top of page

Virtual Coaching Sessions


(Click here to read the summary of the December 2023 coaching session.)

The coaching sessions are held once a month on a Saturday from 1 pm to 4 pm eastern time.  They tend to be mid-way through the month.  The coaching sessions are part of the on-line clinics.  You must be registered in one of the clinics in order to participate.


In these coaching sessions we:


  • discuss concepts/training topics that are of interest.

  • answer specific training questions.

  • review video and provide feedback for those who have registered for a video analysis spot.


These on-line coaching sessions will give you direct feedback on your horse's training. Plus you will get to watch what others are doing.


After each of the coaching sessions I write a detailed summary of what was covered.  To help you understand what these coaching sessions cover I have included here the summary of the December 2023 coaching session.  It's quite amazing how much we packed into three hours!

The fee for attending with the video analysis is: $85/session.  Course participants can also sign up for a non-video spot for $60.


You must be currently registered in the on-line clinics to participate in the coaching sessions.


Once you are enrolled in a course, you will receive notifications for the Live Coaching Sessions.


To get the most from the on-line material in these courses, I urge you to join the coaching sessions. This is the clinic part of these courses.

I look forward to getting to know you and your horse through these clinics.


Alexandra Kurland

Michaela and Alex with Graya.png

Discover the fun of learning together in the virtual  coaching sessions.

December 9 2023 Coaching Session Summary

Note: This report was posted in the on-line course community board Dec 10 2023.  I am reporting on videos that we watched together.  For the summary I included images only.


Hi Everyone,


I’ll begin by wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday Session. 

I want to thank you to all of you who have been attending the coaching sessions. For many of the horses I now have a video record of their training that goes back over two years and in some cases even more than that. What we saw yesterday was how fascinating and useful it is to be able to look back at earlier lessons and then to see what has evolved out of them.


I often get emails from people who want me to give them THE Lesson that will solve all their problems. "Tell me how to fix this terrible problem with my horse. Give me the magic lesson that will transform him from a nightmare into a delight.”


Training doesn’t work that way. Yes, you can have powerful, breakthrough lessons that help to put your training on a more even keel, but the reality is good results emerge over time. They come from gentle nudges, not abrupt changes. So that’s what we looked at yesterday - lots of gentle nudges and the changes they generated.


The overall theme for the session was lateral work. I’ve had some really great lateral work video prepped for the last several coaching sessions that we haven’t had time to get to it. That’s all right. There’s a great training mantra - prepare, prepare, and let it happen.


That very much applies to lateral work. You prepare through the foundation lessons. It is prepare, prepare, and lateral work literally pops out. It’s so much fun. When I originally was learning about lateral work, the teaching involved a lot of crashing and bashing on horses. Instead as clicker trainers, we just prepare well, and lateral work pops out. Very fun! 


To prepare for this coaching session on lateral work I had six main units ready for yesterday. I knew going into the session that we would never get through all this material. What we covered prepared people to be able to see and appreciate the lessons that were in the last two units. Those units included the main lateral work videos. So the session very much reflected the reality of the training. It prepares you for what is to come in the 2024 coaching sessions. 


The videos I shared in Saturday’s session were very much about prepare, prepare and then giggle with delight when we see horses offering the begging stages of lateral work. 


And speaking of giggling with delight, that’s where we started. I began with some Just for Fun clips. 


I think the easiest way to go through this summary of what we covered is to share images from the Keynote presentations I created for each unit of videos.


Just For Fun Unit


Just for Fun - pig training.png
Rowan painting.jpg
Peregrine painting.jpg
Peregrine's first painting.jpg
Rowan's first paintings.jpg
Winzi match to sample.jpg
Winzi's early lesson.jpg
Winzi match to sample Dec 2023.jpg

Lateral Work

Lateral work intro.jpg
Lateral work example non example.jpg
Fun ways to introduce lateral work.jpg
creative ways to introduce lateral work.jpg


From here we went to a Unit on platforms. This was prompted by a video Janet sent in where she was asking Truffles to step onto a long mat. She was asking how to get Truffles to step with all four feet onto the mat. Truffles often was falling off to the side with her hind end.

Truffles stepping on mats.jpg
Truffles on platform.jpg
Truffles going to platform images.jpg
Winzi on seesaw.jpg
Winzi stacks of mats for feeding position.jpg
Winzi feeding position and the pose.jpg
Another creative way to generate lateral flexions.jpg
Winzi on seesaw body awareness lesson.jpg
Winzi on seesaw more balance lessons.jpg

The next unit focused on head lowering. In last month’s coaching session we looked at some video of Lucy’s Arab mare, Nieve. Lucy got Nieve last spring so they are still very much in the getting to know you phase of the training.


At the start of Clinic Number 1 I introduced Goldiamond’s four training questions, beginning with: what do you want?


