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There are many myths in the horse world about feeding treats. Here are a few of the most common: “If you feed your horse treats, you’ll teach him to bite you.” “Treats make a horse pushy.” “Treats are for horsemen who don’t have any skill.”
My stance on treats is that there is a time and place for them. I never use food to train a horse. I’m not going to say that you can’t use food to train a horse, but to me, when you do, the results are inconsistent. Take trying to load a horse in a trailer with grain. If a horse is truly scared of the trailer, he’ll starve himself to death before he steps in it. With that being said, I don’t have a problem with using treats as a reward for a good job or an extra try. When I give a horse treats, I follow three basic rules.
Rule #3: Never use treats to catch a horse.
I never use treats to catch a horse because I want to be the treat, so to speak. When my horses come up to me, I scratch them on their withers and bellies, or wherever their favorite itchy spots are, and make them feel comfortable.
It’s good to do nothing but scratch a horse for the first two or three minutes when you catch them. Every horse has itchy spots. Some horses love being scratched under their bellies, some under their tails, and some in the middle of their chests or under their manes. Find where your horse loves to be scratched. Then rub him with your fingernails or the halter for the first two or three minutes when you catch him.
Then put your halter on him. If you want to give him a treat, that’s the time to give it to him. But do not go out in the pasture with a treat in your hand to bribe your horse to come up to you. If that’s the only way you can catch your horse, one day, when he isn’t hungry, he’s not going to come to you. Even when a horse does come up to you, he’s not coming to you to be with you, he’s coming for the treat.
Have a horsemanship question or looking for more training tips? Check out the No Worries Club.