamine spike occurs at the time of the click, not at the time of feeding the treat. But to actually see this proof demonstrated by our own animals as they really begin to use the clicks as the valuable and trustworthy information and communication they provide them with is still such a joy to behold.

It runs deeper still than just information and a means of communicating between us though too. Something changes in our animals over time when using positive reinforcement methods.

They begin to wholly and fully trust (to levels I have never found possible before) that they will never be pushed, coerced or punished by their trainer. I believe it is this which has enabled the trust bond between us and our horses to develop to this new level. I should say that we have always had a relationship based on trust with them previously, but by removing ALL possibility of forcing them to do anything has allowed a new and much deeper element of that trust to develop.

Pedestal fun = physical and emotional balance

A good friend of mine made us a super fantastic pedestal to add to our toy box. It’s quite low compared to most because our horses are quite arthritic and I didn’t want to expect them to step up and down too high.

Many people tend to think of pedestals as being used primarily for trick training. I personally will only teach tricks to my horses if it is physically beneficial to them in some way. So for instance, teaching my horse to bow or to spin is not something I would do because she has arthritis in her front pastern joints, meaning the excess strain that these movements would put on her lower leg joints would not be physically beneficial to her.

So, if I don’t want to train tricks, why do I have a pedestal!?

As with all the toys in our toy box, each can be used to teach so much more than just tricks and to have some fun. In the case of the pedestal, we can use it to teach such things as body awareness, spatial awareness, precision for macro movements such as foot placement, precision for micro movements such as engaging the horses core muscles, jaw releases, engagement of the back muscles, the abdominal muscles and any other muscles we wish to think of within the horses bodies, rotation of the pelvis, engagement of the hind legs further underneath the centre of gravity. The list is endless! A wonderful way to give our horses a gentle but physical work out, all wrapped up in a package of fun, confidence building and enjoyment.

The benefits to the horse don’t stop there either. The physical elements are one thing, but another is the value which playing with ‘toys’ like this have emotionally for the horses. The confidence this sort of work builds in horses is quite simply wonderful to see.

I’d like to share a video of Dancer meeting the pedestal for the first time!

As you will see, she was pretty frightened of it as we walked into the school, her eyes were out on stalks, snorting, and neck arched! But the footage shows beautifully how much emotional control she displays and how much she truly trusts the process, the click and me.

It doesn’t take long before she is up there, but the most remarkable thing is how fast she is able to relax into the process, knowing that she is in full control of the pace of the training and I won’t push her or force her get up there. The results are quite wonderful. She is soon so relaxed and pleased with herself she begins offering me her pose too.

We hope you enjoy watching and please feel free to post your comments and thoughts.

Jo Hughes