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July 26, 2022 5 Comments
Last week we talked about not riding a hungry horse.
This week. Let's dive just a bit deeper to cover three related topics.
Let's begin with eating while riding...
I used to ride endurance races. Fifty miles as fast as my horses could take me. There were two goals in every endurance race for every competitive rider. Goal number one: be the first across the finish line. Goal number two: Get in the top ten but receive the honored "best condition score." Which means, your horse proved to be the healthiest of all the other racers. I won several best condition scores and I attribute those wins, in part, to the fact I would let my horse eat while riding. Exercise consumes calories. Therefore exercise requires calories. I find that when people don't let their horses eat while riding they could be missing out on some needed calories.
On the other hand... Some horses clearly don't need the calories and they are eating out of habit. Should you help that horse not eat? I would. I would use riding time to help the horse learn to focus and only eat during short breaks where it's my idea instead of his or hers.
But what about eating with the bit? Okay... easy answer. You choose! Here are the pros and cons. Pro, your horse gets calories. Con, your bit gets messy and it's harder for the horse to eat correctly. Pro, you get to reward your horse for good behavior and create a deeper bond. Con, your horse can develop a habit and pull the reins out of your hands. I am constantly balancing these pros and cons and assessing daily what should happen. One thing you'll learn about me as a horse trainer is I don't make hard line rules. My intent is to guide you to deeper understanding so you can make your own judgements. Knowledge is power!
Number 2: How much do horses need to eat and how often?
Horses need between 2 to 3 percent of their body weight in food every day, generally speaking. 1000lb horse equals 20-30 pounds of food per day. That seems like a lot, because it is a lot and it should speak to the fact that you can't just run a horse ragged and expect them to keep their weight. But the next part of the question about how often they need to eat is up for debate. Sure, people say you should let them eat all day. Some people say you should feed them twice a day leaving windows where they don't eat at all. Others let their horses go hog wild on green grass while others are more consciously managing their sugars and calories.
At the end of the day, if your horse is healthy, you're probably doing something right. But one thing is certain. Horses don't eat all day. Even given the opportunity to eat all day they simply don't. They give themselves rest time and play time. So if you think your horse going without food for a couple hours, while you help him learn a new skill is bad for him, think again. They can totally do it. Keep everything in a balanced perspective and you can help them reduce their stress and keep learning while having fun and staying focused during training. They don't need to eat every second of the day. And if your horse is trying to convince you he does need to. Either he's hungry and you should read last weeks article or he's taking over your allowing it. Food for thought!
Number 3: How and when should you give treats?
This is the hottest topic of all. Should you give treats? Read this article to learn a bit more: "To Treat of Not to Treat"
Generally speaking, treats aren't a big deal either way. If you use them for training and you see they help you, not just bond, but grow too, then you're doing great. If the horse takes over and gets distracted or grabby about treats, you may want to think about how to deliver them differently to avoid bad behavior or just avoid using treats all together. I like to use treats but I have a rule. My horse isn't allowed to ask for them. If he asks by nudging me or digging in my pockets he doesn't get it. If he opens up like an alligator I hold them back then too. But if he behaves well and opens softly I'll often give my horse treats. It's a great way to bond and train emotions. Just keep this in mind... If he's anxiously grabbing for a treat, what emotion are you training? Sometimes it doesn't matter if he just did some amazing task because he's already forgotten what you wanted and he's anxious again because of the treats. Be careful to reward emotions, not just tasks.
Here is a simple illustration to understand what horses learn: Example... training the jump.
Horse jumps jump on command then anxiously dives toward you for his treat reward. Sure he learned to jump, but he also learned to anxiously dive toward you. Which will he remember? Food for thought again, right? You're always training more than just tasks. You're training emotions too and food treats will either hinder or help you.
Hope this all helps.
As always, I love your comments and feedback. Share and comment below.