Lucy wants to ride. So an obvious question to ask is what is keeping you from just hoping on right now and heading off down the trail?


In the spring the answer was Nieve needs to put on at least a hundred pounds. She came to Lucy severely underweight. Riding was out of the question given her physical condition. She could have been the most beautifully trained, most settled individual and Lucy would not have been riding her.


Half a year later, Nieve looks a lot better and Lucy is still not riding her. Why? Nieve has shown that she’s a good student. She’s a fast learner. She’s eager. She’s very talented, but she’s not always relaxed. Most of the time her attention is not fully in the arena with Lucy. She’s a very vigilant, always watchful individual. In the last coaching session I suggested to Lucy that she work on head lowering, and more specifically that she work on the head lowering that is generated from backing in a square.


It’s easy to ask for head lowering by using the food delivery or through simple targeting. That’s a great prep for the lesson I was suggesting. It helps to make head lowering “hot” so the horse is likely to offer head lowering in a new context.


Backing in a square into head lowering is a much more involved way to get to head lowering, but it creates a shift in both physical and emotional balance that you don’t get from simple targeting or via food delivery. 


So in the next unit we looked at where Nieve is with the head lowering and then I shared several clips from the Lesson 3: Head Lowering DVD lesson.

Nieve 12 23 looking away.jpg
Nieve backing counter bent.jpg
Nieve head lowering counter bent.jpg
Nieve recommending backing in a square to Head down.jpg
Head lowering from Lesson 3 - not a forward moving exercise.jpg
Head lowering lesson 3 - dropping head below shoulder height..jpg
head lowering lesson 3 withholding click.jpg
head lowering lesson 3 building duration.jpg
head lowering getting rid of yo yo.jpg
head lowering freeshaping bend(1).jpg

Backing in a square into head lowering is a lesson that I borrowed from John Lyons' work. He refers to it as the demand cue to calm down. And in many ways that’s a good way to think of it. If you find yourself in a situation where a horse is pushing through you, threatening to rear, spooking or doing other similarly dangerous behavior, a good option might be to simply unhook the lead and let the horse go. Put some distance between you and the horse so you can be safe while you figure out how to restart the conversation. 


But often this option isn’t available to you. You aren’t in the kind of environment where you can let the horse go. You have to cope. If you know the backing in a square into head lowering lesson, you have a very effective way of getting both you and your horse safely out of the situation.


This lesson lets you say very firmly - but not aggressively - this is not negotiable. I really need you to drop your head down. And I need you to drop it down in a very particular way. Head lowering is not a forward moving exercise. That means your very nervous horse is not being told to stand still. He can’t stand still. 


You are saying to him, if he needs to move, he can. He just needs to back up. But horses can back up fast, and they learn even faster to back up into anything dangerous that’s around them. Back up toward the highway with the fast moving cars or towards the harrow with it’s sharp points, or straight at the horse that kicks, and your human will let you go forward again.


Backing in a square lets you control where in your work space you are working. 


It has another side benefit. As your horse swings his hips to the inside, he is very likely to drop his head. When he does, you’ll release the lead, click and treat.


One of the things I talked about in the session is I don’t want to turn my training into "the tarantula dilemma". That’s a metaphor with the following explanation.


Suppose you are afraid of spiders. If I bring out a tarantula, the last thing you’re going to want to do is touch it. But suppose I tell you if you will put your hand on the rim of its bowl, I’ll give you fifty dollars. I’ll give you $100 if you touch it. You can buy a lot of hay with that kind of money. You want the $100, so you touch the tarantula. You’re still afraid. You aren’t breathing. Your eyes are squinting closed when you make contact. Everyone can see how much you don’t like touching the tarantula, but you’re doing it. However, you’re still afraid. So when I take the offer of the $100 away, you’re staying well away from the tarantula.


We can put our horses into a tarantula dilemma. They are cooperating, but they aren’t relaxed. Take away the treats, and they are out of there.


I can use the backing in a square into head down lesson to bring a bad situation under control, but then I want to apply all my clicker training skills to move the horse out of the tarantula dilemma. 


The horse who really showed us how this is done was Julie Varley’s Allie. Allie is featured in The Click That Teaches: A Step by Step Guide in Pictures and in the Riding book, as well as some of the DVD lessons. Allie was a brood mare until she was 14 years old. She had seven foals. When her owners decided they no longer wanted to breed her, they took her away from the herd where she had been the lead mare, stuck her in a stall and broke her in saddle seat. I use the old-fashioned term "broke her in" rather than "started her under saddle", because it is a more accurate description of the process she experienced. 


Allie couldn’t cope. She became an anxious, hard-to-handle horse. Julie was taking lessons at the barn. To get more horse time she started spending time with Allie. By the time she realized she didn’t want to stay in a saddle seat barn, she also realized she couldn’t leave Allie behind.


The first time I met Allie I was giving a clinic at a friend’s arena. Allie was doing okay until the snow started to slide off the roof. If you live in a warm climate and have never been in an arena during a snow slide, this may not sound all that bad. You would be wrong. When the snow starts to slide, it goes on and on. It lets go in sections, without warning, and it takes forever to slide down off the peak.


Allie couldn’t cope. I took her from Julie and spent the next forty-five minutes teaching Allie the head lowering lesson so that I could get her calmed down enough to take her out of the arena and back to the barn. I couldn’t take her directly out of the arena because the driveway immediately outside the arena was lined with barbed wire. She was not familiar with this farm, and I was afraid that she might tear the lead out of my hands and go through the fence. I’ve seen what barbed wire does to horses, and I wasn’t prepared to risk it, so we stayed in the arena and Allie had the crash course in head lowering.


Julie was a novice horse owner. She had a very limited tool box to draw on. When she took Allie back to the barn where she boarded she worked on head lowering because that’s what we did in the clinic. But she began where she felt safe. She started in Allie’s stall. Then she moved out into the barn aisle immediately outside Allie’s stall. Then she inched her way down the aisle.


She was boarding at a barn where they did team penning. The cowboys used to tease her because she wasn’t riding. Julie ignored them. Eventually she made it out of the barn aisle and into the arena. Allie and Julie could cope, even when the cows were penned right next to the arena.


Julie and Allie became a beautiful riding team. When people watched them, the word they always used to describe them was serene. Allie was the horse everybody wanted. She was so beautiful and so deeply, deeply settled.


I mentioned the saddle seat for a reason. One year at the Equine Affaire I invited several of my local clients to bring their clicker-trained horses to participate in the demos I was giving. They had a grand time prepping their horses for the event. None of their horses were show horses so the environment was definitely much more than they were used to. 


They brought their training props with them to the Equine Affaire. In the morning they took their horses for a walk around the back parking area. They had the lead in one hand and a mat in the other. Any time one of the horses got a little worried, they would stop, put their mats down and let their horses stand on them with their heads down. They certainly presented a very different picture, this group of four horses all on mats calmly, deeply settling even with all the chaos around them.


One morning Julie took Allie out by herself. They were away from the crowds by the back barns. Allie was doing great until five or six horses came clattering around the side of the barn. They were being ridden saddle seat. 


Re-create the conditions and the behavior will occur again. That’s what we learn from behavior analysis.


Allie panicked. Suddenly, she was the nervous, anxious train-wreck of a horse that Julie had first met. Julie threw her mat down. Allie didn’t need any promptly. She put both front feet on the mat and dropped her head. The world stopped spinning away into chaos. Allie could take a deep breath and settle. She regained her equilibrium and became her safe, serene self again.


I tell this story to emphasize that the lesson I gave Allie in the arena with the snow coming off the roof simply got the process started. I showed Allie what the answer was, and I kept her safe in a bad situation. But it was Julie’s patient, systematic work that showed Allie this wasn’t about touching tarantulas. She truly could settle and relax using the head lowering lesson. It may have started as a demand cue because we were in a tough situation, but Julie’s systematic, patient clicker training transformed it into something very different.


With Allie I had no time to prepare her for the lesson. If the snow hadn’t started to slide on that cold February day, I would have worked her into the head lowering lesson much more systematically. That’s how you avoid "the tarantula dilemma". It is very much prepare, prepare, and head lowering will pop out of backing in a square.


But let me share some stills from the clips that I showed from the Lesson 3 DVD.

Leyden head lowering 1.png

This is Leyden. He was a very large, very pushy four year old Dutch warmblood. He had learned that he could drag his owner around and if he didn’t like what she was doing, he just pushed his way over the top of her. 


I met him at a clinic that I gave in 1999. He’s featured in the Head Lowering DVD. 


Leyden and horses like him are one of the reasons that I prefer teaching over the internet instead of in person. In these on-line clinics your horses get to learn at home in environments where they are comfortable. So many of the horses people bring to clinics simply aren’t ready to travel. So you end up with situations like Leyden where you have an over-faced horse who needs me to bring the energy down a few notches. I much prefer quiet, calm lessons that nudge training along towards excellence.

Leyden head lowering 2 barging.jpg
Leyden head lowering 3.jpg

Leyden was way too big, too strong, and too used to pushing through people to muscle my way through this lesson. I am not trying to muscle him into dropping his head. The lead lets me set up a wall. I am closing the front door. When he tries to barge through me, the t’ai-chi-wall effect of the lead lets me redirect his energy. It is his own energy that redirects him into backing. The more he pushes into me, the more his own energy redirects him. And when he even thinks about dropping his head, I click and release the lead.


