Turn every training and every ride in the best possible experience for human and horse! Win-Win!

One of the key lessons I like to promote as a really good foundation to start with or to keep working on, is safe behaviour around food, ‘table manners for horses’ so to say.

Why is this one of the key lessons?
If you are working with horses you always want to be as safe as possible. You certainly don’t want to create problems, which can easily happen if you train with food as a reinforcer and don’t have clear rules around when your horse can expect food and when not to expect it. And how he can earn it (wait for the cue and answer the question right). The key to success in using food as reinforcer is to teach your horse safe hand-feeding.

Some ground rules
People who, in the horses’ eyes, reward randomly with food will have horses that are always expecting the unexpected: a random treat.

First of all the horse has to know he has to do something in order to get a reward and he has to know what it is he did, that made him earn the food. He has to learn to pay attention to your marker (the click). No click, no (food) reward.

What to do if your horse is mugging you? Using a marker makes it easier for your horse to understand that ‘mugging’ is never reinforced. There is no click, so no food will come his way.

Mugging is annoying for the handler and can trigger frustration in the horse. Especially if he sometimes gets rewarded for this behaviour (with attention, a pet or even food), sometimes he gets punished for it and other times ignored.

You want to reinforce the opposite behaviour of mugging, to make your training safer: moving his head (read: mouth) away from you, your pocket with food or your fanny pack with goodies.

Table manners around dinner time
If you want your horse to behave around feeding time, you have to communicate clearly what behaviour you expect from him: standing with four feet on the floor while the food cart is coming, back up when the stall door is opened or when the hay is delivered and so on. Use a marker signal to pinpoint the wanted behaviours. Read more here.

Polite behaviour
With polite behaviour I mean safe behaviour. The horse must wait politely until the food is delivered to his lips, after the marker. He shouldn’t move towards the treat, he has to learn that the treat will come to him. The horse must (learn to) take the treat carefully off of my hand and only use his lips and no teeth.

When I click and when I deliver the food, I pay close attention to the horses state of mind. Those two moments are the most reinforcing moments, and I do want to reinforce safe behaviour, so I pay attention to the horses state of mind.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding1

Trainer
The trainer must present the food in a safe way to the horse and he must prove to the horse that he is trustworthy. People who are  easily scared by a horse that moves towards them and the treat in their hand and proceed to drop the food need to work on their food presenting skills. You want the horse to trust you on where the food is presented (to their mouth) and that it will arrive. Be consistent and reliable in the way you present food.

The trainer must always check that he has a reinforcer at hand before he uses his marker signal. It doesn’t have to be food, but if you’re working with food, make sure you have something left in your pocket to give.

_keylessonsafehandfeeding3

The value of the reward, the size and the chewiness can all influence wanted behaviours around food. If the size of the treat is too small, it can easily fall on the floor and get lost, if it is too big it can be hard to eat quickly. Is the reward a very desired treat, with a high value for the horse it can increase frustration if it is not delivered quickly enough. If the horse has to chew very long it can distract him from the training.

There are many aspects to take into consideration when you reinforce your horse with food. Please don’t let this long list scare you away from working with food rewards.

Links to other key lessons

Thank you for reading. Let me know how what your favourite key lesson is and why.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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Comments on: "Key Lesson: Table Manners for Horses [safe hand-feeding]" (14)

  1. nadianiet said:

    Goede post, zie wel erg vaak dat paarden die met eten beloond worden erg opdringerig worden en dat eigenaren dit vaak accepteren.

    Like

    • Dat is het: de eigenaar moedigt dit gedrag (onbedoeld) aan. Vooral paarden die erg enthousiast worden van het vooritzicht van voerbeloningen kun je goef ‘tafelmanieren’ bijbrengen. Ze willen alles immers wel doen voor een beetje lekkers. De trainer moet zich er alleen wel ven bewust zijn, zoals je al zei.

      Like

  2. Very good tips indeed! I have always taught the horses I look after that they have to take a step back first, before they get a snack. The same goes for dinner, they have to wait until I give them permission to step forward to their food.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. […] my last post I wrote about the importance of teaching horses safe behaviour around food and food rewards. Another key lesson that helps keep training safe and fun for all parties is managing the […]

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  4. […] my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food and taking the horses’ emotions into account during […]

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  5. […] my previous post I talked about the key lessons safe behaviour around food ,  equine emotions during training, head lowering & […]

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  6. […] Horse, stay in training mode: equine emotions during training […]

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  7. […] Rule about safe and desired behaviour around food is not innate. It is taught. […]

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  8. […] quotation marks because it is not per definition an equine behaviour. It is a trained behaviour. Polite behaviour is one of my key lessons (the keys to success in +R […]

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  9. Iedereen die voedsel wel gebruiken als beloning zou dit eerst moeten lezen. Te veel mensen doen maar wat raak. Mooi en duidelijk geschreven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dank je, Jensvl. Als je wilt dat meer mensen dit zouden moeten lezen, voel je vrij om dit artikel te delen of te linken op je sociale media. 🙂

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  10. […] May: This month was all about teaching Kyra not to crowd me when I bring her food. This is just an advanced way of the Key Lesson ‘Table Manners’. […]

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