Bribe vs. Bonus
It's not about the treat! How you use it makes the difference between a bribe and a bonus, it's all about how your horse percieves it. Since the release of the Horsenality model we've had thousands of students say "Thank you!" for making treats "legal"- and, as you can imagine, we've also endured some criticism for turning people into treat-aholics and bribing their horses into doing everything! So to treat or not to treat.....that is the question.
About two years ago I was approached by a man at one of our tour events who said he agreed with everything Pat did except the use of treats. As it happened, this was one of the very few times that the demo problem horse at the event was a Left Brained Introvert, so Pat did exactly what he's taught all of us to do- to figure out the psychological key for that horse. This lovely Quarter Horse gelding, who had zero interest in anything a human asked him to do, did not want to go forward. So Pat strategically planted Winnies Cookies around the arena- on the ball, on the tarp, the barrel- and of course, the result was fantastic.
But still this man disagreed with the use of treats. How interesting!
After he told me his opinion he went on to tell me about a horse he was having terrible trouble with. You guessed it- he described a Left Brained Introvert! I told him that he was going to have to get over his "rule" about treats, and his horse was going to teach him about that!
He didn't like my answer. Most people don't want to hear the truth- especially if it means changing their attitude or gaining more knowledge. They would rather get some gadget, trick or technique to use and do the quick fix. Well, students pursing savvy know that's not the answer.
The problem with having rules is that horses quickly figure out your limits and then use them against you- especially Left Brain horses, because they are thinkers and are constantly engaged with you in a mental battle for supremacy.
It's kind of interesting that you don't really notice this until you ask your Left Brain, confident and complacent horse to do something he doesn't want to do! It reminds me of a joke I heard more than twenty years ago: "A thirty-five year old mute who still lived at home with his parents was sitting at the dinner table. He suddenly looked up and said, "Can you please pass the salt?" His mother and father about fell to the floor. "Son! This is a miracle! We thought you couldn't speak!" "Well, I can." "So for thirty-five years, why have you never said a word?" "Because up until now everything was fine."
Hmmmm. How interesting! Could it be that we don't realize that our left brained introverts are "fine" until we ask for something they don't really want to do?
Left brained introverts are really the only Horsenality for which treats work. This doesn't mean other horses don't enjoy treats; it's just that the LBI is th one who is truly motivated by them and tends to be the one who asks "What's in it for me?" Some will go as far as refusing to move or deliver any effort until you answer that question. Does that mean you're only going to get great results as long as you are carrying treats? Yep....until you finally realize it's not about the treat.
Food oriented vs. food focused
In the original Horsenality Profile, one of the characteristics on the circumplex (circular chart) was the term food oriented, but we have now changed it to food focused. Many horses can be described as food oriented, especially at feeding time, but there is a difference between food oriented and food focused. A food focused horse will make food his highest priority, like the LBI horse that plunges his nose into the grass and seems to feel nothing as you tug on the rein or rope. We'll talk about what to do with this shortly and- you guessed it- it's not about the grass!
You can give most horses a treat and hae them enjoy the treat or even perform a task, but that does not mean it motivates them.
To help you understand the difference, think of it this way:
*You can give treats to a left brained extrovert, but they won't encourage more enthusiasm. These horses are already self-motivated, enthusiastic and energetic. They love to play, so their real reward comes when you play with them. With LBIs, unless you figure out how to make playtime more interesting by being more imaginative and provocative, you'll find yourself a slave to the treat!
*If your Right Brain horse is scared and doesn't trust you, treats won't do much to change the situation. They don't really improve things, and they certainly don't make the situation better next time. How often have you tried to bribe and lure your horse onto a trailer using food or seen someone else try that? When the horse is scared, the fear will override everything. Even a LBI won't take a treat when he's scared!
Treats do not make a horse calm, they don't increase trust, they don't replace play, but they do give incentive.
In order to know where, how and when to use a treat, perhaps we should start with re-characterizing the word itself. Think of it as a bonus, a plus, an additional benefit, an incentive. When you give it to your horse for doing something you've asked, it gives your horse a reason to be more eager to do something for you. Otherwise it's merely a bribe that lures your horse into doing something against his will, which means he's not really doing it for you. That's why people who treat-train are at a loss when the treat is not there.
It's possible your brows are knitted in confusion at this moment, but that's okay; hang in there. Confusion is the state you experience just before you make a breakthrough!
Understanding the difference takes a higher level of savvy, so it's okay if you are feeling a little out of your comfort zone on this right now. Personal development is rarely convenient or comfortable, but if you want to get better, you have to go there. A little discomfort is not really that bad when you consider the alternative!
Why would your horse need incentive?
Because he's bored and done with it! A treat is a small highlight in his dismal life of repetitive, meaningless hell. When a confident left brained horse has to keep doing what he's been asked to do over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, he is going to need an incentive at some point.
I recall the story Pat told of the jumping school horse in Mexico who had just had enough. He'd given ten years of jumping competition and finally refused to do the big jumps anymore. And after being transitioned into the rider-training ranks with lower jumps, he finally gave that up, too. They couldn't even get him to cross a cavaletti.
They offered him to Pat as a challenge, but after Pat played the seven games and actually communicated with the horse, as opposed to ordering him around, the horse crossed a pole on the ground and then a cavaletti.
The next day Pat rode him over a cavaletti to a strategically placed bucket of grain just a few feet away. It blew that old horse's mind! There were three or four buckets positioned around the jump arena, and pretty soon that horse couldn't wait to get over a jump. On the fourth day Pat jumped a full course, jumped over the arena rail, galloped around the cross-country course and rode back into the arena and up to a bucket of grain. Could it really be that simple for a burned out left brained horse?
Is food the only incentive? No. Think of it this way: How can conversations with you become more interesting than food?
That's what your horse is trying to teach you- it's not about the treats! If you can become smarter, more savvy and more provocative, you won't need the treats, you'll be able to use them as a special bonus. But until then, with your LBI or your confident, bored right brained horse, you don't need to feel bad about using treats; at least your horse is getting something out of it while you learn.
How do you stop your horse from raiding you for treats?
First of all, don't make it an issue. As long as you can keeo your horse out of your personal space, you have nothing to worry about; but perhaps you can start thinking more strategically and have the treats positioned at different locations so you can time the place and point at which you give your horse that little bit of incentive, as opposed to carrying a pouch of treats so you can treat constantly. There's a big difference here- you have to plan and not just reward your horse indiscriminately.
[By the way, the Driving game (jumping jacks especially) and the yo-yo game are the best ways to defend your personal space. Your horse cannot raid you for treats when he's standing 4-10 feet away from you, and by backing him away you are exerting leadership in a calm, assertive way.]
When is the best time to use incentive?
When the horse:
*has lost motivation
*is cranky about doing what you want over and over and over.
*is burned out
*needs encouragement or enticement
*has gone above and beyond and put in a little extra effort.
So it's really not a treat, is it? This is a strategic approach to resolving key behavioral issues jor improving your horse's tolorance for his situation.