Extinction Versus Enhancement

“This isn’t Endotapping!“ he said. Our instructor went on to explain that touching an animal with a whip has two purposes.

The Endotapping that he referred to is the process of repeatedly tapping a horse somewhat more than softly in one place until the horse shows signs of giving up his resistance, usually by chewing and licking his lips.

At that point the trainer immediately stops. The result is that the horse learns the “relax reflex“.

The purpose is to extinguish the instinctive flight/fight response to a noxious stimulus. Sometimes we refer to it as “de- spooking“. It is one of the ways that tapping is used in horse training.

The other type of touch is designed to enhance a learned response to a specific touch. If, for example, we want a horse to learn to move away from leg pressure as a cue, we begin from the ground, with a whip or stick long enough to touch the horse, yet be out of kicking range.

First we touch the “guider“ or stick, on the rib cage where our leg will be. If there is no reaction, and likely there won’t be at this first touch, we repeat the stimulus with a bit more emphasis (read: hit him a little more sharply, but just a little). If there still is no movement away from the signal, you come the third time with a pretty good “thwack“, which is usually enough to get most horses to step over with their hind feet away from the cue stick.

This is repeated on both sides. Any time the horse moves over, you quit.

That is the reward.

A horse usually remembers what he did to make you quit messing with him.

As the exercise progresses you watch for him to respond to less stimulus, say moving off with only the second tap.

Reward!

Finally, he will move with only the slightest touch. This process is called the “moderation of the aids”. It is the way to build, or enhance, the cue for a horse so that riding ceases to be about force, and becomes an education.

Most horses will go through three resistant phases before giving up resistance completely and learning a response.

Mules? Well it could take days!

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