Selecting Food Reward
Today I want to talk about how to choose a treat to use for your horse! For those of us who do positive reinforcement, using food reward can actually be a decent part of your horse's diet, so it's important to consider exactly what you're feeding them. Here's what I look for in a training food reward:
1) Low or no sugar. Treats that are high in sugar may be more highly motivating, but they aren't good for your horse. While high sugar treats can be good every once in a while for special occasions, but horses aren't made to digest a bunch of sugar all at once. This means those sticky molasses treats or stereotypical peppermints are major no-nos when it comes to food reward.
2) Small. The treats need to be small in size. This will help your horse chew them quickly, and will also reduce the amount you need to give each time. Science shows us that you don't need to provide a large reward each time to effectively motivate behavior - sometimes I only give 1 or 2 pellets of grain.
3) Tasty. This can get tricky with the no-sugar bit for picky horses. Sid doesn't have this problem (I'm sure you're all shocked he'll eat everything and think it's great), but tossing a few drops of food-grade peppermint drops in with what I call a "cereal grain" (no real nutritional content - just filler) can make it a lot better for some horses.
While it seems insignificant, it's important to consider everything we give to our horses to keep them at their absolute healthiest! What do you use for food reward? Comment below!