Treats are a hot button topic in a lot of places. The usual arguments against them is, “Feeding treats teaches a horse to bite” or “Horses can mistake fingers for carrots.” I have not found these to be true if done properly.

I have 5 horses, at the moment, all of which have been taught to politely take treats. None of them nip or bite and all of them can tell the difference between fingers and treats. I teach every equine which comes through my place to politely and respectfully take a treat because someday they will meet someone with a treat and I want everyone to be safe especially if the “someone” is a child with a chubby fist full of grass.

I believe treats have a place as long as they are given with intentionality and parameters just like every other interaction.

My parameters are:

  • Whether or not I have a treat my horse will remain polite and out of my space.
  • A treat in my hand remains my treat until I open my hand in front of me.
  • If my hand feels in danger of being eaten I can withdraw it to safety, close my hand and not be invaded. I will repeat this until the horse tries more gently.
  • Treats are small (the size of 1-8 peas). Horses who have to search for the treat on the hand quickly learn treats come from hands, but hands are not treats.
  • I start horses with treats they like but don’t flip out over (hay pellets, a piece of uncooked pasta spiral, dried organic orange peel, etc)
  • All treats are earned, even if I’m really out there to get rid of leftover apple slices. A new shy horse in my heard may receive treats for coming within arm’s reach. Horses who know more have to do more. Even if it’s one step they have to do something.
  • Backing is a good activity for treat earning and keeps me safe.
  • If I don’t have a treat, but am offering my hand to sniff I offer the back of my hand. They quickly learn the difference.

If I had a horse who learned to be so pushy around treats I didn’t feel safe I would start re-training them on the other side of a solid fence. I would avoid electric fences that were on. (I have a horse who had a few bad experiences with other people reaching over our electric fence and shocking her)

Success is a Successful Student

Recently I was made very proud by one of my girls. She was selected to do the rider makeover at the Horse & Soul tour stop in Mesquite, Tx with Linda Parelli. Imagine driving 200 miles to a place you have never been with a horse you have only hauled around town and having a lesson with someone you REALLY respect in front of more than a thousand people.

The night before the lesson Gwen, her mare, decided she didn’t want to go into the arena. S spent the time it took to get her confident walking through the gate into the arena. Our prayer was that she would be able to ride into the arena when the stands were full of people. The next morning the arena was busy until time for their lesson. Gwen made it in and S was able to make some really nice changes. I know she will take what she learned home and use it to propel her riding to greater mastery.

Day 27 – Sucesses

Today was nice and cool, but only a tiny bit of rain that didn’t stop anything. I have been playing with Cole’ standing on a 1ft wide square log. Today she got all four feet on it! She has been walking her front feet on it for days, but today she offered to put her back feet on it and stood up for a few seconds. I think with another week or two she could walk along it with all four feet.

I rode her again today doing passenger lessons. I started in one of the round pens, but she was getting board. So I spent some time outside in the playground. I spent maybe 15 minutes annoying her and having her putting some effort into moving. I could have probably gotten results faster, but I am trying to build my confidence, so slow was good. After I got some effort into movement I got off, played with her on the ground, and got back on where there was no grass to distract her. She put effort into moving, even trotting over the tempting grass. We got close to the pens and I asked her to stop and I got off. I am happy with the effort she put into moving.

Days 24, 25, & 26 – Parelli Summit

I have been silent this weekend because of the Parelli Summit. Around a thousand Savvy Club members came to the Parelli ranch for a three day weekend of inspiration. Pat played with a problem horse, Linda helped one of our fast trackers with game of contact, we had demos on cutting, horseanilities, and driving by other professionals.

Pat played with a horse named Grace all weekend. She had some Major hangups giving to pressure. He played with her for three days and got her giving to pressure. That may not sound interesting, but Pat is so sensitive to the tiniest try on the horse’s part it is fascinating. He would put a feel on the the rope and sometimes her try would be as small as the flick of an ear.

Vendors came to talk about everything from red lights to Atwood horses. The atmosphere was charged and a lot of fun.

Day 23 – Riding Again

Today I rode Cole’ for the first time in a week. She is sound in front as long as she is wearing boots. Her hind end is getting better and the swelling is going down.

I discovered she has a lot of opposition when asked to trot. I asked her to keep at our pattern until she was pinning her ears less and stopped thinking about bucking into the trot every time I asked for it.

Day 22 – Of Ponds and Trailers

Today will hopefully be the last day I am on the ground. Cole’ is doing better even without the front boots. I took her out to the pond to soak her front feet. She was willing to put her nose in it, but it took a while before she was willing to try putting a foot into the water. I am not sure how much soaking was done, but she had put all four feet in the pond at one time or another by the time we left for something else.

The trailer has been a standing goal for me. I want to get all four of her feet in the trailer before the end of the course. She put two in with confidence so I gave her a cookie, sat with her by the trailer for a bit and went on. I want her to like the trailer.

