Treats as a reward, yay or neigh? :) - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 03:27 AM Thread Starter
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Treats as a reward, yay or neigh? :)

So I've done a lot of reading and consulted my riding instructor, and some horsey friends, and I've gotten mixed messages from all. What I would like to know is what people think about using snacks in trick training horses? Some people say it can start or encourage "bad habits" such a nipping, but others say treats are a useful tool to use. I know there will still be contrasting opinions here, but I just figured I'd see if there was any general consensus on the matter?
Also, are there any tricks that you think you SHOULDN'T teach a horse? I know that some people have found a trick they've taught their horse to be a hassle later on.
Thanks in advance!!!
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post #2 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 06:40 AM
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No rearing.

As for treats - I have decided it is all in hands that feed them. They can be useful if used appropriately and fed correctly. If not you could create a dangerous monster of a horse.
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post #3 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 06:54 AM
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They are a really good motivator, and can get results out of horses that might otherwise not want to cooperate. One thing that's really important is getting the timing right. I recommend these two fairly short videos about using treats as a reward:

Using Treats in Training | CRK Training LLC
Using Food to Train Your Horse | CRK Training LLC

Some people will say it's OK, some people say not. I say let your horse tell you whether he can handle treats. I have three horses. Two of them are fine with treats as rewards, and in fact I have gotten some really good results with them. Pony, on the other hand.... no. He doesn't get nippy or aggressive, really, but he gets really excitable, AND if you give him treats once, he will expect them every time he sees you for the next month. And if they aren't forthcoming, he will attempt to body search you (again, in a friendly manner, but I don't want his mouth all over me) for them. It's sad because out of all of them, he's the one who could benefit the most from them (he is somewhat stubborn and doesn't like to be forced to do something, but he will do anything for cookies) but he just can't handle them. Maybe I will try again some time.
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post #4 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 07:03 AM
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Yes for some things, not for all training. Also, depends on horse. I have gone as far as giving my mare treats when riding her because she's extremely anxious and spooky, and it gets her focus back on me when she's really struggling to keep it together. But I would not do that with most horses since it would be too much of a distraction for most.

Treats should not be used to create a bond either, IMHO. It takes much longer to create a bond without treats, but it is much deeper. I spent 6 weeks preparing my mare for liberty work without any treats. After the bond is created, treats can be re-introduced. (to be clear, I did give her treats at other times, just not during training for those first few weeks) Treats can be used to befriend a very frightened horse at first, but again, this is different than training or bonding time.

As everyone says, timing is important, but also, think about what you're training for. Do you want the horse to stop and pause while you're riding? With my mare, that was a good thing, but not with most horses. Then again, with Rusty who dislikes having his head handled, holding his head in a big bear hug, clicking, and giving a treat resulted in him staying quiet by the third time I did it. They learn SO fast, much faster than dogs! He's the type who might get mouthy if you let him though, so he knows that there aren't always going to be treats, and understands when I say no.

Think about it this way: would you always give your kids candy when they do something right? No, because then you would equate good behavior with food, and potentially create an eating disorder. When love = food every time, it can become a problem. So rewards can come in different forms, including scratches in just the right place, and simple praise. Food can be used too, just like you might make your child their favorite meal for their birthday, but you wouldn't give them candy every time they get a good grade, or pick up their room.
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post #5 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 07:08 AM
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And I agree - NO REARING! Unless you are a professional, this is a dangerous trick to teach.
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post #6 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 07:40 AM
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I don't trick train. That said, treats depends on the horse and situation. Majority of my training does not involve treats. I'll use treats for things like standing at the mounting block and bridling and catching. If I was to try trick training, I'd probably try treats.

Since horses are losers with treats. Give them one and they can't focus on anything but the treats. I had one horse like that. Give him a treat and you need to beat him off with a stick. My current horse is much more polite. You can give him a cookie every day, then stop and he's like, "Oh, ok. It was nice while it lasted. "

Rearing is definatly a big no to train.
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post #7 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 07:43 AM
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Treats are good for rewarding "guessing" behavior. That is, if your horse gets the concept of trying different things to see whether that unlocks the vending machine, you can use that to train behaviors that are otherwise difficult to procure, because horses don't necessarily do them naturally. This is the basis of clicker training.

Once that behavior is on cue, then you need to put it on "variable reinforcement" -- reward it randomly. Variable rewards cement behavior faster than anything else.

