Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To treat or not to treat

I use treats to reward (and yes, I am not above bribery) my horses during training. Gabe's favorite treat are peppermints ( buy him sugar-free peppermints. No need to rot his teeth out!) When he first came to live with us he was quite rude about his treats: Pushy and demanding and had zero respect for my personal space. The other two are very polite about it because I refuse to have a rude horse. Period. Ever.

Gabe still comes running when he hears the peppermint wrapper crinkling, but he now respects my space and waits patiently for his treat. No pushiness, no crowding. He knows it's coming but he has learned that if he doesn't stand back and wait for me to offer, he doesn't get it. He also doesn't get it if he is nippy. He must take it gently and slowly from my hand, no teeth allowed. I had to do the same "rehabilitation" with him for feeding time. He came to us pushy and rude and even charged me from behind a few times while I was walking out to dump his grain in his feed tub. He learned quickly that if he didn't walk quietly beside me (no stealing bites from the bucket) or stand waiting patiently at his feed tub, I left and fed everyone else on the farm before he got his. The other two have also learned this and stand waiting at their feed tubs and won't put their heads in to eat until I empty my bucket and step away. Then, and only then, are they allowed to begin eating. I think this insistence of food politeness on my part has also translated to food politeness to each other. Chief and Calypso eat in the same paddock and there is never an issue of fighting over the feed. I have to feed Gabe separately because he's a super slow eater and would probably never be able to finish his meal if he was fed in the company of others. He likes to take a bite or two...walk around the paddock, come back to take another bite, walk around a little more. Eat some hay. Eat some more grain. Wander on over to the water tank for a sip and head back to the ground. He takes a good half an hour to finish about a pound and a half of pelleted feed and oats.

I know there are quite a few horse people who think treats are the devil and won't give their horses treats at any time, some won't give treats any where but in the feed tub. I guess I can kind of understand why some won't, especially if they have a rude horse, but I've never come across one that can't be rehabilitated to be "treat polite."

My horses appreciate a pat and a "good job!" when they've done something right, but the treat gives a little extra incentive, I think. And it makes me feel good about rewarding them with a little bit extra. I occasionally give treats from the saddle for a job extra well done and to encourage lateral flexion. Calypso especially benefits from the treat-inspired lateral flexions because she is so stiff through her neck and shoulder and quite hesitant to just bend her neck without moving her whole body.

Thoughts on treats? Does any one not give treats? Why or why not?


  1. How else do you reward the difficult to catch horse??? I can say that None of ours are hard to catch (even Jo, who was apparently un-catchable :P) because sometimes...just sometimes..they get a treat, a handful of mix or a carrot or whatever I'm eating!! But you are right, its all about manners....do you let the pushy kid at the party get the first bit of cake? No , you make him join the BACK of the line.

    All hail treats and the correct usage of them XD

  2. We have always given our horses treats. And we have never had any problems with it - ever. And, just like you, our horses must be polite at all times, no exceptions. I feed them their treats from my hands all the time and we have never had a horse that bites - ever. They are just taught what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. Our horses do not argue over their food either, nor do they get protective. I have always gone into their stalls and messed around with them while they are eating. I do not ever want to have a horse who is a pig or a food bully. There are plenty of musical hay piles in the pasture - continuous rotation. They just calmly move to another pile, and that horse moves to another pile and so on and so on...

  3. Oh yeah, we feed treats. But since I work with kids who don't know how to teach treat politeness, the treats are fed at exactly the same time every time. After the horses are unsaddled and groomed, the boys give their horse 2 or 3 cookies, untie them, and return them to their pasture. The horses know exactly when the cookies are coming and don't ask for them any other time. The last thing they remember is cookies and getting turned out which makes them easier to catch the next time.

    I DO use them to bribe hard to catch horses. And as rewards for allowing scary stuff to be done, like clippers. And getting in the trailer.

  4. With one as food-driven as Poco, you bet I use that to my advantage! But like you, I do not tolerate rude behavior.

    I know a certain pushy filly that got 2 buckets to the head on Monday for charging at me in an attempt to run the other off and steal food.

  5. Every time I read your posts about Gabe, I wonder if Ace is moonlighting as a gray thoroughbred gelding at your farm when I'm not around. He's a super food motivated horse to the point of asking vocally if I'm near the treat bucket or have one in my possession and haven't given it to him yet. He was super pushy at first, would shove me with his nose and crowd my space. It didn't take long at all to put a stop to that behavior. Now he stops two feet away from me and just looks at me with a super cute face until I give it to him. Although, he does sometimes forget his manners if he's stressed about something.

    I understand the argument for not giving horses treats, but I've never seen one good enough to convince me not to. I'm all about showing my horse my love in a way that he understands. When he minds his manners, there's no reason not to reward him with treats.

  6. First treats if any are neatly organized in the barn so heloise'd approve :)

    The only treat so to speak i use is ye ol grain bucket during this time of year when we want them to come in in the a.m. and they're out in the lovely green pasture and think they might need some inducement !! so far they've been running up to greet me with minimal fuss but ye ol grain bucket doesnt hurt either

    cookies or a carrot for a job well done and a "partnership" ride is kinda reward sometimes...
    that's my story and i'm stickin' to it :) Riding soon


  7. It's good to hear I'm in the majority when it comes to treats for our equine partners!

    I've worked for barns that specifically prohibit any kind of treats at all....even going so far as to telling owners they can't give treats to their own horses. I guess the logic behind that was the barn owners were worried the horses would become treat rude and give staff problems.

    Horses are a lot like husbands...a lot can be accomplished when you cater to their tummies!

  8. With my mare it is all about timing and such with a treat.
    I can only give her a treat at certain times or she can become a groper and with a head that weighs enough to knock ya out...gotta watch it!

    I have learned the hard way with her...I can't in the saddle or she does a pretzil effect when I stop...I can't anywhere- save before or after work..or in the stall or trailer..or she will keep looking for them!