Most treats fed to horses are not only filled with inflammatory ingredients but given for the wrong reason.

Many mixed treats have grains and grain byproducts. Some have added minerals, vitamins, “essential” ingredients that are not essential or preservatives, colorings and flavorings. These treats trick owners into believing that giving them to horses will reward them and be beneficial.

Other treats include fruits, apples, bananas), root vegetables (carrots), candies (peppermints) and sugar cubes. I’m OK with fruits when fed in season and freshly picked from their source, but otherwise, sugary treats have only one purpose – to add body fat. Remember that all sucrose (table sugar), high fructose corn syrup and ripe fruit are fructose bombs that are detrimental to their health when fed daily throughout life.

The other reason for feeding treats is because horse owners think the horse will believe that you love them. Worse, feeding treats when exhibiting bad behavior rewards this bad behavior and enforces it. Never reward bad behavior. We all want to be loved, but getting love through giving a sweet reward at an inappropriate time will only get us 1) bought compliance rather than willing cooperation and 2) more bad behavior.

The BEST treat is to measure out the spoken words “Thank you!” said with sincerity and given when earned. If a core belief in you to provide a food reward is hard to overcome, then offer 1 or 2 peanuts in the shell. “Working for peanuts,” in this case, is appropriate as peanuts are legumes like alfalfa and soybeans and are a perfect food source, especially for metabolic horses trying to lose body fat. Try roasted, salted, unsalted, or unroasted to determine what your horse likes. Feed only 1 or 2 at a time and never more. They do not freeze but keep them in a waterproof container to prevent mold.

Treat horses when earned with willing behavior, not just for existing in your life. Expected behavior, such as standing quiet in cross-ties or for the farrier, should be rewarded with only a “Thank you” as your mother did when you did something right for the first time. Saying nothing at all is often the BEST reward, especially when expecting a behavior. In training a horse to new behavior, offering a treat beyond a “Thank you” can be done with a peanut given when the horse associates that treat with the associated “Thank you” and the sincere joy you exhibit.

This concept also works with humans, such as children and spouses. Try it through a “Thank you” said while looking into their eyes is better than a peanut.

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