Day 15 – Two Parellis, One Day

Today we got a chance to watch a filming session at Linda’s arena. It was interesting, but WAY above my skill level in some areas. Think post level 4. The rest of it was on leg position and which muscle groups to engage to have good legs while riding. Things like toe up is more effective than heel down, although they may look the same.

This afternoon we watched a trailer demo. Chris took a horse who was good about going into the trailer and played with him until he relaxed in the trailer a number of times.

Pat came to campfire tonight and Estella, a very talented classmate of mine, brought her harp. The sunset was beautiful while they played.




Day 14 – Goals for the Week

My goals for this week are to load Cole’ into the tiny two-horse trailer in the Parelli playground and to learn to own her hindquarters.

In preparation for the trailer I have been backing her off a little ledge. The smart horse she is, she quickly realized she could reach the little grass in the area by backing her back feet off the ledge and the best grass is available when she backs off with her front feet. I don’t think she will have too much of a problem with the trailer with proper preparation.

We also played with the ‘carwash’. The carwash is a frame tall enough for a mounted rider on a tall horse to comfortably ride through with strips of thick, clear plastic hanging down. The horse learns to push the strips out of the way and walk through.

Cole’ didn’t like the look of the hanging strips moving in the breeze. I asked her to go up and smell them. She stood with as much of her as far away as she could and sniffed it. I took that and we left it for the moment. When we came back later she shoved one of the strips aside with her nose confidently. Tomorrow I expect her to be even more confident with it because we left it on a good note.

Owning the hindquarters means you can steer by asking the horse to move their hindquarters like you would use the rudder of a boat. The tail goes left, the nose has to go right and visa-versa. We practiced hindquarter yields at a halt until she could do them softly, then we tried the walk I got one good one and left it at that.

I am feeling better and better about riding. I still don’t love it yet, but I no longer go into a cold sweat when I go to saddle her either.

Day 13 – Feel, Timing and Balance

Today I practiced my feel, timing, and balance in the saddle and on the ground. We had a great liberty session in the 75′ round pen this morning.

This afternoon I rode her in a group passenger session. Usually passenger lessons are where you ride your horse alone allowing them to choose the direction and when to slow down or stop. You get to choose the initial gate. If the horse wants to go faster you ask them back to your chosen speed. Today there were other horses standing around carrying their riders who played friendly game with their own horses. Usually the motion of the friendly game was enough to keep the moving horse from invading the space of the stationary ones.

I sat on her for more than an hour before our turn came allowing both of us to feel entirely calm before we needed to move. I rode her as a passenger until she relaxed and blew out. We had a great time.

This evening I practiced my feel, timing, and balance in dance lessons. We are learning swing with the hope we will be able to dance at the Parelli summit which is in two weeks. The summit is a Parelli members only event where they show cool stuff and roll out anything new.

Between the emotions of riding for hours and the physical part of dancing I am exhausted. Pray that I have the energy to stay engaged and keep learning.

Power Posing and Dominance Games

When I watch my horses play in the pasture, it is not the biggest or the strongest that wins the dominance games, although she is arguably the fastest. Cole’ wins dominance games because she is the most confident. She doesn’t believe in the equine who is more dominant than she is and thus they don’t exist.

Mint, who always winds up on the bottom of the pecking order is her exact opposite. He would really like to be dominate if someone would let him. Almost every move has a hesitance in it, even when he vies for dominance with a new horse. It looks something like this: I am big! I really am. Come on, I really am. I would like to be. I wish I was.

Some horses will engage him and prove dominance,  others, I had a mare who was so underfed she didn’t care what he did, just ignore his antics and he talks himself out of it without much help. He goes through the same steps with humans. One day he will come on strong, but if he is ignored or sent away he becomes submissive in less than a minute.

Many of my girls come out lacking confidence. Whether the lack of confidence comes from the fact that horses are big, or this is all new, or they are afraid of making a mistake, or training at home or at school, or a natural part of their personality, it really doesn’t matter. As long as they remain unconfident around horses they are a target for Mint and will be ignored by Countess and Cole’. The moment they find confidence Mint backs off and the girls start to listen.

I can only address so many underlying issues. Time will help them get used to the size and the newness will wear off. They will eventually learn to make mistakes and learn from them. I may be able to provide a safe enough place to build confidence, but all of that takes time. Time in which a girl gets frustrated and may talk herself completely out of horses, making her feel like a failure and reinforcing her lack of confidence.

I struggled with what to do before they became confident. I can be safe and positive, but it wasn’t until I watched this video I knew what else to do. I have tried it with every unconfident girl I have had since, and it works. Two minutes before or during a lesson and the horses respond entirely differently to the girl.

It is not magic, it is body chemistry.

Watch the video, tell me what you think.