I tend to prefer the term instructor over the term trainer when talking about teaching people to ride. For the purpose of this article, I'll use "instructor" when talking about teaching people, and "trainer" when talking about teaching horses.In my pursuit of excellence (for myself and my students) I discovered TAGteach. This teaching approach has added many effective new tools to my tool box and has provided me with ways of becoming a better instructor. The first three (of many) things which pop into my head when I think about how TAGteach has helped me are:
- breaking things down and;
- reinforcing successes.
We all have favorite exercises we use when we teach, but a canned approach only takes you so far. We also have to watch the student and see what needs help: position, confidence, comprehension, something different? We may start with an exercise such as riding a square by halting in each corner and doing a partial turn on the forehand to line up with the next side of the square. Observation comes in if the horse and rider pair do not execute the exercise correctly. Why not? Is the rider's leg in the correct position? Is she using her seat correctly? Does she understand how to use her aids to ask for the turn? Does the horse understand the leg aid? Maybe all of those things are in need of help!
Breaking it Down
That brings us to breaking it down. As trainers, we know that the aids must be correct in order for the horse to understand what we are asking. We naturally want to make all of it correct so the tendency is to say, "next time slide your leg back and don't lean over and make sure you maintain the bend but don't pull on the inside rein....". As instructors, we've also been in the saddle when someone else was barking orders at us (and boy do we have stories to tell about how rough WE had it when we were learning). So in order to make it easier on our students and to help them be successful- which of course helps us look good-, we can use TAGteach. We can break it down and only work on one of those skills at a time. "But!", you say, "you have to have all those things in order to get it right". Well, yes, but does anyone do it correctly the first time? Or even the tenth time? Better to break it down and make progress in one aspect of the skill, than to keep repeating yourself while your student gets frustrated trying to remember all the different things at once and still not getting it right. You can even take it out of the context of the turn. Focus on the leg position while she's riding down the long side and have the student practice putting it in the correct place and back until she feels confident and can easily put her leg where you want it repeatedly. Tag each time she correctly places her leg. Then you can focus on the seat while leaving the leg out of the picture for a bit. Focusing on each component individually allows to the student to feel and experience each before trying to put them together.
Finally, reinforcing the student's successes helps nail the skill down. A reinforcer is defined as something which will make the behavior more likely to happen in the future. While training animals, food is a great reinforcer because most animals like food. My young students are reinforced by receiving stickers or little plastic ponies for their efforts (we keep track of each tag and they barter them for prizes afterward). For many riders, simply being able to execute the skill correctly is reinforcement enough. That is, after all, why they are taking lessons- they want to become better riders! Being able to ride away from a lesson and say, "I can ask for and get a turn on the forehand" for the first time is sweet! But we want to help our student get to that point. So little reinforcers along the way, for each step of that process, is what I have learned is invaluable. First, you have to mark that correct performance of the skill. While a clicker is best for the accuracy and non-judgmental tone, you can also use your voice: "there!" when the rider gets the leg in the right place. Repeating the skill so that the affirming marker is heard repeatedly is what will create an easier and easier performance. So whether you have students pull down beads on a tagulator for each successful repetition or they simply get to hear and feel the little successes, keep that "rate of reinforcement" high.
Here is an example. In the first photo the rider has her heels down properly, but her leg is too far forward. When I ask her to move her foot more to the back, she moves it too far and now her heel has come up into the wrong position (see photo 2). So we have two things to fix: the position of the heel (should be down below the stirrup) and the position of the heel relative to the hip (should be aligned). Deciding to work on only one aspect (the heel/hip alignment), I put a piece of purple tape on the hip and the heel and give the tag point "tape to tape". The rider will get a tag when she lines up the tape horizontally. Success! (see photo 3).
Observing, breaking things down and reinforcing successes are three critical components of using TAGteach and as such, they are some of the initial skills taught at a TAGteach seminar or the online course. The bonus? I feel I have become a better trainer and rider myself through this process of careful examination.
Webinar with Jane
Click here for more info or to register for a recorded webinar with Jane for tips and ideas about using TAGteach for riding instruction ($9.97 for members; $19.97 for non-members)
For more information about Jane, visit BookendsFarm.com and check out her blog at bookendsfarm.blogspot.com