It is very important that once you start teaching your horse tricks that you ONLY feed your horse from your hand if he does something that you have asked him to do. Your horse needs to learn that from now on the only time he gets a treat is if he does something you ask AND he does it correctly.
If you feed your horse treats at other times he won’t make the connection between doing something right and getting a treat. You may also find that several other things will happen – your horse may get confused during trick training or he won’t try very hard to learn a new trick or he will be constantly mugging you for treats.
Many people like to give their horses a treat just because it’s a nice thing to do and because we love them, but if you are serious about trick training you need to resist the temptation to feed them treats at any time other than trick training time.
You only need to feed your horse a very small amount of the treat that you have chosen to use. It must be small enough so your horse finishes it very quickly (they should only be chewing on it for a second or two)…just a taste. Otherwise, you will be constantly waiting while he finishes his treat before you can move on to the next thing.
The treat must be something that your horse really likes. This will encourage him to work harder to get the treat. My horse, Trigger, loves some little trick biscuits I make or very small pieces of carrots. Small amounts of your horse’s normal feed (especially ones with some molasses) work well too. Try out a few different treats and see which ones really get your horse’s interest.
One thing we want to avoid is creating a horse that becomes pushy or nippy around treats. There are a few ways you can prevent this from happening:
- Only give your horse a treat AFTER they have done something you have asked them to do.
- Give your horse the treat AWAY from the treat holder. For example, if you have your treats in a bag around your waist, hold the treat away from your body and the bag when you give it to him. Keep your hand closed around the treat until it is away from you. Your horse must realize he can’t get a treat directly from the bag or near you.
- Separate the trick from the treat. This is covered in more detail in the Horse Trick Training ebook but involves using a word or sound to let your horse know they have done the right thing and THEN giving them a treat.
Following a few very basic treat rules will help your horse to learn faster and will prevent him or her from developing bad habits around treats.