Solutions for your riding, training
and horse behavior problems.
Julie, I know you have said that you don’t
like hand-feeding treats to horses. But do
you ever treat your horses? What can you
do to show them you care while maintaining
respect? Is it ever OK to hand-feed a treat if
you know the horse?
I almost never give hand-fed treats to horses, but there are a few exceptions to
If I’m training something extremely difficult for the horse, or something really
distasteful to him (like clipping his bridle path), it’s a good option to have if I
think that the horse needs a bigger paycheck than just the release of pressure.
Sometimes, I want the horse to associate happy feelings with a really obnox-
ious thing, such as the horse trailer (or mobile cave/bear den, as he prefers to
think of it). Even then, I prefer he eat the treat from a bucket whenever possible.
Keep in mind that it is humans who believe hand-feeding is the best way to
“treat” a horse. If you think like a horse, you can show affection through other
Horses seek comfort and security more than anything else. I try to show them
how much I care through consistent handling, fairness and guidance, and even in
the expectations I place on them.
Horses aren’t overtly affectionate animals, and some are downright mas-
ters of indifference. My father always said if you want affection, get a Golden
Retriever—horses give you something else.
However, equines do a lot of touching. When horses get up close and per-
sonal in the herd, they bite, strike and kick other horses. This is one reason why
hand-feeding is risky.
I show a wild/abused/neglected/fearful horse that I will always feed him and
meet his needs for safety and comfort. This doesn’t require hand-feeding.
BY JULIE GOODNIGHT WITH HEIDI MELOCCO
The only known affectionate
behavior of horses (non-reproduc-
tive) is called mutual grooming.
Hand-feeding treats does not mimic
what horses do to be affectionate.
In fact, most people will eventually
find that trying to “bribe” a horse into
liking you by plying him with treats
will almost always backfire. Horses
take away food from others to show
I don’t consider hand-feeding a
treat the best way to show a horse
affection. I do that by praising their
efforts after a job well done, or by
scratching their favorite spot when
they come out of their way to greet
me. This is the ultimate compliment
from a horse!
JULIE GOODNIGH T shares her lessons on
her RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online
at tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics
and expos. HEIDI MELOCCO (
www.whole-picture.com) is a lifelong horsewoman,
equine journalist, and photographer.