This month I am going to take a look at the often debated issue of treats for horses. First of all I would like to say it is very nice for us all horses and humans alike to get a treat now and again but what are the treats to avoid and what are the best treats to give to your horse? It is lovely to give our horses treats and it can sometimes be a comfort to us as well as nice for them.
It is important though to remember that whilst your horse will enjoy a treat as a reward for good work the sort of treat we give them is important as they can often cause dangerous and difficult problems if they get the wrong type of treat too often. It is often okay, even advisable, in my opinion to give a small daily treat, again depending on what the treat is.
The treats I use and amount I feed.
I use good quality fresh vegetables as a treat, because horses love them and these vegetables will not be all that different from the horses usual rations which will not present a risk of a situation whereby your horse could develop digestion issues and we all know how bad they can be. It is also very important not to feed too much of an extra amount of feed in the form of vegetables and treats should be small in amount not for example a dozen large carrots! I often see horse owners over do the extras and this can cause weight issues for the horse as they are not measured. So if you just simply chuck a load in for your horse you might be doing more harm than good! Colic or laminitis is always lurking in the background if we get things wrong and none of us want that.
When I was training the police horses we had one who loved bananas, the peel too, and more regular treats like apples and carrots can be a good idea to feed as a treat. Always bear in mind the balance of very well planned diet can be upset by the extra feeds or treats so always try to know you are not feeding too much starch for example which can cause issues. There is plenty of advice available on the internet and there is no excuse for any of us not to know exactly what we are feeding and what it contains.
Treats and behavioural issues connected to treats from the hand.
This is where the issues surrounding treats can get a bit confusing for people. The way I talk about treats that are fed from the hand as opposed to put in the feed manger etc are that horse owners need to be aware of one important rule. The rule of cause and effect. The people who are constantly feeding sweets or sugary mints can get quite defensive when asked about cause and effect. In my work with so called problem horses I can say for certain that when there are behavioural issues there is nearly always a treat feeding from the hand issue also. There is absolutely no reason why a horse cannot be fed a nice fresh vegetable to get him or her to be quiet when travelling for example but sugary treats can cause the effect of a rush to the horse and they become quite addicted and difficult. My advice here is that prevention is better than cure.
It is crucial not to use treats as a sort of bribe in the hope that a prolonged effect or sustained improvement in behaviour will be achieved by feeding sweet treats. The effects of sweet treats are very short term, sometimes just seconds and this form of short term bribery should never replace patient proper training of the horse whatever the aim is. A situation can arise where a horse is being fed treats like a chain smoker smokes cigarettes and it is all about the addiction and endorphin response and nothing else for the horse. So start as you mean to go on with your horse when it is young and the addiction will never start.
A time and a place.
Having said all this there is a time and a place for treating our horses but the main thing to remember is the cause and effect. Always ask yourself why you are treating your horse and what the aim is. There is no need to make it a serious issue but always bear in mind if you get it wrong it might become a serious issue for you and your horse. Some people are dead against them some people over do it, I try to stay somewhere between the two.