When training means treats

Hand feeding horses has its time and place.
Hand feeding horses has its time and place.

As I mentioned in my post about catching horses, I don’t generally feed treats or hand feed much of anything.

Certainly, there are exceptions to the rule. I’ve been known to use bribes to load a recalcitrant horse. I’ve used grain when the horses got loose. And this spring I used treats to teach my horse how to stand while waiting for the hounds while hunting.

Freedom has never been particularly good at standing still. He’s even worse at standing still after galloping off after the hounds and then screeching to a halt.

During the first few hunts I considered it a success if we stayed within the general area where we stopped, didn’t run into any horses and more or less piaffed in place. This is not a problem that can be fixed by “bitting up.” It’s not a problem that you can solve by punishing a horse.  I tried putting him to work by asking him to take a few lateral steps to keep his feet moving but it didn’t help much.

Then I remembered a suggestion that a trainer had mentioned to me a few years ago: treats. I filled my pockets with alfalfa/timothy cubes. Then I asked him to halt and stand out in the field. It wasn’t too hard as there wasn’t anything going on. When he’d stood for a few seconds, I gave him a cube. We moved out on to the trails. Every time he stood quietly, he got a cube. He’s a smart horse and it didn’t take him very long to start looking for the treat. The added benefit was that this method also doubles as a neck stretch!

For the next two weeks I carried the cubes and doled them out. Not every time he stopped. In fact, I upped the ante. He only got a cube when he stood still after cantering out in a group or jumping a few fences, times when he would normally get antsy. It really helped.

When it came time to hunt him this spring, we were ready. Okay, so my pockets bulged a bit, but he stood almost still most of the time.

3 thoughts on “When training means treats

  1. The whole trainers’ controversy over whether or not to treat is tiresome to me. Ok, so well, give him something nice once in a while and use it if you have to. It works!
    An interesting take on treats is that of Linda tellington-Jones, who uses a small amount of feed at certain times as a “shortcut to the limbic system,” as she calls it.
    Her view is that no matter how you get that calming licking and chewing, that pause that refreshes, you get it, so why not take advantage of the last little bit of grain in your pocket and feed it to the horse when you need to?
    I’ve always meant to write a post about this, but, in our unspoken race to post on subjects, you have beaten me to it!

    1. Kim, I’d never thought of feeding treats as a way to achieve the licking and chewing response but it sure makes sense. Please do write more about it!

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