Sunday, May 2, 2010

Horse Training - Use of Food or Treats in Training



The use of treats, such as horse cookies, in horse training has long not only irritated, but disgusted old time Cowboys. I have a much more liberal approach to the use of treats thinking that there is a place for them as a reward when a horse finally understands what you are asking of him and does it willingly.

The problems with using treats are that: 1 - the horse knowing you have food or treats on hand and becoming focused on getting those treats, hence making it much harder to get him to perform as you are asking, and, 2 - giving a horse treats or food by hand can get them "mouthy" and that's harder to break them of this bad habit.

A horse thinks really of only one thing and that is food. But he thinks about food in two ways,....how to get it and how not to become it. There is a common belief, which I share, that when a horse eats, endorphins are released making the horse calmer. That's a pretty good reason to incorporate some type of food or treat reward when the situation calls for it. What comes to mind is trailer loading.

Seen alot of people not being able to get their horse into a trailer, or what the horse may see as a mobile Bear Cave. I've seen some people back their trailers up to a pen, open the gate and put feed in the trailer forcing the horse to get into or at least close to the trailer in order to eat.

Hell, I knew a women who did this and after three days her horse still had not gotten close enough to the trailer to grab some alfalfa. I had to intercede and stop that nonsense as her horse was at a health risk. Instead I think a better way would be to use treats to reward the horse in trying to approach the trailer all the way up to and including getting in. Eating, and the release of endorphins in this case will help calm the horse. I know that if someone was giving me peanut butter cookies then I would soon figure out not only that life was good, but what I had to do to get more.

You'll have to be careful as to not give threats out too often, and your horse becoming mouthy. I had a farrier who did not like me giving a young horse some treats when he was cross tied on the shoeing stand, but that same horse had an accident where he spooked and flipped over the cross tie lines and was having some issues with being on the stand and being cross tied. In this case, giving the horse treats on the shoeing stand help replace the bad memory of his earlier incident.

Be careful incorporating treats or food into training. Use them sparingly and watch for signs of your horse becoming mouthy. Teach them that the only time they can get something out of your hand is when you offer it.


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