Food/Treat Aggression/Pushiness - Page 2 - The Horse Forum
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post #11 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 01:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Foxhunter View Post
Would you allow a child to sit at a table and start to grab food and not allow others to have any?
...And would you blame the FOOD for that child's rudeness?? Would you blame the lollies offered, for a kid in a shop chucking an 'I wanna I wanna' tanty??

When people tend to think that's an obvious answer, I don't get why they think it's the food that is to blame for horses *learning* to do similar.

Giving treats just because you have something in your pocket is not so good.
Oh I dunno - pets are made to be spoilt IMO! I will sometimes go out with a handful of carrots, to share out to them 'just because'. But again, if that horse/dog/child started groping my pockets, going 'I wanna!' or threatened me or such, no way in hell they'd get a treat, regardless whether it was 'earned' or not.
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post #12 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 02:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Rachael1986 View Post
Treats are a way of rewarding good behavior when being worked. Treats given at any other time just spoil the horse and can create aggression and pushy ness. I personally would never allow a horse to be aggressive towards me no matter what they were eating! Aggression at feed time can become dangerous very quickly! A simple method to handle this would be to take a whip with you and when the horse acts aggressive, chase them away from the food. This is what horses in the wild do and what herd horses do. Allowing the horse to eat shows you as the herd leader and you are keeping them alive allowing them to eat under your protection. If any horse shows aggression at the herd leader in a domestic herd or in a wild herd the leader nips that in the bud quickly!
I disagree strongly with much of this paragraph. I think it's a really limited view of animal behaviour, and shows large and lamentable gaps in understanding horses and animal training. And it's unfortunately a widespread point of view in many horse dabblers. @loosie gets at some of the whys and wherefores in her post. If any of you think like this quote, you might like to read up on animal behaviour, or go work with someone who is genuinely good with animals. Dominance theory is archaic and not accepted by the modern animal behaviour research community. It's been debunked many decades since, and harks back to badly performed experiments on zoo animals kept in unnatural conditions - yet it persists as an old wives' tale, and a very popular one at that. Horses are social animals. Like humans, like dogs. Think about someone discussing children in the way this quote is discussing horses. Still agree? I make the comparison because getting on with and teaching horses and children are very similar indeed. I've done both for much of my life, gotten consistently excellent results both with human students and with horses, who have very nice manners when I've worked with them for a while, and I don't listen to half the half-baked tripe that's popularly written about training. I have high expectations of my human and equine charges, but education is a dialogue, not an army camp exercise. When I work with a horse or with a human, I work beside them as a leader (= good example), I don't put myself on a pedestal above them, or think of myself as the "superior" being. I literally despise this sort of arrogant world view. And I don't often write posts like this, but . A dictator does not make a good leader. Not with humans and not with horses.

I've been training my own horses from scratch since age 11, unaided by anybody.

I've trained horses for harness and saddle. I've retrained horses who've bitten over fences at any human or animal who went past their enclosures, without the use of whips or posturing, and they're good as gold now. Here's two... both of them late-cut stallions who lived solitary much of their lives before I adopted and socialised them. Sunsmart:


Trotters, Arabians, Donkeys and Other People-img_5670.jpg

Here's three horses who used to be solitary stallions, two of whom used to want to kill each other and were called "dangerous", when I introduced one of those, Julian (with the blaze), to the other two:

Socialising animals properly works.

Tact, humour and genuine understanding of animals and their behaviour go so much further than throwing your weight around. If anybody would like to read an excellent book on this subject, I recommend Dr Marthe Kiley-Worthington's Horse Watch: What It Is To Be Equine. She's an actual biologist with extensive animal behaviour training and experience.

All my animals are a pleasure for me to work with - and our work involves conversation going both ways.

