I’m always intrigued by the quirky little treats other folks’ horses eat.
When I say “eat,” I’m not referencing supplements, vitamins, forage or healthy powders and oils — although a program that cranks out sound, beautiful, athletic horses time and again definitely has my attention there.
What I mean by “eat” is more of the special, quirky little treats that people give their equine pals. When I was a kid, I knew an Arabian stallion that loved bananas. If you unpeeled a ripe banana for him, he would happily walk up to partake. I once had a Haflinger mare that loved watermelon rinds. There was a paint gelding who ate peaches and spit out the pits. And in my college years, I knew several horses that enjoyed the taste of beer.
Ponies are especially entertaining. Several of the ones I’ve known don’t use much discrimination and eat whatever cellophane wrapped morsel that their little person is eating — be that Goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, Oreos or granola bars.
I’ve had a couple of horses that were so food motivated, they learned simple tricks with ease. If I had some horse-friendly treats or a satchel full of grain, I could have a horse shaking hands or bowing on command in very little time. It was always good for a laugh and rewarding to see them learn, too. I’ve grown to believe that, ultimately, pressure and release is the greatest trainer, but it seems that sometimes a little treat can be helpful reinforcement.
I don’t think there’s hardly a horse on my place now that would go for an apple or a carrot, but I try to keep them all happy to see me with feed reinforcement. I work on every horse that comes through our place to become comfortable eating grain out of my hand. I’ve written about the power of “treats” before on this blog, for when done correctly, they can be a powerful and effective training tool.
I believe that it is a real benefit to always have a little something to treat a horse with when you catch him. He needs to be polite, wait to have the halter on, and then be offered a nibble of grain without him displaying any pushiness or cranky behavior. It’s all about feel and manners. It’s easy for them to get pushy and rude when they expect treats all the time. (Sort of like some people I know!)
Do I still attempt to give odd food items to my horses now? Mostly, no. Although I’m pro-treat in the right context, I think horses are best off enjoying food specifically designed for their metabolisms and gut health. I wouldn’t mind teaching my horses some fun tricks now and again, but it’s often easier to have a small pocketful of sweet feed or a couple of horse cookies to offer our colts instead of what I gave them in my younger years. But I am curious if anyone out there has funny stories or oddball treats that their horses enjoy.
And not to state the obvious, but let’s just say I’m less likely to share a sweet, ripe peach or a cold beer with a horse that would just as soon have a nibble of grain instead.