Treats or no treats … Part Two

I don’t usually write a follow up post so soon but there was some lovely conversation over on Facebook about my treat post and I wanted to share here.

I love my blog because it enables me to get what’s in my brain out to the masses (sorry to inflict my brain on some of you!! LOL! But you can click away at any time!) but it doesn’t really invite discussion as well as Facebook does. And I thrive on discussion!

There was some lovely back and forth between myself and my friend. (We are friends in real life as well as on Facebook so we know each other very well!) I want to share that here in case any of you aren’t on Facebook, or aren’t able to see my private wall, because I feel what was shared is so so important.

I don’t always go into great detail about training here because there are so many different places one can go to get information about training issues. And most of those places are far more knowledgeable than I! Though I follow Parelli I am not exclusive in that and am always searching for more ways to communicate with my horses. So I don’t want to push one style of horsemanship here.

On my blogs I often touch on a subject that is near and dear to my heart because of something I am going through here on the farm with one of my ponies. (Such as the the laminitis page and ALL I learned from Bonnie about proper nutrition for ponies and native horses.) So when I was giving Mikey his treats the other day I thought, “Hey! I’ll bet there are other people that are dealing with high anxiety in their horses/ponies and are wondering how they can help them!” Hence my last blog post, Treats or no treats.

Now I’ll share some of the conversation that happened on Facebook about having horses that love us (and our treats!) and how we go about that…

My Friend: I’m so happy to see Mikey working through issues with such patience and positive training. I’ve seen treats bridge the gap for training issues and then they can be weaned off. I often forget to fill my pockets with treats and the horses see me coming and gather around for scratches (It’s the itchy season). They don’t just come for treats. I believe There is a direct correlation between quality time and a horses interest in willfully choosing us. Thanks again for such a wonderful post

My Reply: There is absolutely more to developing a relationship with a horse than treats. And of course I have been doing lots of other stuff with Mikey to help bring that along. But for him treats really were the turning point mostly because he figured out how predictable I am and that is exactly what he needed. To go from seeing me and turning to walk (or trot) away to running to the gate to meet me every time I go out is pretty cool. Is that all because of the treats? No, but the treats certainly have a part in it. As does the grain I feed and the hay I feed and the in hand snacking he gets to have. He doesn’t like scratches as he is still skeptical about being touched much. But Zorro and Sky love scratches and are often more than happy to have scratches instead of a treat. As you know scratches were Billy Blaze’s go to and I often did not use treats with him except for the really big stuff. Each horse is so different and each situation is different. I just don’t want people to be afraid of using treats. Treats are not bad and I don’t see them as a sign of failed horsemanship as many people do. Instead I see them as a bridge to behavior I would like to see.

My Friend: …We often hear many taboos on treats (among other ways of horse keeping/Trng) but I have to do what my heart and my horse tells me. I’m just so so happy to see Mikey thrive and grow, I can’t wait to see you guys together driving….

It’s so important to understand that it’s not only the treats that will help develop a relationship but many things that add up to a beautiful relationship.

Now for the con side of treat feeding ,I’ll tell this story:

When I was in High School a friend of my mom’s wanted me to come out and ride her horse. We got him all ready and as I was preparing to get on she handed me a handful of treats and told me to keep them in my pocket. I asked her why and she said he would tell me when he wanted one.

So off we went, he and I, on a little trail ride. We were up in the mountains with lots of lovely trails and meadows to ride in. We walked slowly down the trail for about 3 minutes when he stopped and turned his head to look up at me. I asked him to keep going but he absolutely refused. Then I remembered the treats. I said no way man, you keep walking, but he would not move. So I gave him a treat. He sighed, turned his head and happily walked down the trail.

Now you may be wondering what happened when I ran out of treats. At that exact moment I was also wondering that! It was going happen since he continued to stop every 3-4 minutes and demand one. Interestingly enough HE knew exactly when I was out. He stopped. I didn’t have any more. I told him sorry man no more treats, showed him my empty hand and he froze. I could tell it wasn’t going to be good. When he unfroze he was a bucking bronco! Mouth open, grunting and groaning, tearing through the trees, bucking and leaping and rearing. We went off trail and fell into a few trees, bruising my knees and my legs. I stuck to him through it all.

When he stopped we were out in an open meadow so I took the ends of the reins and and “encouraged” him to canter down the meadow. He was reluctant, but did listen with a bit more encouragement. We continued to ride for several more hours. When I took him back home his owner was surprised that we stayed out for so long. She said she always kept their rides short… LOL! Well I suppose she did! You can only carry so many treats!

The moral of THAT story is… understand timing when it comes to giving treats. Do not give treats when they are demanding them. DO give treats when you decide they have earned them. The treat wasn’t the bad guy, though I thought that way for YEARS. You know how it is when you’re in high school. Everything is black and white. It took many years for me to change my mind about treats, but that came with understanding about HOW to use treats for the good of the horse, the person and the relationship.

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