Treats can also be good for breaking up unwanted chains of behaviors. For example, a horse that gets antsy when being mounted, because the next thing is moving and they want to go straight to the thing that they know is coming next, can be trained quickly to stand still if the next thing is a treat given from the saddle, instead.

Treats have a lot of limitations. Because there has to be a pause (to stand and eat one), it can be difficult to create smooth transitions between behaviors. They are not generally useful for actual riding. And people often get muddled in their minds about whether they are rewarding a behavior or just enjoying hand feeding -- that can be fatal to training with them.

Bottom line, treats are a communication tool which can have a place in your toolbox. if you use them correctly they are useful, if you don't, you can create confusion or even a monster.
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post #8 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 08:07 AM
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Originally Posted by Acadianartist View Post
So rewards can come in different forms, including scratches in just the right place, and simple praise. Food can be used too, just like you might make your child their favorite meal for their birthday, but you wouldn't give them candy every time they get a good grade, or pick up their room.
I think this comparison is a bit of a stretch because humans have the capacity to understand "obligation" and "responsibility", whereas horses do not. A horse will never be intrinsically motivated to "please" you, just like you never take it personal when the horse is acting like a doofus. If the horse gets corrected every.single.time.he makes a mistake, how is it problematic to reward him every single time he goes out of his way to do the right thing?

In general, take some of the arguments against rewards, and flip them into arguments against corrections.

"Giving treats turns them into monsters!" - "Correcting them traumatizes them!"
"They should earn their treats by working hard!" - "They should really have to mess up before you apply any kind of correction!"
"Expecting treats may give them an eating disorder!" - "Expecting corrections may make them neurotic!"

I use treats that the horse considers "food slightly upgraded from hay": When we get to the barn, I bite two or three carrots into 2-3 cm pieces and put them in my pocket. Moreover, he really likes his mane and tail supplement, so that serves as treat as well. He would get it anyway, only now I'm giving it to him in smaller amounts more frequently for figuring out what I want him to do when we do ground work. Since horses don't have a sense of quantity, he gets to enjoy his little morsels over a half hour or so instead of the entire portion at once. In the process, I get to interact with him, and he gets a change of pace from the not-so-exciting life on the frozen pasture. The thing is: He knows that I have treats, and I know that he knows. The one thing that doesn't get him a treat is begging for them.

Yes, horses like cookies, but I think from a nutritional point of view, they are ill suited to be used in training, because you want to reward frequently. If, on the other hand, they live on the same hay all day every day, any change of pace in this nutritional tedium is a welcome reward for the horse, even the grain they'd be getting anyway.

You wouldn't tie your child's getting anything but broccoli and tofu to whether he cleaned his room, would you? Wouldn't you give him a little more dessert as reward for doing a good job with his chore, though? How do you imagine the child feels, knowing that you noticed the room is cleaned and the effort is appreciated by you? Do you think it would create more or less motivation for future room cleaning?

My horse gets his first piece of carrot as soon as the halter is fastened. How hard do you think he's to catch when I approach him with halter and lead rope? Yes, it's his job to get caught and go to work, but he neither knows nor cares. What he does know is that I'll appreciate his sticking his nose into that halter.

As for the "strength of the bond" argument - well, unless you do a placebo-controlled study with two groups of randomly selected horses, we won't know whether that assertion is true. Most people don't have enough horses to play the numbers on this.

So in summary:

- Pay attention to the nutritional content of the treat.
- Whatever the horse likes to eat can be used as treat, even if he's entitled to it anyway based on this nutritional regime.
- Just pay attention not to inadvertently reinforce undesired behavior. That doesn't just apply to actually forking over the treat, but also to inadvertently yielding your space when the horse comes in to see what you've got.
- Horses have much more fun trying to figure out what you want them to do to get a treat than trying to figure out how to get out of the pressure you put on. (I'm not seeing how this can be detrimental to "creating a bond.")
- To solidify the desired, newly learned behavior, wean them off the treats by first treating intermittently: skip a few treats, then only treats every other time, every third time, then even more rarely, etc. Every gambler knows that intermittent rewards are the most powerful.
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post #9 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 08:11 AM
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Well put @Avna !
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post #10 of 31 Old 02-27-2019, 08:35 AM
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I think that you get mixed reviews on this subject because all of it depends. Depends on the horse, depends on the person and their timing, depends on the circumstances and what you are trying to achieve. Mostly it depends on the person, I think.

There will be only one of you for all time. Fearlessly be yourself.
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Last edited by LoriF; 02-27-2019 at 08:49 AM.
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dangerous , teaching a horse , treats , tricks training

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