Horse Training, Horse Treats and Recipes, Solving Horse Problems, Trick Training Tips

How To Teach Your Horse Treat Manners

Some people worry that using treats during training will cause their horse to become pushy, nippy and turn them into a horrible food monster!

Unfortunately this is likely if your horse doesn’t learn how to behave around treats. For most horses food is their favorite thing and they just want some… NOW!

Thankfully it is easy to teach your horse to have perfect manners around treats.

You just need to do some ‘treat training’ to show your horse how you would like them to behave around food.  This includes showing them that mugging and pushy behavior doesn’t get treats, but standing still with their nose away from you does!

Horse Treat Training

TREAT TRAINING TIPS

  • Teach your horse that they never get a treat when their nose is near you.  Their head must always be facing forward or away from you.
  • Only feed your horse treats during training and after you have asked them to do something. It is very tempting to feed our horses treats at other times, just because we love them but this can confuse our horses – they won’t know when to expect a treat and this can encourage bad behavior.
  • If your horse is stabled or has limited access to feed then give them some hay or some of their usual feed before you bring out the treats and start training. This will put something in their belly and will make them less likely to only focus on the food.
  • training over fenceIf your horse is super pushy around food then try doing the initial treat training over a fence or stable door. This will allow you to step back out of the way until they learn to behave better.

Horses learn very quickly to stop behavior that has no benefit for them.  So the main goal of treat training is to show your horse that they NEVER get a treat if they try to mug you or push you around.

Try spending a few minutes on ‘Treat Training’ every day and soon you will have a horse that is beautifully behaved around food.

FOOD TRAINING VIDEOS

In this video I am just starting to teach one of the farm stock horses how to behave around treats (in a kind way).

He LOVES food and can be very pushy when there are treats about. I am training him on the other side of the fence so I can step away if he gets too pushy.

I just need to explain to him that pushy behavior doesn’t get treats, but standing relaxed with his head away from the treats does!

In this video I discuss the importance of teaching food manners – even if you won’t be using food to train your horse.

The video also shows a short training session with Bella.  She used to be very pushy around treats and I explain why (it’s only natural!). But you will see now, she has perfect food manners.

 


24 thoughts on “How To Teach Your Horse Treat Manners”

  1. I have an Arabian gelding who loves food. I’ve been hesitant to give him treats up until this point because he gets very pushy and nippy when anyone gives him treats. I think my training would be a lot easier if I gave him treats to reward his good behavior, and I just wanted to know where I should start in teaching him treat manners.
    He also goes crazy when he sees me going to get his grain. Do you have any suggestions on how to teach him not to get so rambunctious (running back and forth, neighing, shaking his head, kicking the bars) when he sees me heading in the general direction of where we keep the grain? Thanks
    -Taylor

    1. Hi Taylor,

      I am a big fan of using treats. Most horses will try super hard to earn a tasty reward. It is like paying them for good work 🙂

      But they do need to learn ‘food manners’. I always start training over a fence or stable door if a horse is pushy or nippy. I also make sure that they have had something to eat before ‘food manners’ training so they aren’t very hungry. They soon learn to stand calmly and wait for the treat. I would also recommend using a Marker (a word or sound that tells a horse when he is doing the right thing). It makes training easier.

      If he is kept in a stable and only gets fed a few meals a day then he will get super excited around feed time. Horses are designed to be eating for about 16 hours a day. It is possible to train him to stand still and wait for his main meal but this could take a long time to do. (Although doing some ‘food manners’ training will help).

      The easiest solution is to provide ways for him to eat more regularly so that grain time isn’t so important. Ways to do this are: Give him a ‘slow feed hay net’ so he can nibble on hay for several hours a day. Turn him out more often and allow him to eat grass. Put large rocks (too big for him to put in his mouth) into his feed bin so he has to push them around to get to his feed – this will extend the time it takes him to eat his grain.

      I hope that helps 🙂

      Jain.

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Good to hear you help with rescue equines 🙂

      When an equine has trust issues we need to convince them that we are trustworthy and that being with us is a good, safe place to be. It can take quite a while if they are been very badly treated but it is SO worth it!

      I see that you are a member of the Horse Tricks Academy so I will send you an email with a plan for working with your mule.

      Talk to you soon 🙂

      Jain.

  2. My friend and I are taking othe challenge of working with 4 horses that haven’t been handled in probably 2 years. We hope to be able to work with them every day. These horses have no manners and can get pushy. I’m going to keep watching videos. Any tips on pushy, moody horses?

    1. Hi Kenzie,

      You just need to show them that if they stand quietly they will be rewarded. This can be with a treat or a pat or something else they like. Most horses can work out what behavior earns them a reward very quickly. It is really important to show horses what good behavior you want rather than punishing them for bad behavior. Rewarding horses for good behavior increases the trust, understanding and communication between you 🙂

      For safety, you might want to try training them over a fence or stable door in the beginning. It is also really good if you can keep your training session nice and short. Maybe try several short sessions in a day rather than one long one.

      All the best,

      Jain.

  3. Hi! My horse Spark is very sweet but he gets a bit pushy when I have a treat or any human food at all. He seems to see right through my hand and into the treat! ? I have tried your food training and it just doesn’t seem to work well… What am I doing wrong?
    I would appreciate your help!
    Jaden

    1. Hi Jaden,

      I would definitely recommend training Spark over a fence or stable door in the beginning. Just so you can get out of range if he decides to really go for the treat!

      Are you using a Marker? (A word or sound that tells him the INSTANT that he has done the right thing). This can really help a horse to understand what you are asking and makes a big difference when you are doing treat training.