This very bargey four year old was learning some polite alternatives to his pushy behavior. The t’ai chi rope handling is a wonderful concept and tool. You are using bone rotations to redirect a horse’s energy. With the tai chi wall rope handling you can be incredibly soft and nuanced, and you can also manage situations like this. But, and it’s a big BUT, this is a powerful tool. If you combine make-it-happen muscle with the bone rotations, you will have a very unhappy horse. From his perspective you are shouting at him with a megaphone turned to full volume. It’s too much. This use of the lead does not depend upon strength. It does not depend upon intimidation. You are like the ninety pound woman who can throw the Sumo wrestler over her head because she has learned about leverage. Let me say this again, this rope handling is NOT about being strong. It IS about being grounded and knowing how to let go of make-it-happen.


Especially for experienced horse people who have well-established skills that rely on muscle and escalating the pressure, you can end up “shouting" at a horse at a much higher volume than you ever intended. So I don’t start people out with the tai chi rope handling. I ease you into it. I want to prepare both you and your horse so it remains a clicker compatible tool. That’s why the rope handling is in clinic # 4, not clinic #1. If you have a lot of horse-handling experience coming into clicker training, you may have some habits that will take time to shift. And if you are new to horses, you have skills that need to be developed.


You may be starting out with a Leyden type of a horse. If you are new to horses, you may be really struggling to keep the peace. And if you are an experienced horse person, you may be struggling to stay in the clicker training tool box. It’s so tempting to revert back to make-it-happen habits. 


In the early stages of this work, I don’t want either of you using the t’ai chi rope handling. I want you to use protective contact instead. Teach the basics with a barrier between you. Stay in environments where your horse feels reasonably safe. Teach the basic skills but don’t stay stuck in the beginning teaching strategies. 


The goal is to go places. The goal is take your horse out for walks. The goal is to ride. And for that we need to be able to communicate via tactile cues, including the use of leads and reins.


You are going to be working on the basics throughout your horse’s training. Sonja showed us in the match to sample lesson how important waiting was to the success of the lesson. The basics don’t go away simply because you are moving on to more complex lessons. 


In the coaching sessions we are moving into lessons that make use of the foundation skills to teach much more complex lessons. Even if you think your horse still needs more work on the early foundation skills, I would urge you to keep moving forward in the clinics. You will be gaining handling skills and teaching strategies that will help you develop the foundation lessons further, and move your horse on towards your long-term goals. And you will be ready when something fun like lateral work begins to pop out. You’ll know what you’re looking at, and you’ll be ready to capture those moments with a click and a treat.


The final unit that we covered was the beginning of the unit on lateral work. This report is already over long, so I will just say that we looked at how lateral work begins to pop out of the many lessons we teach using mats and cone circle. I'll include here a few stills.



A lovely image of a horse moving up and over. She is just beginning to offer lateral flexions. Note how her outside shoulder is lifting up and over. She is remaining in good "drill team" balance. That's a metaphor that is explained in the later clinics.


A common balance issue people may run into is a horse popping out through the outside shoulder. That will feel like a canoe without a paddle. Your horse will drift further and further away from you. Here we see Baccarra maintaining both good balance and a good orientation to her handler.


 I also shared video of the Hug. 

Zorro the hug.jpg

I also shared some magic hands video that showed the connection that can evolve out of these lessons.


I ended with a comparison showing Angela’s Honey at the start of the year in February and then again in December.


In February Honey was bending around Angela, but she was also falling over her inside shoulder. It can be easy to recognize when you’ve fallen through this very common trap door. It will feel as though you are caught in the center of a whirl pool and you can’t get out. Many horses fall onto their inside shoulder when they turn through a corner or circle around you. Falling over the inside shoulder is a very normal, very common balance issue which the lateral work is designed to address. In December the video reveals a very different picture. Now Honey is lifting up and over as she turns. 

Honey comparison - balance.jpg

We ended with a final comparison of Honey under saddle in Feb and then again in Dec. Progress is very definitely progressing. 


The difference you see in both of them is why lateral work matters. As Honey becomes better balanced. It becomes easier for Angela to sit well on her. And as Angela rides in better balance, she is able to help Honey more. All of this produces a much more enjoyable experience for both of them - and it is helping Honey to stay sound.

Honey comparison riding.jpg

That brought us to the end of the three hours of the coaching session.  I hope you see from this how much we cover in these coaching sessions.  Every session is different because the content and the questions come from the participants.

We are always reviewing basics, as well as moving into new territory.  As people move through the on-line clinic material we are able to explore increasingly complex training.  Everything is grounded in the basics so if you are just starting out, you will feel very included in the coaching sessions.

Remember, you must be registered in the on-line clinics in order to participate in the coaching sessions.

REGISTER NOW  $285 for a 1 year membership in Course 1: Getting Started with Clicker Training

Nieve grown-ups looking away(1).jpg
Anchor 1
bottom of page