Monday, November 14, 2011

To Treat or Not to Treat? That is the Question

Oberon LOVES his treats.  He takes them from our hands gingerly (they don't usually fall on the dirt like above).  My daughters and I love the cute look he gets in his eye and he obviously enjoys the apples and carrots we bring him.  I mix it up as to when we give them to him.  It might be when we get him from the field or dry-paddock, or after a great effort during ground work, and maybe after a day's ride.  But I have wondered lately, if he is approaching us from the field BECAUSE he is hoping for a treat.  I noticed he is sniffing and looking and once my daughters said they felt a slight nip at their pockets.  Hmm.. I don't like that.

It's not as if they don't often nibble on good grass all day and when they don't, they get grain and plenty of hay. I would say they are plenty filled out for the winter ahead.

I have read extensively on this topic and realize people's approaches are across the board and obviously depends upon their horse.  But let's say we have "average" horses.  What is the best way to approach this.  These are my thoughts:

1)  Don't feed the treat by hand anymore.  Put it into a feeding dish or bucket.

2)  Rewarding a horse with food during training sets up the head and body rubs and "good boy!" to be a bit disappointing.  It also distracts them every time I approach as they can smell the food on me.  I don't want a pocket robber and a nipper... or worse, a biter.

3)  Give the treats to them after the day's ride.  What I'm trying to decide is should I do it every time?  I notice my horse looks toward the tack room door after every ride (the treats are kept in the refrigerator). Are we not ending the day on a "bad" note if we leave in our horses mind that he didn't get his "snack"?

When I see my horse approaching me from afar, I want to KNOW it isn't primarily for an immediate snack, but to see me.  And that takes bonding and time, I know.  Sebastian, above, was approaching me quickly as he saw me giving an apple to Oberon, and this is not what I'm after.

* * * * *

Ever wondered how to figure out if your horse is fat?  Or too skinny?  I found this helpful video link at  the blog:  "New Horse Owners".  If you watch it, did you find it helpful?

The Horse | What's Your Horse's Body Condition Score? (video)


Kim said...

This is a good question! One year ago when we started natural horsemanship, our trainer told us, "No more treats!" Our horses expected them. Now that we have gotten away from that, I see clearly why he was so adamant about it. Before, our horses had to be bribed to come to us. They were pushy and nipped at us occasionally. Now, they respect us, come to us, listen (mostly) and don't expect anything other than hugs and rubs. Our trainer is also a firm believer that after a ride or workout, the horse should be tied up (on a good note) to think about the lesson. Switching their mind back to food too quickly is not good. It's not that we are against treats but they shouldn't be given as a routine. When we do give them a treat(once a month, maybe) it is truly a treat. In fact, treats are so rare at our farm, that our yearling (who had never had treats)won't take them at all.

Shirley said...

As a general practice, I don't treat- however, there are times when it is useful. I find "treat hog" horses to be annoying, and I feel that treating is at best a training shortcut. Just my opinion, since you asked!

Margaret said...

Thanks! We may just be starting "detox" soon. I am seriously considering not treating at all. Please, keep the comments coming as I weigh this issue.

Dom said...

There are definitely horses out there who should not be hand fed treats, but I think it's a training thing like any other bad habit. I only give the treat if the horse is polite about taking it, and I reprimand nipping before it escalates to biting. Ozzy was a biter once upon a time, but he is hand fed treats without issue because the behavior was corrected. When children are involved, though, you have to take extra precautions.

Anonymous said...

I do treat, but only for specific things and always use the "one step back" request before treating. I also use treats without added sugar, which makes them less of a big deal. Drifter gets a treat upon completion of hoof picking - but now not every time, just once in a while - and during the farrier trimming his feet - hoof handling was a big (dangerous) problem with him when I got him and the treats really got his attention and complicance - I use a tongue click to tell him when he's done a good job and that the treat is coming. He can be extremely mouthy - he thinks he's a stud - so I never treat otherwise.

Dawn and Pie both get a treat before and after rides. I've also done some formal clicker training with Dawn - she's very reactive and has a number of object phobias - plastic bags, for example - and we've made a huge amount of progress on this using clicker.

I think if you're going to treat, whether or not you're using clicker, you need to train the horse to take the treat in an acceptable and safe manner - hence my "one step back". In some respect, clicker training can help with horses who are pushy for treats as it trains them how to take the treat properly and that treats aren't just on offer generally but are connected to performing specific behaviors.

NeighGirl said...

I give my horses treats like this:
I give them a small treat when they come to me and let me halter them.

After I do whatever i want to do with them, I cool them off and I make them do something little like a circle or i back them up and then I give them the treat.

I don't give them treats all the time. I want treats to be unexpected. I do believe in feeding out of your own hand.
When that nip is felt or pushy-ness starts back the horse up make him understand that he does NOT get a vote!
Hope that this helps,

P.S. you might also want to give out small treats like a slice of apple or half a carrot :) makes them appreciated the treat a lot more.

in2paints said...

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I treat Lilly all the time. I always try to have carrots on hand for her in the fridge. She gets them when I get her from the field, when she's just standing around in the cross ties, after we get done riding, and then she gets them again after I turn her out in the field. Maybe I treat too much? LOL

She has excellent manners, though, and while she enjoys the treats very much, she is never nippy or pushy, nor does she get angry or show attitude if I happen to be out of carrots. I even have my own "cue" to tell her there aren't any treats. I always make her take a step back before she takes it so she doesn't crowd my space and she is always respectful when she takes them. If she wasn't respectful or started nipping, the rules would have to change and the treats would be gone.

Some horses can't handle treats, especially if they're fed from your hand. I think you just have to figure out what works best with your boys and adapt if you need to.

Debi@7Gates said...

We do random treats, nothing consistently.

Carol said...

Good discussion. For us it depends on the horse. Some can be hand fed treats without a problem as long as good manners are always a given. Others will get nippy even if there is a lot of training about how to behave re treats. We always use carrots and apples, but put them in the feed tub for the horse who gets nippy otherwise.

Margaret said...

Thanks for all the input. I lean towards no treats, but I know my girls will not like this at all. So, what I am going to do is buy a "special" bucket and we will put treats and when we tack up or after we get him from his paddock, we MIGHT have something for him already in the pail and it won't be every time).

Kim - I really like your idea of tying him up a bit to think about his lesson. Thanks. (I had heard this before, but forgot about it)

New Horse Owner said...

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna offer treats in the form of sugar cubes as rewards during training. If it's good enough for such illustrious equestrians it's good enough for me!

Thanks for the mention, I found the video clarified a few things re. condtion scoring and hope that others have found it useful too.

smazourek said...

I give treats all the time, but I like to think that my horses understand that they have to earn them. They DO NOT get treats when they're rooting around in my pockets and I always feed them at arm's length. If you hand feed a horse right next to your body it encourages them to rummage around on you.