On Treats

I know this is a contentious subject. I’d like to add my two cents to it.

I don’t use treats. For four reasons:

1. This herd of two thing is supposed to be about a relationship in which you have earned the position of leader. You want the horse to do what you ask because you ask it. Not because of the treat. The treat is a bribe. A bribe is not leadership.

2. Suppose one day you want your horse to do the thing and you don’t happen to have a treat handy. Maybe the horse will do it – but you’ve broken the deal. All the other times, the horse got a treat, but not this time. He learns you are not consistent. If you are not consistent, he can not depend upon you 100%. And if he can not depend upon you 100%, he can not trust you 100%. Maybe 95%, but not 100%. And when it comes to horses, that 5% can be a huge thing. Me, I believe reaching for 100% trust between you and your horse is the way to go. So I don’t ever want to be inconsistent about anything.

3. No matter how polite the horse is, giving treats by hand turns them into a beggar. They start gently nosing into your hands or pockets and it’s cute until the day they take a hunk of barn coat in their mouths, maybe with your shoulder still in it…then you get all mad at them and start yelling and smacking and they’re all, like, “what’d I do?” and you have a completely self created problem on your hands.

4. In the field, have you ever seen a dominant horse give food to a subordinate horse not their offspring? Yes, I’ve seen the Facebook video of the horse loping over with a mouthful of hay for his friend, but have you ever personally observed it? No, probably not. The dominant horse takes food from the subordinate horse. So, when you give your horse treats, you are telling her that you are the subordinate horse. That is the exact opposite of what you are trying to do in this herd of two, and it puts you at risk no matter how sweet your horse is.

So, I don’t use treats.

And I realized something. A few months ago, I had to change where I board my horse. Angel had an accident at the other place; I moved her to a boarding/rehab facility where we are now. At the old place, it was extreme rough board, so I came every day to feed her. At the new place, it is full board. So they feed her. Would she still be glad to see me? Or was it only the food? The answer turned out to be, no. She remains happy to see me, calling out to me when she sees my car, willing to come and work (usually!). Because our relationship isn’t about food. It’s about leadership.

Feb. 2022

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