Earning play money that can be exchanged for real stuff can motivate kids to clean up, follow rules, and generally perform the way you want.
Have you ever found yourself tired and frustrated with your young students, wishing they would try harder in lessons, pick up after themselves at the barn, and have an overall better attitude? If your answer is a resounding “yes,” the solution to your problem may be as simple as a five-letter word: MOOLA.
Andrea Whiting, a trainer and instructor at Whispering Oaks Equestrian Center in Tampa, Fla., was feeling that familiar frustration when she decided to do something about it. Whiting was having trouble motivating the students in her Morgan and Saddlebred riding program, and getting increasingly frustrated with the kids’ attitudes. The other instructors at Whispering Oaks, who teach western riding as well as saddleseat and hunt seat, were experiencing the same thing.
“We are a small, family operation with eight acres and 26 stalls divided among three separate barns, and we don’t employ professional grooms,” says Whiting. “On Saturdays, I would start working horses and teaching from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and usually don’t even get to the back barn on the other side of the property until feeding time in the evening. The other instructors and I were tired of picking up brushes in the wash rack, tack left on hooks in the wash rack instead of being put back in the tack room, and seeing riders’ empty drink containers or food containers all over the place. After a busy day, I want to finish and go home, not pick up after everyone and find out that the stalls were not cleaned thoroughly.”
Whiting put her head together with the other instructors at Whispering Oaks and decided the kids needed a reason to do their chores. That’s when the idea of MOOLA was born.
The concept of MOOLA is a simple one, according to Whiting, who came up with the idea and convinced the rest of the instructors at the barn to participate. Essentially, MOOLA is play money in denominations of 20M, 50M and 100M (the M is for MOOLA) that is awarded to students for good behavior. If they do a good job on stalls, they get 150M. If they do a great job, they get 250M. If the job is not acceptable, they get nothing.
At the end of the year, students can use their accumulated MOOLA to buy auctioned items at the barn’s annual holiday party in December, including gloves, show whips, number pins for horse shows, collar bars for saddleseat riders, model horses, gift certificates and other items.
“I wanted an incentive program with which I could reward students for excellent work and encourage them to really try harder,” says Whiting. “At first the barn owner, Janice Scotto, and I were talking about offering points, but I wanted something that was not going to bog me down with record-keeping to keep track of how many points each rider had. I wanted something I could give out to the riders and make them responsible for keeping track of. I decided that handing out play money was the way to go.”
MOOLA comes in two different types: announced and unannounced. Announced MOOLA is given out to students who have been told in advance that they are working for MOOLA.
“Announced MOOLA is really fun,” says Whiting. “It makes the riders really work harder in their lessons and makes teaching the group lessons more fun. I usually do it in contest form: Ride-a-buck, rider with the best equitation, best equitation pattern, etc., or I will announce at the beginning of the lesson that anyone that completes the lesson without missing their diagonals gets 200M.”
Unannounced MOOLA is offered to riders who do something worthy without being specifically asked, such as showing a great attitude in their lesson, helping another student tack up, doing a great job stall cleaning, trying exceptionally hard in their lesson, and good sportsmanship at shows.
“I sometimes attach a little note with the MOOLA that says something like ‘Brittany, this was a tough lesson and you stuck with it without complaining: 150M attached. Great job!’” says Whiting. “This works well with students who tend to be whiners or complainers. Give them MOOLA once and their complaining during lesson time suddenly stops, even when I ask them to drop stirrups!”
MOOLA is also handed out to students who go above and beyond the call of duty. Riders who came out to help with hurricane preparation during Florida’s horrendous 2004 hurricane season were offered MOOLA in return for their help. “Some of our riders who own horses helped to fill up tubs and barrels with water, helped us put ID tags on the horses, put all plants and light equipment in the storage area,” says Whiting. “We also gave MOOLA to riders who helped us clean up after the hurricane by picking up branches, broken fence boards, and setting jumps back up.”
The MOOLA program not only provides incentive by offering rewards for participants at the end of the year, but also works via the riders’ competitiveness.
“I have a small dry-erase board hanging in the barn and I mark down notable MOOLA rewards each week for all of the other riders to see,” says Whiting. “If they see that Marisa earned 150M for helping other students tack up or for watering horses, then they try to help out also to earn MOOLA.”
To make the system easy for busy trainers and instructors, an envelope in the office serves as the source for the paper MOOLA. Shaped like a funny-looking cow, the folder is kept in the filing cabinet where all the instructors can access it.
Success With MOOLA
Since Whiting implemented the MOOLA program early in 2004, she has seen considerable changes in her students and in the Whispering Oaks riding program in general.
“MOOLA works so well, I really wish I had thought of it sooner,” she says. “When parents come to visit and talk about starting their child with lessons, I discuss MOOLA and what a great time the kids are having with it.”
Whiting has noticed a lower turnover rate in students since implementing the MOOLA program, and says that new riders who have come to the barn are staying with the program. “They don’t just buy a package and take a single series, never to be seen again,” she says.
We should note that MOOLA is not all about greed and materialism. “Although students have the opportunity to bid on auction items at the holiday party, the grand MOOLA prize is actually the reward they are all seeking,” Whiting says.
“The main prize—the one that all of the riders want to win—is a cream pie,” she explains. “The winner gets to pie Miss Andrea in the face at the party. All the students want to put the pie in my face, and they tease me about it constantly.
“In the end, lessons are a lot more fun for them as they learn, and they are also a lot more fun for me to teach!”