Won’t Hand Feeding My Horse Make Him Pushy?

Pushy behaviors around food are most often the result of either an already pre-existing issue with food, or food being delivered inconsistently, too close to the body, and without consideration of the horse’s mental state. When we begin any training program, the first thing we teach our clients is how to deliver food safely and effectively to their horses, while also teaching the horse how to behave around people who are carrying food.

Do I Have To Use Food To Train My Horse?

Anything that your horse likes can be used as reinforcement for the behaviors you like. For instance, if your horse likes to leave his stall, this can be used as reinforcement for putting his halter on. Many horses can also be reinforced with scratching. The reason we most often use food as reinforcement is because as a primary reinforcer (something the animal needs to survive), it is one of the easiest reinforcers to use, and the most consistently reinforcing.

When Can I Stop Using Food?

When we first start teaching a new behavior, the rate of reinforcement (how many times you reinforce your horse) is often very high. As the horse learns and understands the behavior, we gradually reduce the rate of reinforcement. Once the behavior is fluent, you will only need to reinforce the behavior occasionally to maintain it, but we never completely stop reinforcing the behaviors we want.

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