      You also have to make sure that you (or anyone else) doesn’t give him any treats at any other time – only when you ask him to do something (even if that ‘doing something’ is standing still and waiting patiently for the treat). Otherwise he will get confused and won’t know when to expect treats. This can make horses behave badly.

      I haven’t met a horse yet that can’t be trained to have beautiful food manners. They just need to understand the rules around food.

      Keep trying until he understands 🙂

      It is really worth the effort because treats are such an excellent training tool.

      All the best,

      Jain.

      1. Thanks for the help! I’ve already found that over the fence is helping. No, I don’t use a marker but every time he does something good-such as standing for the treat-I tell him Good Boy and rub his neck while giving him said treat.
        I will try to make sure not to give him any treats apart from training…
        BTW I love your picture!!

        1. Glad it was helpful Jaden 🙂

          “Good Boy” can act as a Marker. A Marker just tells your horse that “hey you did something right and you are about to get a reward”.

          The best Markers are words or sounds that are very distinct (eg not used at any other time) and short. For example I click my tongue. Or a word like “BING!” works well too 🙂

          “Good Boy” does work but because it probably gets used at other times it is not so clear or effective and can confuse a horse.

          Could you try using a different word or sound to make it easier for him to understand?

          All the best and let me know how you go 🙂

          Jain.

          1. Thanks Jain! I began using the word “spot” because of a tiny spot on Spark’s lip. He is getting very much better and he doesn’t try to run me over now!! It’s great to be able to have my 4 year old cousin feed him a treat without worrying about him trampling her!! ? Thank you so much!!! I love the help I’ve gotten from this website!!

          2. 🙂 “Spot” is an excellent Marker!

            It sounds like you have helped him to understand how to behave around treats. Well done!

            Jain.

  4. Thanks this is really helpful. im starting trick training again with my welsh mare. last time i tried i gave up because she was too pushy. so im happy i can restart my training once i do this. thanks

    1. I glad this post was helpful. I’m sure you will find that once your mare understands the rules around food she will develop excellent food manners 🙂

  5. hi jain
    I have put to practice some of your ideas on food training this morning and found it to work well I have only owned this horse for 12 weeks she can do some tricks the problem we have is when she is tied up when I am mucking out she bites the wall or rug rack she seems to no when I am nearly done and if my other horse or another in the barn pop there head over the door she just snarles shows her teeth and usually bites the wall and kicks out she has grabbed me a couple of times and realised then let go she just seems to be so angry I was wondering if you have any ideas how we can tackle this thank you
    wendy

    1. Hi Wendy,

      Good to hear that the food training went well.

      I think your mare is really trying to tell you something very important in the only way she knows how. My first thought would be that she is in pain. Have you had her checked by a vet? If she doesn’t have access to feed 24/7 then there is a high likelihood that she could have stomach ulcers.

      My next suggestion would be that she is telling you that she is frustrated. Does she get lots of regular turnout with other horses and things to do with her day? In the wild, groups of horses walk many miles every day and they are constantly seeing / smelling and eating different things. Stable life (or even small yard life) can be very boring for a horse – especially if she is clever and likes to do things.

      If pain isn’t an issue, there are lots of things you can do to make her life more fun and enjoyable. Giving her access to feed 24/7 via a slow feed hay net can really help. Also taking her for lots of walks is a really good way to not only make her life more interesting but it can really improve your bond with her. Here are some more ideas:

      https://www.horsetricks101.com/2015/09/31-things-to-do-with-your-horse-other-than-riding/

      I hope that helps.

      All the best,

      Jain.

  6. How do you stop a horse from snatching a treat out of your hand and each time nearly having a digit as well? I got my horse when he was just three years old and before that he’d been somewhere with a lot of kids. He’s a real “people” horse, loves to socialise. I think he was given treats by the kids who probably would offer the treat, then bottle out last minute and pull their hand away. This has got him into the habit of really going for the treat, as fast as he can, mouth wide open and grabbing whatever he can get hold of. He does all the above exercises perfectly, waits patiently until the treat is offered and then…snatch! (Oh, sorry, was that your finger?) He’s six years old now. I’m really stuck on this one. How do I teach him to gently take a treat with his lips instead of his teeth?

    1. Hi Ann,

      I would try different things that would encourage him to use his lips rather than his teeth. Could you try feeding him chaff (hay that is chopped up into tiny pieces) and feed him from something like a frisbee. I have a dog toy / frisbee that is made of very heavy duty rubber. He would need to use his lips to pick up the chaff from the frisbee.

      If you also use a Marker (a word or sound that tells him that he has done the right thing) before you give him the reward it might help to slow him down a bit. You can also use the Marker to get very fine movements.

      Once he is really well behaved with the frisbee feeding and slowed down you could then go back to hand feeding him treats.

      I hope that helps 🙂

      Jain.

  7. The video is great, however, what I see is Bella has already been food trained. I would like to see Bella reacting before food trained.

    1. Hi Ken,

      Glad you liked the video 🙂

      I taught Bella food manners while teaching her tricks. If I thought she was getting a bit pushy, we would stop the trick we were practicing and do a bit of treat training (sometimes just for a minute). These mini sessions can be seen in some of our trick training videos.

      All the best,

      Jain.

  8. Love your videos & explanations. I, too am learning so very much. I love the fact that you don’t use any forceful pressure in your training – like whips, sticks & such.

    1. Hi Janet,

      Good to hear you are enjoying the videos. When I first started training (many years ago) I did use pressure, but I just didn’t know there was another way. My horses are SO much happier with the way I train now 🙂

      Jain.

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