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post #13 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 02:25 AM
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I have a food aggressive mare and you can bet that I have taught her to tow the line at feeding time. She pins her ears, does the stink eye, and can be pushy. For MY safety, she got her clock cleaned more than once with a whip or a bucket at feeding time when she was younger. Now, she stands away from me in her stall, and paws impatiently, but does NOT approach her feed bucket until I allow her to. While she's eating, if I walk by her stall, she'll throw her head up and sling some feed at me, but her head never crosses the line of her stall door.

She's also possessive of her stall, so when I have to blanket her, or remove her blanket, I tie her in her stall while doing so. She knows the routine. It goes without saying that I don't give her treats.
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post #14 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 03:05 AM
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I am lucky that I've never dealt with a hrose that is food aggressive toward me. my lease horse is food aggressive toward other horses, but that's normal.

But, I think that being able to move your horse off of his food without getting attacked is a valuable skill. Not that you need to practice a lot, just know that you can, and have your horse know that you can. No if's , and's or but's.

As for feeding treats . .. if by giving a treat you cause your horse's mind to go into an internal frenzie of "where is my next treat? Gotta get it, gotta find it, come on, come on!", . . then you aren't doing either of you any favors by giving treats. But, if your horse accepts an offered treat , enjoys, and does nothing more than give you baby goo-goo, aren't I cute eyes, hoping for another, then treat away!

I will say that there is a big difference between a hrose TAKING a treat, you GIVING a hrose a treat. When the horse reaches toward you, he's taking a treat. When you bring the treat Toward him, you are giving a treat. There's a difference
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post #15 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 03:48 AM
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Oh & missed most of Rachael's response till Sue's reply. Yeah, agree to disagree with the dominance theory side of it, but if a horse was aggressive - or just plain rude - to me around his hay/bucket feed, whatever, I may well take a big stick & drive the horse away from the food, and 'own' that space until he decides to be nice. It's not about dominance, but about ensuring that Rude behaviour doesn't work for them.
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post #16 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 04:56 AM
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This is correct, @loosie , but you understand the distinction. When working with animals or children, we should:

a) Be good examples of fair leaders, and model the very principles we are trying to teach them, not just expect them to toe our rules while we behave badly ourselves;

b) See respect as a two-way street, and not think we can do anything we like with them - respect their boundaries, as well as teach them to respect ours, and ask, "Is that okay with you?" on a regular basis, and teach them to ask us, "Is that okay with you?" on a regular basis as well;

c) Work together for the mutual good - find ways of working that are enjoyable for both sides;

d) Have the primary emphasis on looking for good behaviour to reward, rather than looking for misbehaviour or stupidity to punish - spend the vast majority of the time creating a positive and constructive atmosphere;

e) Have clear and immediate consequences for boundary infringements - and most of these can be low key if you get in early. If you're needing a whip to feed a horse, then either you or someone before you didn't set the ground rules down clearly in the first place, and the behaviour has already escalated. Unless you are dealing with the odd psychopathic human or animal.

f) If you do have to deal with escalated behaviour, do it creatively rather than harshly, so you don't damage your working relationship unnecessarily. I've got an example of that here, for dealing with a biting horse:

On very rare occasions, I might tip half a bucket of water over a "new" horse because it is giving me a really rude display, or interfering with another horse - or I might kick a backside and do some impressive chasing because an animal aimed a kick at me. But, these are rare situations, not standard responses. If they were standard responses, the horses would see me as a person to fear, rather than as a person they like and want to cooperate with because good things happen when they do, and because I make sure the behaviour of herd members towards each other is good - as the best lead mares in horse herds will also do.

And by good things, I actually don't mean treats either. I really liked what @mmshiro said about treats:

Originally Posted by mmshiro View Post
Treats: I treat copiously, but I never fork over the treat while the horse is doing something I find objectionable (rifling through my pockets, nudging me, cutting me off, etc.) I will give the treat once the horse has assumed an inconspicuous posture, or I sneak up on the horse and - voilą - a treat appears, not even giving the horse a chance to do something pushy.

