Everyone is guilty of spoiling their horse at one time or another. What’s a treat going to hurt, right? Even though it comes easy for us to give our horses a treat for a job well done or use grain as a persuading mechanism, dire consequences can occur as a result. Personally, I do not advocate the use of treats. That’s not to say you can never give your horse a treat such as an apple or carrot – the issue with treats is that they are overused.
Treats ultimately lead to a lack of respect from your equine partner. When we begin to overuse and misuse giving treats to our horses they will begin to no longer care about us. Horses and people are naturally creatures of habit. A common example comes from the winter months when we are not able to ride as much as we would like. It’s easy to just tie up our horse, groom them, give them a treat and put them away. This makes people feel good emotionally, however, it does absolutely no good for the horse. After a while, horses can become very assertive and aggressive when they are accustomed to receiving a treat. I have seen horses that will rip at their owner’s jacket pockets in order to find a treat. This is much like when people hug and hang on their horses – it’s more for the person’s emotional needs than for than horse. If we expect respect from our horses and for them to not invade our space, we in turn should not invade theirs either.
Another common example is using grain or treats to load a horse in the trailer. Ask yourself: What will happen when you run out of grain or treats? The horse is not loading in the trailer out of respect for you, he simply wants what he expects to get when he goes in. The focus is no longer on you and this can become very dangerous. The horses mentality switches from “what can I do for you” to “what are you going to do for me”.
People will also use treats as a way of praise for their horse. I believe that as long as a horse’s nutritional needs are being met treats are unnecessary in this scenario. That being said, horses will respond well to a kind word, rest, or a pat on the neck. There is much controversy behind this, but it has been proven to create positive results. At my facility I have a raised pedestal which I have all horses learn to stand on. When a horse steps onto the pedestal I let him rest instead of giving him a treat. In this way endorphins are released and he is capable of mentally processing what I have asked him to do. Horses learn that the pedestal is a place of rest and relaxation and they willingly step onto it with no issues.
The petting versus patting controversy is out there. It has been claimed that horses do not like patting because they are so sensitive and it results as more of an irritant for the horse. However, it has been proven that endorphins are released instead. I use a technique called Endotapping™ which was developed by J.P. Giacomini. This is a useful tool which utilizes a soft ball at the end of a dressage or longer `whip, called an Endostick ™ and is made by J.P. (see www.JPGiacomini.com ). The horse owner taps the horse with rhythmical and repetitive tapping on certain areas of the horse which causes the horse’s body to release endorphins and become relaxed, as demonstrated by head down position, lip licking, chewing and soft eyes. This is one of the best “treats” you can give your horse while at the same time instilling discipline. You can find out more about Endotapping™ by visiting www.equus-academy.com.
Remember – treats do not promote respect. Even though there is an emotional gain for you now, in the long run you may find yourself in a dangerous situation. Do not let your horse invade your space until they are invited in. An occasional treat is O.K. but when used on a regular basis it becomes the focal point every time you are with your horse.
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About Dennis Auslam: Dennis has been a trainer for over 30 years, working with many different breeds and disciplines. He grew up with horses and has worked with some of the best trainers in the industry. His passion is horses and people and he loves helping people learn how to work with their horses, progress in their riding abilities and make that connection with their horse. You will find Dennis at various horse related events in 2013. He also does numerous clinics and demos, both at his stable Redwood Stables in Morton, MN and at other venues. His main focus is on confidence building for the horse and the rider.
Reprinted Courtesy of Horse Digest