Saturday, June 22, 2019

Using Positive Reinforcement in a Lesson Program: Part 7, Help the People to Help the Horses

"Finally, do have any experience with TAGteach?  If not, get it.  Now. " 
from the introduction to the series.
tagulators, lined up in the tack room for young students
That was a pretty bossy line. I really do strongly recommend TAGteach certification. While tagging people has many similarities to clicker training animals, there are also distinct differences when teaching someone who shares a verbal language and societal pressures with us. It is well worth it to get the specialized education for using this very same learning theory we espouse for animals. 

using games to build balance
I have tried to keep this series focused on the horses and ponies with whom we have chosen to interact and this post is no different. Using TAGteach will make life better for your lesson ponies and horses. I have recorded a webinar with Joan Orr of TAGteach and have written a blog post with some ideas for teaching the people.  You can refer to them for more information on using TAGteach in an equestrian setting. 

So how does using TAGteach help our horses? It makes us better instructors.  The more clearly we teach, the more our students progress. The sooner they ride better, the more comfortable the horses will be. Or the more easily understood the cues on the ground will be. 

mounting practice without the pony
As you will see in the blog and webinar, many lessons can be taken away from the ponies, back to the barn. Anything we can work on while the ponies are napping in their stalls or paddocks is a bonus. I give examples of teaching correct mounting and riding a round circle both without involving a pony.  While neither clicker training nor TAGteach are really magic, it sure does seem like it sometimes. The rider may not transition seamlessly from ground to saddle, but the seams are a lot neater. 

Other lessons may take place in the saddle but using TAGteach methodologies gives us the ability to work at slower gaits.  I once had a woman who struggled to release with her hands sufficiently over a fence.  She knew she should, and I showed her on the ground where her hands should go, but in the heat of cantering down to a fence and jumping it, she was unable to repeat it. This poor release showed up in her entire position. Not only was the horse's mouth yanked on but she fell back into the saddle, rather than being in a position to absorb the landing in her own joints. 

Enter TAGteach. I placed a marker in the horse's mane.  I carry duct tape of various colors in my teaching bag for this purpose. Without it, I've been known to yank out my own pony tail to hold a braid in the horse's mane as a marker. Then, at a standstill, I tagged the woman for placing her hands in the correct position.  First, just her hands, then while using her whole jumping position. TAGteach gives us the same repetition success as clicker training.  She didn't have to canter over ten jumps, fatiguing her horse, to get ten successful reps of the position change. Her horse just stood. The marker did its magic, cementing that position into place. Then she went back to the jump. With that "muscle memory" established, and a clearly marked spot to put her hands over the fence, she nailed it the first time. And every time after that. Horse's mouth and back were spared. Magic. Nope, science.

a nice soft contact, free of restricting noseband
This is also an example of how TAGteach pushes us to become better at understanding what we are teaching.  Anybody can stand in the middle of an arena and yell, "stop pulling on his mouth!" every time a student makes that mistake. But we need to analyze why that student is not releasing. Fear? Improper equipment? Something in the horse's jumping style? An insecure base of position? In the above example, I went to the release to cure the flopping back in the saddle. In the process of teaching a better release, the rider had to adjust her base of position. I could have focused on her position, and then focused on her hands, but I chose to focus on her hands, which then caused her to find her own balance better. That might not have worked with another rider, if she hadn't had decent basics already.  Certainly a novice could go right over the horse's head if they shoved their hands too far forward without the base to support it. So we need that education in our own pasts, to find the thing that makes what we want to happen. 

Finally, students who experience TAGteach can make connections to working with their horses.  When we stop nagging them, we model how to stop nagging ponies. When we teach with compassion, we make it a safe space for them to show compassion for their horses. When we use scientifically sound learning theory, we demonstrate how it works for all species. 

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