Food: While I'm dispensing food, the horse will give me room until I have placed the food. Then I step aside and the horse can do whatever. Sometimes I take my horse away from his hay in the middle of eating, but then it's only for a trip to the grain bucket, or to eat some fresh grass outside. It shows the horse that I'm in control of the food, but also doesn't give him a reason to be resentful, because it's always an upgrade to what he was just eating.
I tend to give my animals treats when I'm at leisure with them, rather than working with them - just because. When I'm working with them, that becomes the treat, if I'm doing it well. My riding horse will get collected for work, or called up for work (that works too, and it's really handy - our horses come when called), and the first thing is a nice long scrub of all his itchy spots with a brush. "Which spots are itchiest today?" Other animals see his antics and nose-wiggling and usually hang around hoping they too will get a bit of a scratch, and often they do. Then we tack up, and are off. "Oh goodie, where are we going today?" My horses have always liked to work. In part it's that they were all working breeds, in part that I never ask anything from them that's beyond their current capabilities, in part it's that all of us love fresh air and exercise and a good outing. These days, when I do the trails around our own farm, I am often followed by several horses and/or donkeys who just want to tag along for fun.

An old example of what happens when we call our horses. The camera person is on the incoming route, and the horses are running to the caller. The bay and grey are now deceased - this was years ago. But all our horses will come when called. This is because we always call them at feed time, and then they also come if you happen to need them for another purpose, and call them at non-feed time.

My horses like to learn, and like me to tell them how clever they are. They enjoy doing a good job, and trying to figure out something new. This is an attitude that is fostered with good training and with a mutually respectful relationship - not with lording it over someone or something.

My treats are usually carrots, and in stone fruit season, overripe peaches, nectarines and plums off our trees, which the horses and donkeys love. I don't feed treats all the time - maybe once a day maximum, and sometimes not for a week. I tend to give a carrot when I'm taking off rugs - they stand so still when they're busy chewing! And they all know they get one carrot each, and that's it, and there's no point trying to see if they can try to get another horse's treat off me, because that's not going to work, and they know not to make faces at each other because of it.

I've seen trick trainers use treats to great effect, and see nothing wrong with that. I just don't need to do it for my situation. I prefer horses to think of the job we are doing, instead of having half their brain engaged in thinking about what might be in my pockets, for the sort of work I do with them. I can completely understand how treats can be really useful for actual training when you are training a horse to do really unusual things, though!

My horses and donkeys come up to me, not because of treats, but because they enjoy hanging out. I know all their itchy spots, and I dispense much warmth and affection to them. The horses no longer have an actual lead mare, and now the boys get all soppy trying to put their heads under my arm etc, and having a nice bit of attention from me - more than they did before - their lead mare was very affectionate with them and kept good order in the herd. Now there's just me to do that. These horses want to please me. And that's what makes working with them delightful.
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Last edited by SueC; 04-18-2019 at 05:05 AM.
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post #17 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 01:10 PM
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jetequitheory posted a video on this- she recently started training with just positive reinforcement, but I think you could use the video any way, just to teach your horse not to be pushy

<--- think this is it but there was one where the horse was stalled, just cant find it (might be in part 2)

stomp stomp, gimme food
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post #18 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 01:23 PM
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I err on the side of "I wuv my wittle pony wony," so I am probably one of those people who allows a horse too much leeway. But, my horses are absolutely NOT allowed to show any signs of aggression or pushiness while being fed. At least to me -- if I toss hay out in their pasture (from across the fence) and it takes them a few seconds of pushing and shoving to sort of who gets what, that's up to them. Now, if I'm out there with them, no, they are going to be polite. As others pointed out, it is simply not safe to let an animal that size think that it's OK to be pushy or aggressive around food, when there is a tiny, frail, easily-squished hooman around. A horse that starts out a little pushy can easily work its way up to actually being aggressive, and then you have to fix a bigger issue.

