3 Ways to Use Treats in Your Horse Training

Food is an excellent motivator for many horses and can be a great tool during training. While some horse owners highly debate treats, if treats are used appropriately, they can make training more fun for your horse and create positive associations with scary objects.

Using the Right Reward

If your horse values the treats you use, it will be more interested in training. Many horses are more motivated by food than verbal praise or pats. This means they are more engaged and more likely to retain the training. When you train with treats, the type of treat you use is important. You need a soft, small treat that can be consumed quickly unless you want to wait several minutes between each cue. Dimples Horse Treats are small, soft, and easy to consume for any horse.

Teaching Treat Manners

When treats are given indiscriminately, it is easy for your horse to develop bad manners such as pushing, bobbing their head, or reaching into pockets. Here are some crucial ways to instill manners when training with treats:

  • Only give your horse the treat when they are facing forward or away from you.
  • Use treats exclusively during training after they have performed the correct behavior. 
  • Do treat training after your horse has eaten to reduce hunger.
  • Start treat training over the stable door and step away if your horse becomes pushy. This will teach them that pushy behavior won’t be rewarded.

Ways to Use Treats in Groundwork

Many horse owners have witnessed or given treats during groundwork. Here are a few simple ways to incorporate treats as a reward during your groundwork:

Stretching

Treats are a great way to encourage and reward neck flexion. Place the treat on your horse’s chest, side, or ground to stretch their necks in multiple directions. When the horse reaches around for the treat, reward them for stretching. This lateral flexion will keep your horse more subtle on the ground and under saddle.

Trick Training

Many trick trainers use treats to teach horses all sorts of unique behaviors. Lifting a leg is one of the most basic tricks you can teach your horse. Not only does this make cleaning their hooves easier, but it is also the first step to teaching them a bow. There are several methods to teaching this trick, either giving the cue with a dressage whip or with your hand. You can choose the right method based on you and your horse.

  1. Stand by your horse’s shoulder, facing forward. Lean slightly into their shoulder, tap the side of their lower leg with your hand or the dressage whip and say “lift” or “foot.” 
  2. When your horse starts to lift the leg, remove the pressure and reward it with a treat.
  3. Repeat this a few times each day until your horse responds to your verbal cue.

Ways to Use Treats During Horseback Riding

Using treats during horseback riding is different than groundwork. You can’t stop your horse mid-canter and give them a treat. Instead, reward them for standing at the mounting block quietly or for flexing to your knee after you mount. You can also reward your horse with treats at the end of the ride to create a positive association.