How to treat your horse
I find that treats are an enjoyable way to socialize a horse to have a reliable character and willing attitude in his performances. Offering treats to horses may be the surprise answer to creating a magical connection with them!
Most trainers are against offering a horse treats for many good reasons. The most common is that a horse can become rude and spoiled, more interested in the treat than in the connection and the performance.
Often, the negative result of treats is created when people use them in training before the horse has been socialized to be polite and respectful with his human handler around food. Before I begin any training, I teach my horse that there are rules to be followed, just like the rules found in the natural herd. But if the treats ever do become a problem, I don't use them.
One of the first rules a horse learns from his mother is when he can nurse and when he cannot. Throughout their life, horses are shaping each other's behaviour to a fine art of polite sharing of space and food. Most social politeness is generated around grazing. Since it works between horses, I have found that it works for me as well.
Due to his nature, the horse can perceive you giving treats by hand in two different ways. He can either perceive the treat as a gift from you, or he can perceive the treat as something he's taking from you against your will, even though you willingly handed him the treat. In the second case, giving his pecking order nature, you lose his respect and thus the right to lead him. I believe that this is the reason it is commonly thought that giving treats to horses is not a good practice.
If you control a horse's behaviour at that time you give him the treat from your hand, he can understand that the treat is a gift from you. When the treat is received as a gift, the horse is grateful and respectful and will exhibit polite behaviour when he is in your charge.
With my approach, horses become more interested in connection with me and in our performance, rather than in the treat.
How to begin the socialization around the food treats is one of my first lessons for developing a meaningful friendship built on respect.
Try this yourself:
1. Start in his paddock at liberty with no tack when your horse feels relaxed. Place your treats on the opposite side of the fence out of reach. I have found that keeping the treats with me causes the horse to focus its attention on begging. I use carrots to treat, they are safer than grain.
2. When your horse comes up to you, pet him.
3. After a short while of hanging out with your horse, ask him to leave. When he does leave and doesn't try to return, bring him a carrot.
4. Go back to the place by the fence where you have the carrots and wait. When he returns, pet him and then repeat the process.
5. When your horse seems to understand the routine, hold the carrot and wait for him to return. When he is approaching, ask him to stop with your voice. Step towards him as if you are going to drive him away from the area, like you have done before. If he halts, give him a carrot. If he does not halt, put the carrot back on the other side of the fence and go back to the beginning and start over. In a very short while, the horse should learn that the carrot is a gift you offering him rather than something he is taking away from you.
6. Your horse should eat the carrot slowly and gently and should also stop eating the carrot from your hand any time you tell him to wait. If he is not always gentle, start over from the beginning.
7. Once your horse understands that the carrot is a gift and you see an overall change in his attitude and behaviour about treats, you can start using the carrots as a training aid. You could also return to this exercise any time your horse loses willingness, patience, politeness or respect.
- Horse training from the ground up - on treats
My answer to a question on the use of treats
- Natural Horse Magazine
Naturally healthy horse treats article
- How to Feed a Horse Treats Around Other Horses - wikiHow
wikiHow article about How to Feed a Horse Treats Around Other Horses.
- Today's Horse - Don't Feed Treats Without Permission
Don't Feed Treats Without Permission by Dr. Jessica Jahiel
- What is a good snack for horses
A Q&A from Askville on the subject