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)
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.
I went to visit Cole’ twice today. At first she wasn’t so glad to see me. She didn’t want to go back into the trailer. We played in the round pen where she is staying until Monday when the course starts until she connected with me then I left.
I came back in the afternoon. She was happy to see me again. I groomed her and played in the pen a bit before approaching the trailer. We played with the trailer until she could stand in the trailer without trying to jump out while the door was swung a little bit. On the way back to the pen she hesitated and looked over her shoulder at the trailer as if to say, “That’s it? We aren’t going to drive forever again?”
I got a message about Mint today. Mint has been conquering his fear of anything hind foot related. First the flyspray, now he is working on his trailer loading. Today he went on his first trailer ride in years. Last time it was to rescue him from starving to death in the middle of the city back yard. This time it is to visit a friend for a month. All those little steps have really paid off.
What would you do if you saw one of your horses “off,” rolling on the ground, or bleeding?
You know not to panic because if you panic your horse, being a herd animal, will probably join you. You remind yourself to calm down. breathe, and pray. Are you overreacting? Is this serious? Where is the vet’s number? Do you need to call someone else to help you either physically or emotionally? Where is their number?
You start by haltering your horse. Can you or someone else find a halter and lead easily? Can you catch your horse if he is worried?
Next you check his vitals if it is not immediately obvious that he needs to see a vet now. If he needs a vet immediately you call the vet then check his vitals. Do you know how to check your horse’s vitals and do you know what is normal for your horse? Is that information posted so someone else could find it? Could you find it?
I created the Equine Emergency Information sheet after one of my girls called me with a sick horse and she didn’t know what to do. I suggest you print it out and post it somewhere you will see it.
Even simple things like a lost shoe or worse, unexplained lameness, can throw you off your game. Colic and major injury to your horse can make even simple tasks difficult. A booklet that describes how to take vitals will not do you much good if it is in your desk and you have to search for it. Having a simple plan and everything very easy to find can mean the difference between a stressed out horse owner and a horseman who is able to be there for their horse when their horse needs them most.
Halter and lead easily accessible, but not hanging on the gate for safety reasons
Practice catching and coming when called
Know how to check vitals and the normal ranges
Post the vital information so you and others can see it
Stethoscopes are cheap and worth it for the peace of mind. Hang it next to your vital sign list
Talk to your vet about what other emergency supplies you should have on hand.
I grabbed a camera as I played with my levels partner the other day. It is hard to get good pictures while playing with an interested horse. I would hold up the camera and she would try to figure out what I wanted her to do. She was starting to get the idea just to stand there when I had to leave.
After looking through all the pictures I took that day, I settled for a good picture of two feet on the pedestal instead of a blurry one of all four feet. She wasn’t sure what the camera wanted her to do.
Getting her into the trailer calmly has been a huge answer to prayer and years of playing with this and other things. I can even shut the door and she stands calmly until I open the door, at which point she politely waits until I ask her to come out.