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Can you teach a horse tricks without treats?

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I get asked a lot if it is possible to teach a horse tricks without treats.

Horse Trick Treats
Treats are a great way to keep your horse keen

Yes is it possible, but I find it takes a lot longer to teach them a trick.

Most horses would rather be out in their paddock with their mates eating grass.  So you need to find something that makes your horse really WANT to work for you.

A horse needs to be really motivated to learn new things and treats are a great way of doing this.

However, once a horse learns a trick really well I will usually slowly reduce the times they get a treat.  I may eventually only give them a food treat once every 5 to 10 times they perform the trick.  Instead, I will give them a scratch or rub as a reward.  But I have found that continuing to give them a food treat every now and again keeps them super interested in their training.

Most people ask me this question for one of two reasons:

  1. Their horse becomes pushy or nippy around treats.
  2. They don’t like having to carry treats around with them all the time.

There are solutions to both these problems.

To prevent your horse from becoming a treat hog you should never teach your horse a trick by just asking them to follow a treat.  For example, I’ve seen lots of YouTube videos with horses ‘bowing’ by following a carrot between their front legs.  The horse just becomes fixated on getting the treat and doesn’t ‘learn’ the trick.

I also spend a bit of time teaching my horses food manners.  This is super important even if you aren’t going to use treats to train your horse.  You want your horse to be well behaved around food, no matter what the situation.  There is a link to ‘Treat Training’ at the bottom of this post.

To carry treats around I use an excellent little treat bag that clips around my waist.  It has a spring that holds the bag open, so I can get to the treats easily or I can simply snap it shut to prevent the treats from falling out.  I keep it near my boots and it is just a routine now to clip it on every time I go out to work with my horses.

There are lots of ways to teach your horse tricks but using food treats is the quickest and easiest way.  After a while you can reduce the number of times you give your horse a treat but using treats is still the best way to keep them keen! 🙂

RELATED POST: How To Teach Your Horse Treat Manners

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