To Treat, Or Not To Treat?

by Jordan Manfredi
It's no secret that there is much debate in the horse world, when it comes to treats and training. But something most can agree on, is that it's how you use treats, that makes the difference; do you give them as a bribe, or as a bonus? It's all about how you cause your horse to perceive it. apple Many horse-owners believe that giving horse treats may lead to pushy behavior or biting, and, to an extent, they're right. But, this behavior can be avoided, by giving treats in a grain bucket or feed bin, instead of by hand. This will ensure that your horse does not become confused by the meaning of your hands, or get distracted by whether or not you have a treat for them. If you give them by hand, from a pocket, your horse might think that all pockets or fingers contain treats, and nip at clothing and fingers. Thus the belief that any treat-giving causes poor, and even dangerous, behavior. When NOT to give treats:
  • If your horse is aggressive and super pushy (after you get some respect, treats might be useful).
  • If your horse takes them in an aggressive manner.
  • If a horse has been teased with treats and, therefor, tries to snatch them away from you.
  • If you know your horse is fearful.
When TO give treats:
  • If your horse is food motivated and respectful.
  • If your horse just needs a little more motivation and/or is starting to get bored with a task that they need to do well.
  • To teach natural behaviors that you would like them to do on command.
  • If you don’t want to train a horse with force, or as a reward if you’ve had to gently encourage your horse to do something.
Horses will eat surprisingly weird foods; from roast beef sandwiches to ice cream. Historically, horses have been fed some strange things to survive -- like fish. However, horses are herbivores; animals whose digestive system is geared to digesting grass and soft plant matter. For this reason, it is always best to stick to treats similar to their natural food. If buying treats, go for all-natural, containing no preservatives or artificial ingredients. Safe horse treats include:
  • Dates (pits REMOVED)
  • Raisins
  • Sugar cubes
  • Hay cubes
  • Apple pieces
  • Carrot pieces
  • Sunflower seeds (with or without shells)
  • Peppermints
  • All-natural treats, such as Giddyap Girls Biscuits and Horse Quencher.
giddyap girlsYou'll find horses have different tastes too. Some may love peppermints or sugar cubes and some prefer carrots or hay cubes. Surprisingly, to some, a few treats can be a choking hazard. Apples and carrots are best cut into pieces. Only feed a very small amount of any hard foods like mints and hay cubes. A greedy horse may not chew the treat completely, eating it in a hurry. The food can then become lodged in the horse's throat, causing choke. Some things are not good for treats:
  • Lawn, hedge or garden clippings.
  • Anything from the cole family, such as: broccoli, cabbage leaves, kale or cauliflower.
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Acorns
  • Chocolate (if you are competing, it can even cause a positive drug test).
  • Treats containing preservatives or artificial ingredients.
While it can be tempting to cheer a horse up with a treat, never feed treats to a strange horse. The horse could have a medical condition that does not allow it to eat certain types of food, or the owner simply might not approve of treat-giving. Just as you would with a dog, or any other animal, ask the owner first! No matter their answer, they'll be grateful to you, for asking for their permission. As always, safety is a concern. Dispose of food wrappings out of reach of your horse. A bag smelling of sticky peppermints could be ingested and cause a blockage that could cause major issues or, in extreme cases, death. While we might not all agree on everything treat and training related, I think we can all agree that choosing to be a responsible treat-giver can make all the difference in the world. Your horse's behavior and health should always be a priority. Sometimes that means making the judgment for yourself; because who knows your horse, better than you?

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