When to treat your horse
Everyone loves their horse and because of this, most people also love to give their horse treats. If used sensibly and properly, treats can be a useful tool to help you bond with your horse. Unfortunately, treats are often misused and given too often. Though it may not be apparent at first, over-treating your horse can lead to disrespectful behavior toward you.
When To Treat Your Horse
A horse is a herd animal and because of this he views the herd in terms of “pecking order.” A horse always knows where he’s at in the pecking order and ambitious horses will look for ways to improve their position in the pecking order.
As a horse owner, you want to be viewed by your horse as higher on the pecking order but close enough that he is interested in being around you. This can be a delicate balance, but essentially you should strive to be viewed as a leader who is worthy of respect. Overtreating your horse can upset this delicate balance. Horses on top of the pecking order always eat first and if you’re always giving your horse treats he will feel you are acknowledging his superiority.
Instead of freely giving your horse treats every day, try to select good times to treat him. Right after a good riding session is always a good time for this. At this point, he’s earned it, which reinforces his respect for you. If you want to give your horse a treat, but don’t have time to ride, just ask him to do something simple. Backing up on the ground is always a quick and simple task that’s worthy of a treat.
When NOT to Treat Your Horse
Standing in the pasture and dolling out treats to all your horses is not the best idea. It’s likely you will eventually notice nipping or other pushy behavior from other horses. Some may view this pushy behavior as affection, because as humans we like to be close to those we love. However, this is not the case to the horse owner. If your horse is shoving you with his head or body, or nipping at you, he is lacking respect.
The bottom line: Allow your horse to earn his treats. As in life, we appreciate things more when we have to work for them. Giving treats is always enjoyable for both the horse and human, but well-timed treat giving is essential to a respectful relationship between a horse and his owner.