Written by  2013-06-07

Food rewards

(1 Vote)

There are people who say it is unnatural to reward a horse with food. Strangely enough, often those same people seem to think it is natural for a horse to be put in a round pen and be chased out of his wits. Personally I think when monitoring natural horses as well as the ones that live amongst humans, it seems a very natural thing to reward a horse with food.

There are people who say it is unnatural to reward a horse with food. Strangely enough, often those same people seem to think it is natural for a horse to be put in a round pen and be chased out of his wits. Personally I think when monitoring natural horses as well as the ones that live amongst humans, it seems a very natural thing to reward a horse with food.

Eating means: we can relax and have fun!

Often when a horse is chosen alpha in a band, the moment she (or he) decides to start eating, all will follow. The band starts to relax. When the alpha starts eating, it means she sees no danger and all can eat together, relax and have fun. Of course, the alpha will always keep an eye and ear on her surroundings, but as soon as the head goes up and the breathing changes, all other band members are warned to be on the look out as well. So, if you feed your horse treats during training, you are actually telling him he does not have to be on guard, but instead he can relax and concentrate on playing/training with you. A relaxed mind is in a state of learning, so the horse - as with any individual - will learn faster.



Good friends will express the nature of their relationship by sharing food and space.

Great fr

Defining personal space

Just as with most relations amongst earthlings, eating together is a form of bonding. You often see befriended horses eat nose to nose. Sharing food and with that personal space is a very important way to know what your relationship is with someone else. And here is the thing, if an obnoxious horse comes to close into the personal space for the other one’s liking, he can then drive him out. He will not stop chasing the other out of his space until he feels his personal space is respected again. Then the horse who got send off his nose can drop and he can begin eating… ah, what have we here, rewarding with food for respecting personal space! Why, we tiny humans can also use this one to our benefit. By only rewarding if the horse respects our personal space and reacts calm and pleasant to us. Of course, I might add, we should respect the personal space of the horse in return and also react calm and pleasant towards him. Read the article 'Human manners' for more info on this subject please.

Chances of being elected alpha?

There is no being so democratic as a (natural) horse. Horses follow a leader. And they follow her (or him) because they have experienced that following this particular individual always brings good fortune. A lot is said about humans needing to be leader to a horse for the human to be safe, and I say that this is a lot of bullocks. When you declare yourself leader to a horse who has no choice for he can not leave or get away from you… then the horse will view you as some kind of Kadhafi  (and sorry but I agree with the horse). The question is, how safe that sort of leadership in reality actually is, judging by what happened to Kadhafi and many others like him through history. We can also simply look at all the so called accidents with horse, or ‘problem’ horses world wide. Maybe that kind of ‘leadership’ is not so safe after all.

So, what then you might say? Well, you show leadership as is known to horses, meaning being elected as alpha by the example you set and the experiences every one has had with you. Now, I am not sure a human can ever be a band leader for a horse, the way an other horse could. Having said that however, I know from experience that horses can start value certain human’s opinions. Being the one in charge of the food and personal space are the first factors that will make a horse starting to value you, as those are the two most significant alpha qualities. Let’s say, if shit hits the fan and a horse starts to panic, what would be safer? The horse seeing the situation as a way to finally get away from this ‘Kadhafi or (which has my preference in any case) a horse asking his human’s opinion first, seeing as in the past, being with this particular human has always been of benefit to this horse and the horse around? The human can then state that everything is fine and both human and horse can proceed safe.



When we can eat, we can play. At the same time we can see one of the Gymnasium exercises being done: The Jambette. Notice how this exercise influences the topline.

Brain food

Eating gives pleasure to all animals including me. Eating something tasty makes me happy and I remember a lot of things in my life because they were accompanied by meals. For a horse it is no different. When he has just learned something new and you lavish with all his favourite rewards (scratches, voice, caresses, food), the memory becomes a happy one and gets deeply stored into the brain. The whole system of any animal is designed to repeat actions that bring good fortune. Naturally the next training session, the horse will seek to repeat the new thing he has learned in the former training, which he clearly remembers as being very positive.

Work(s) for me

Often people say: well that is all very well, but I want my horse to work for me, not for food. Okay, that is your choice of course. Personally, I do not care who or what my horse works for, as long as he has fun! I ‘d love for him to view our time together not even as work but more as personal development. So, whether my horse works for food, Hillary Clinton or NASA, I do not really care. Having said that, I have tested what my horses work for and here ‘s what came out of the test: When I only gave my horses food without my usual squeaking and happy overload, smiling face, clapping hands and jumping up and down for pure joy, they stopped death in their tracks. They looked at me with big eyes full of concern as of to say: ‘Is something wrong?” “Is it not okay?” They would not even take the food anymore! So, obviously the food in their case is only part of the fun. A mark that all is well and they achieve rewards. Next to that I have often encountered that even though they knew I did NOT have treats and an other person showed them they had, they still wanted to work with me and not the person with the treats. Same for many of my students when I often want to lure a horse with candy and they respectfully decline, stating that they rather stay with their human. Also, I often encountered horses not taking just a treat without doing something for it. They often seem to feel they want to earn it. When that happens I always go into 'oh gosh that is so adorable' overload. Hey, but that is me, I am such a sucker for horses who just want to do things with me.

Lastely… if it was really that easy, buying a horse over with treats then there never would be any problem with horses, would there? They would all go into the trailer, always come running when seeing humans, why, they probably won’t even need tack nor training, just take a carrot in your hand and all your desires will come true… or not? Of course not!

Take it from the Masters

And after all this, you still are not sure, then do not take it from me. Take it from people like Antoine De Pluvinel, Francoise Robichon de la Guérinière, Nuno Oliveira and even Xenophon. They all suggest that you reward your horse with a treat as soon as he does something useful to you. And what the heck… could it be because of the reasons I mentioned above?

Foodrewards… a must then?

Just to be on the safe side here; I am not saying you should use food rewards, I am only explaining there is no reason against it when it comes to the horse’s view upon it and those who in history have shown, to really understand the horse’s view.


Watch this video of my working student Stéphanie Kniest and training horse, haflinger Joya:

It is not about the candy!


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