I found my comment going on and on and on.....
So now it's a post. This treat thing is enough to make me nuts. Here's really and truly my last post on treats.
I don't care if you use treats (food). It's simply that I don't. I have tried to tell you why, but all this does is bring up waves of defense from those who train with food.
I don't use food to train my horses, but to my mind they still get treats. Since when is a release, a rest or a stroke on the neck not a treat? So I guess it comes down to what I want my horse to work for.
Do I need to phrase it differently? If I use the word treat in place of rest, release, pat on the neck, will it make you guys feel better?
I don't mind if you disagree with me, but please understand I'm not going to sit back and agree with you either. There will be arguing, but not meaness, at least on my part.
Just for general info, I don't train dogs or kids with food either.
I was on a walk with my Mother and my dogs one day. Another hiker was coming towards us on the trail with a large, lunging Lab on a leash. We got off the trail and I told my dogs to sit and stay. Since my dogs were off leash and I have an opinionated Rat Terrier I was holding up one finger and keeping an eye on them. My dogs were being pretty good, but I had to keep wiggling my finger to keep the Rat's attention. The women passed us and by this time she had hoisted the Lab up and was dragging him by his collar with only his hind feet on the ground and she said, "My dog would do that for a pocket full of treats too."
I'm not 100 percent sure what she meant. Was she sneering at my dogs because they were behaving? Did she wish she had brought treats? I'll never know. I would have given her some had there been any in my pocket, but there wasn't. I gave my dogs their normal treat, a rousing "Good dogs!!!!" and a pet. Exactly how I praise my kid or my horses. Well, kinda. I guess I don't call my kid or horses, "dog"....
mlk - her example in the comments is the reason I don't want my horse to feel she can be in my space. Ever. Which includes taking food from my hand. Any horse, any time, can freak. They are huge. They can kill us. I want to think my horse has a solid muscle memory built in to stay off me at all costs. Then if or when she mentally checks out I can rely on the physical muscle response to be away from me. I am willing to wager mlk and the vet didn't get hurt because the horse was hard-wired to stay off people.
I know it works. From years of experience. I have never been smashed by one of my horses or a horses I've had for at least 30 days. I have had them panic. They have jumped, reared, bolted for different reasons. The only horses I've had knock me down, over, into fences etc. were problem horses who came in for training. All of these problems came from how they were handled.
The worst injuries I've ever sustained came from horses who's owners loved them so much they played "games" instead of taught them manners, and showered them with carrots or horse candy so they knew their horses loved them best. When discipline problems arose and the games and cookies quit working I got called in. As a matter of fact it was one of those horses who ended my training career.
I've never been hurt by an unhandled horse either, be it a mustang or a two-year-old off the range. My injuries came from horses who were handled.This is what got me going on teaching horses to honor my space at all times. Because I really started thinking about how important it is to factor in what we don't do as much as what we do when it comes to training our horses.
Positive and Negative space. How my body language tunes to my horses. How I manipulate the air between us to create the behavior I want. I want my training to become increasingly nuanced. I want to get to a response from a shift, a sigh, a turn of my hand. I can't get any of this if I have to break the moment, intrude on the space, disrupt my connection so I can dig out an apple-flavored horse cookie and goober up my bit.
I have seen great riders treat their horses with food. So I won't say it's bad. I will say, over and over it's not my approach. I guess I'm not a good enough trainer to overcome the result of hand feeding my horses.
Now I'm done with hand-feeding.
Let me give you my Pete up-date. My little bay gelding, Pete, is doing well. He has come from being unable to follow a trail without falling off the side to a reliable, steady companion in the mountains. Except last weekend when he decided to reenact a mustang stampede and threw an extremely good bucking fit as we loped up a hill. I stayed on, he had to lope up the hill a few more times and all was good.
Which is a damn good thing. Because on Wed. evening I took him out for a short trail ride on the mountain he lives on. We had a nice start, he is getting good on his feet and beginning to enjoy going exploring.
We rode up and down a narrow, winding trail and ended up on the forest service road which takes us back to the barn.
We were headed home when Pete topped short, crouched like a cutter on a heifer and spun around. Those of you who read me regularly know I keep my reins loose through a spook and wait to see what my horses feet do.
Normally, if Pete spooks hard enough to spin around the other way he will take a step or two, then turn around and look at what scared him.
This time we were at least 25 yards up the service road before I got my reins gathered and stopped him. I had forgotten just how much power is in those Smart Smoke butts.
Pete stopped. We turned and stared down the road. It wasn't dark yet, but the shadows had lengthened and deepened and color in the trees was starting to fade.
Pete is not a spooky horse.
He was frozen into the ground, his head flung up and his eyes bugging out of his head. I was pretty much doing the same thing.
We sat there for a few minutes, straining to see what was down there.
I couldn't see or hear a thing. Of course the thing in the road was between us and the barn.
Then I heard a rustling in the scrub oak in the gully to our left.
Pete didn't even flick an ear at the rustling. He kept staring down the road.
The rustling got more pronounced. I kept glancing to the left, then staring down the road.
Then the rustling became quite a bit louder and two deer popped out of the brush. Normally if I surprise deer in the mountains they at least trot off. These two walked past us. They came within 10 feet of us as they headed to their trail on the other side of the road. Their ears and eyes were pointed exactly where Pete's were. Down the road.
They didn't even glance at us. Pete didn't look at them either.
I didn't need anymore convincing.
I turned Pete around and we headed back up the road to a trail that would take us up the side of the mountain and above the road.
He walked out and kept flicking an ear behind us, but he stayed calm and on a loose rein.
We got on the trail and headed back to the barn again. Pete was quiet and level, so I began to relax. It was getting darker and the trail was getting harder to see. I kept my reins loose and shook out my legs so I could relax into my seat.
I knew Pete could see the trail just fine, so I turned the controls completely over to him.
Pete stopped again. This time he stared down the mountainside. I felt my stomach clench. I wasn't sure we could even get turned around on the trail. There was mountain going up on my left and mountain going down to my right. I followed the direction of Pete's ears and peered into the darkness. I still couldn't see or hear a thing.
Pete snorted a hard warning blast through his nose. Then he did it again.
When I was a little girl and got into a tight spot, I used to say the "Our Father" over and over again. I found my self whispering "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," in the same sing song rhythm of my childhood prayers. There might be something profound there, but I was too scared to think about it.
Pete decided to keep going on the trail. I just became a passenger at this point. There wasn't a single element under my control anymore. I had to trust in Pete's better sense of sight and smell and for the first time with this horse, count on the partnership I hoped we had developed.
I swear he tip-toed down that trail. He placed his feet so carefully his shod hooves didn't make a sound. There was no clink on the rocks, no crunch of gravel, nothing.
All I could hear was our breathing and the pounding of my heart. I could feel Pete's heart thudding against the calves of my legs.
We both jumped when the branch of a bush slapped against Pete's flanks as it sprung back from our passing.
About a quarter mile from home Pete sighed, dropped his head and began to speed walk along. Whatever had been out there was past us.
I swallowed a few times, my dry throat telling me I had turned into quite the mouth breather up on the trail. At least I didn't wet my pants.
We made it back to the barn without incident. One of the boarders told me the Forest Service guys had stopped by to say the bear were all over the scrub oak and they had seen a mountain lion earlier in the week.
I don't know which one it was on the road, but I do know Pete and I have gone up a step in our progress. I know when it counts, I can trust him as much as he can me.
I gave him an extra flake of hay and threw a couple pieces of the BO's horse candy in his tub.
So I guess I do give my horses treats.