To Treat or Not To Treat . . . . .

That is a HUGE question!!!!

In a previous installment of my blog ( I talked about how the horse will choose comfort & security over food when the leader provides that. Most people have a basic understanding of this fact. The one thing they seem to forget when they actually become involved is trying to get the horse to do something that is “scary” with the use of food. That MAY work for a very short time, in a specific instance.  But when that food is no longer offered, the horse will revert to being “scared”.

Why does this happen??? You may think “I was being a good leader by showing my horse that he shouldn’t be scared of something because he if he isn’t he gets goodies”.  In all reality, 90% of people resort to this method AFTER the horse refuses to do something (due to fear or another reason) and it becomes a REWARD FOR BEING SCARED/NAUGHTY/ETC.

Trailer loading is probably the best scenario to utilize as an example. I can’t count the number of horses I have seen that are hard to load, haul poorly and unload like a rocket. Most times what has happened is the horse wouldn’t initially load so the handler got a bucket of grain/handful of carrots/pocketful of treats and attempted to “chum” the horse in AFTER they have had trouble. Now the horse correlates their unwanted behavior with treats. Then, if they manage to get the horse in, they usually get the door closed as fast as possible to prevent the horse from escaping backwards. Now they have “trapped” the horse in a place he was scared of to begin with. Then the handler drives to their desired location, opens the door and the horse “escapes” from the scary place and the handler usually reprimands the horse for this unwanted behavior. So now the horse see the trailer as a place to act “naughty” & get treats then get trapped in it and anticipate the entire ride the reprimand for getting out.  Congratulations human, you have created a vicious circle that tends to get repeated time after time.

Another prime example is rewarding a good ride with treats while the horse is standing at hitch rail/cross ties/etc or, in some cases while people are still in the saddle. The horse starts to correlate getting the person either A) off their back or B) away from the work area with treats. All of a sudden (or so it may seem to the human) the horse begins to hang at the gate or rush to get home. Another symptom is pushing towards the human or “nuzzling” looking for more treats. The human innocently thinks the horse is “thanking” them or being affectionate. Then all of a sudden they get bit or stepped on and then the horse is punished for being naughty. Congratulations human, you have betrayed your horse.

Something to really ponder . . . . . .   how many times have you seen the leader of the herd step aside or offer that treat / bucket of grain / choicest spot of green grass to an underling in the herd??? They don’t, PERIOD.  If the leader of the herd asks an underling to do something, they NEVER direct that horse to a choice mouthful of food as a reward.

The horse really doesn’t care if a treat comes from your hand or they find it in their bucket/feeder in their stall/pen/pasture. They enjoy them just as much . Reward your horse for a job well done by releasing pressure (loosening the reins, taking your spur out of their belly, lowering the flag, stop moving their feet), rubbing, scratching. All of these can be done IN THE MOMENT, as the horse is  performing whatever action you wanted from them.

Can’t abandon your addiction to treats?? Fine, just take an extra few minutes to put them in the horse’s feeder/bucket after the horse is gone from the area. Then when you put the horse away, maybe spend an extra few minutes standing with them while they are munching with maybe a scratch or pet during. If your horse is in a pasture environment with other horses you might resort to putting these in a bucket and spontaneously “finding” them on the way back to pasture.

Be the leader your horse needs . . . . . . . .


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