Whether my horses are getting feed or hay, if I'm in the space with them I make them back up before I give them anything. Moonshine, my daughter's mare, doesn't even have to be asked any more. You just go out there with food and she backs up. This keeps you safe and, as others have pointed out, reminds the horse that you are the boss.

A horse that gets pushy about treats doesn't get treats. Like others, I generally only give treats as a reward for a specific behavior, although I do sometimes give them "just because" they have been generally good about something. Pony went six months without any treats because they made him pushy. I've just started giving them to him again, in small amounts. If he gets pushy again, it will be another six months. They don't NEED treats, so if they don't behave right there's no reason to give them treats.
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post #19 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 02:18 PM
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I disagree entirely.

Food aggression is not tolerated. Period. That's disrespectful, and yes it should be stopped. Eating or not, that's not respectful. You want your horse to respect you, no matter WHAT they are doing.
My mare knows to stand still and wait until I put the food in her bucket/bring her the food, she gets excited, yes, but she respects my space. She is not pushy. She knows not to get ahead of me or trample me.
Did she do that when I first got her? No. It took a lot of groundwork and working on space/respect. Patience.

From the start, I let her know I'm allowed to groom her or pet her while she's eating too. She knows to respect me, whether she's eating or not! I can pet her face or neck etc. and she doesn't care, as she eats.s

I usually just let her eat, but sometimes to save time I groom her a bit while she eats, she has no issue with it.

As for treats, I don't give them daily. She earns them, sometimes I do give them to her for no reason (obviously if she behaves!). But for the most part, after a good lesson/work session she gets them. Not after every single one, but she knows she gets enough! :)
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post #20 of 85 Old 04-18-2019, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by mmshiro View Post
Treats: I treat copiously, but I never fork over the treat while the horse is doing something I find objectionable (rifling through my pockets, nudging me, cutting me off, etc.) I will give the treat once the horse has assumed an inconspicuous posture, or I sneak up on the horse and - voilą - a treat appears, not even giving the horse a chance to do something pushy.

Food: While I'm dispensing food, the horse will give me room until I have placed the food. Then I step aside and the horse can do whatever. Sometimes I take my horse away from his hay in the middle of eating, but then it's only for a trip to the grain bucket, or to eat some fresh grass outside. It shows the horse that I'm in control of the food, but also doesn't give him a reason to be resentful, because it's always an upgrade to what he was just eating.
This right here.

We have a big dog treat bin filled with horse cookies at the tack room. I keep a bag of peppermint horse treats in my trailer. Good ponies get lots of snacks for good behavior. If you're a pushy horse, you get nothing but driven off until you show good manners. I've never been bitten by a horse wanting snacks, only out of jealousy while lavishing attention on one and not the other. To say she got into a heap of trouble with me, and immediately, is an understatement. She's never done it again.

I don't treat horses by walking out into the pasture with 3 or more loose horses. They'll inevitably start to squabble and get pushy with the hooman holding the snacks. Just best to not put myself or them in that situation for my sake and theirs. I do have them occasionally snuffle my jacket pockets, as if hoping I did indeed bring snacks, but I've yet to feel threatened by that. Snacks are reserved for 1 on 1 interaction and rewards, though I am not above occasionally bribing a horse (Depending on the situation and circumstances).

Feed time at the trough: I used to dump the food and get the hell out of dodge. They were getting more and more pushy and aggressive with me, with anyone that fed, with each other as time went by. I learned from this forum that's no bueno. Now I keep either a lunge whip, or an old fishing pole with a long leather saddle string held onto the end eye with a blood knot at every gate. I don't often have to use it, but they are very aware that I can salty if provoked and have an enforcer, the long arm of my law, handy.

So. Two of my ten Commandments for the horses:

Thy shall not bully the bringer of feed; neither shall thou crasheth the gates.

They're all very well behaved these days, and I don't feel endangered just trying to get the feed in the troughs.

"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us."
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