In my last column I mentioned that many trainers do not give treats to their horses, in large part because treats are abused by horse owners.

I will treat for five reasons:

1. To motivate horses to come into the corral.

2. To turn something scary or boring into something fun.

3. To get a horse to put on its bridle.

4. To get a horse to stick with me better at liberty.

5. To relax away from home.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Last time, I explained the treat-work balance, motivating horses to and in the round corral out of the pasture. This time, I will go through the others, starting with turning something scary or boring into more fun. I have commented many times that our modern society has turned into a “mama society,” but it’s really more like a “grandma society.” The answer for everything seems to be more handouts. Our horses can suffer from the same imbalance.

The famous Pat Parelli said, “watch what people normally do, then do the opposite for more excellent results.” Of course, the Bible originated that thought, which permeates both the old and new testaments. The way we do that with horses is to get them to catch us rather than us catch them. We don’t bribe them with treats, but give them rest, or relief with treats interspersed with work in order to develop patience and respect. Somehow we can seem to equate love with bribes, rather than sweating together. This is why I do not feel worship is confined to my nose in a Bible or my rear in a pew, but rather everything I do.

Specifically, we can condition horse to relax around scary things by treating them with grain or cubes, when we do something scary. All horses that come through my training system get grain with me waving a bag on a stick at them. Some will actually nicker when I come flying at them like a madman waving a stick and a bag. Of course, I slowly get them used to it, then step up the scariness as I go. My horses – Buddy and Holly – are both used to me running up to them before they get a treat. The opposite of this of course, is walking up to our horses as though we were on eggshells trying to bribe them.

Horses that bore easy can be perked up with treats in between workouts. The trick is to not do it all the time, but keep them guessing. I also want to reward for effort in that they are more likely to get one when they do what I want with either more gumption or more patience, depending on what is required of them at the time. But just as in real life, horses, as well as us, learn to do things out of habit and because it is right, regardless of whether we are rewarded or not. So we might treat more in the beginning and back off through time, with splurges in between. This keeps things interesting and keeping us all thinking.

The third way I treat horses is to help them put on their own bridles. I first teach them proper head positioning to accept reins (nose through bridle with chin hooked on bit), then accepting bit, then increasingly lower head position, allowing right hand and arm to push head downward. After the horse understands submission to pressure with respect, then treats will help horses put their heads in the best position to help bridle themselves. I offer the treat down low so horses are conditioned more easily to bring heads down and toward us. Once the bit slips through the teeth, I will present the treat. Along with humans learning to have more finesse when bridling, horses can appreciate the bridle more this way.

The fourth way I treat a horse is to stick with me better at liberty. When I hay my cows two to three months out of the year, I fire up the tractor every other day. I unroll the second day’ s hay in another pasture and close the gate. I ride one of my horses out there the second day to open the gate to let the cows in. I let my horse loose as I go around kicking the hay around better (I hate to see cows walking on the hay path, dropping cow pies as they go). My horses are aware that I usually have treats in my pocket, so they stick close, or are easy to call back to me (you can’t train a machine to do that). The rest of the year, I can unroll or roll in poly lines on horseback for rationing pasture, but when setting step-in posts or rolling in a frozen reel, I usually do that on foot. This is another time when it is easier to have my horse at liberty beside me or near me so treats can be more rewarding to them than the forage that is there.

The fifth way I will treat a horse is somewhat related to the last in that it rewards a horse in the field away from home. I like to either treat or let a nervous horse graze away from home, so they can be conditioned to be a little less barn sour. Any time we can set up a home away from home with rest, treats, grass or whatever, we can help equalize the “food-work balance.”

This is the type of horse sense that will help goodies to be a good thing again – for the human as well as the horse.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: