Join Date: May 2009
Location: Mid Northern TN
I like the link to the definition of "treat" vs "reward" that Smilie posted. I think that is a very good thing to be mindful of.
I hand feed my horse cookies*, and I hand feed horses that are not mine cookies too (with permission of their owners). My guy gets one cookie reward for letting me come up and scratch his neck in pasture/toss a rope over his neck (no neck-stretch cookie-snatch allowed), one cookie reward for standing like a rock and letting me halter him, and one cookie reward for standing like a rock when I unhalter him and set him loose back in pasture. Usually. About half the time I forget the cookies and he just gets a scratch.
But, those three behaviors are very important to me. I HATE having to chase a horse in pasture, I HATE horse being evasive about being haltered (or bridled), and I HATE when they try to tear away from you when you're turning them out. So, for me, it is absolutely worth it to make my day better by motivating him/making it worth his while to do exactly what I want him to.
He also has been trained to "look away" on command to get a cookie if you want, and that he DOES NOT TAKE cookies from humans. Cookies are inserted into his lips by the humans if he holds his head nice and still. That pretty much nixes any and all pocket searching/head pushing/nibbling/lipping/space invading nonsense that I see many owners rewarding with food. The moment his head moves towards the food, he is wrong, though if it's just an inch or two in a vague direction, I'll make allowance that he can't see in front of his nose and use my closed hand to push his head back where it belongs before inserting cookie.
Right now, with permission, several of the horses in pasture are getting treats from me simply for coming close enough for me to insert a cookie in their mouth. My guy will not run away in pasture, but he'll also just stand there and watch me make the 15 minute tromp out to get him. I am hoping to encourage a little more "herd enthusiasm" for actually coming to me at the gate by feeding several of them cookies when they see me. We will see if it works. I am not afraid to chase off rude horses and rude horses get no cookies, so I am not too concerned about mass mayhem occurring.
*Cookie = baked horse treat, pellets, alfalfa cubes, apple, carrot, etc. Apples were really tough at first because he keeps his teeth closed when recieving cookies (as is polite) but that made getting him to bite off a piece like I wanted him to do very tough. Now I just bite off a chunk and feed it to him, and once he realizes it's an apple he is allowed to bite, he carefully does so.