Are you curious what other people use as reinforcers (food rewards) in training?
I like dry, chunky reinforcers that are easy to feed and keep my pockets fairly clean.
Easy to use are ‘dry’ food such as:
- Alfalfa pellets
- Grass pellets
- Alfalfa cubes*)
- Timothy cubes*)
- Timothy/Alfalfa cubes*)
- Black sunflower seeds (high calorie! Can be mixed in with lower value pellets or hay cubes)
- Home baked treats
- All commercial dinner pellets/dinner grain (nutritious and low sugar in comparison with commercial treats)
*) Warning: Pay attention to the hardness of the cubes. Some kind of cubes are really hard and need soaking first. Horses can also choke in them if they are not chewed well. A good way to test hardness is to see if you can break the cubes by hand. Other cubes are so dry and concentrated they become very voluptuous when dehydrated. Horses can get thirsty after eating them dry. Provide water.
Dry, but slower to deliver/take out your pocket/let your horse eat from the source
- Handful of fresh grass
- Handful of dandelions leaves
- Handful of hay
- Thistles (Kyra likes the flowers and leaves)
- Blackberry leaves
Moist (and usually a bit more messy) reinforcers are:
- Winter carrot: sticks or chunks (not slices!)
- Apple pieces
- Pear pieces
Other reinforcers that you can use are:
Messy but good value and healthy
- Soaked beet pulp
- Soaked bran
- Other dinner mashes
Unhealthy treats (usually high value)
- Cheerios (even ‘low sugar’ ones) and other breakfast cereal
- Commercial horse treats (usually loaded with molasses/sugar)
- Tic Tacs (small, which can be good and strong taste)
- Sugar cubes
High value vs low value
The choice of reinforce depends on the horse, time of year and behaviour I train. Sometimes it’s also just plain practical: what do I have?
I always aim for the lowest value reinforcer. It sounds cheap, but the lowest value is still high enough to keep the horse engaged and willing to work. So for the horse it’s great. It’s easy to go from low to medium and high value, but going down in value can be risky. I usually use food that is meant as ‘dinner’ for horses: cheap (it comes in 15-20 kg bags), healthy (balanced nutrition value) and handy (dry, easy to hand feed).
What do you use? Do you have tips that I can add here? Share them in the comments.
More about Using Treats in Training:
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