Are you curious what other people use as reinforcers (food rewards) in their horse training?
I like dry, chunky reinforcers that are easy to feed and keep my pockets fairly clean.
‘Dry’ foods are easy to use
- Alfalfa pellets
- Grass pellets
- Alfalfa cubes*)
- Timothy cubes*)
- Timothy/Alfalfa cubes*)
- Black sunflower seeds (high calorie! Can be mixed in with lower value pellets or hay cubes)
- Home baked treats
- All commercial dinner pellets/dinner grain (nutritious and low sugar in comparison with commercial treats)
*) Warning: Pay attention to the hardness of the cubes. Cubes can be dangerous: some cubes are really hard and need to be soaked first. Another problem can arise when horses don’t chew the cubes. Some horses choke easily. You can test the hardness by breaking them hand. Other cubes are so dry and concentrated they become very voluptuous when hydrated in their stomach. Therefor horses can become thirsty in training.
Dry foods, but slower to deliver
- Handful of fresh grass
- Bunch of dandelions leaves
- Handful of hay
- Thistles (Kyra likes the flowers and leaves)
- Blackberry leaves
Moist (and usually a bit more messy) reinforcers are:
- Winter carrot: sticks or chunks (not slices!)
- Apple pieces
- Pear pieces
Other reinforcers that you can use are:
Messy but good value and healthy
- Soaked beet pulp
- Wet bran
- Other dinner mashes
Unhealthy treats (usually high value)
- Cheerios (even ‘low sugar’ ones) and other breakfast cereal
- Commercial horse treats (usually loaded with molasses/sugar)
- Tic Tacs (small, which can be good and strong taste)
- Sugar cubes
High value vs low value
The choice of reinforcer depends on the horse, time of year and behaviour I train. Sometimes The choice of reinforcer is just based on a practical reason: what do I have?
I always aim for the lowest value reinforcer. This might sound cheap, but the lowest value is still high enough to keep the horse engaged and willing to work. In other words: as long as your horse still likes it, you can use it in training.
It’s easy to go from low to medium and high value, but going down in value can be risky. I usually use food that is meant as ‘dinner’ for horses: cheap (it comes in 15-20 kg bags), healthy (balanced nutrition value) and handy (dry, easy to hand feed).
What do you use? Do you have tips that I can add here? Share them in the comments.
More about Using Treats in Training:
Join my free Clicker Course ‘Click With Your Horse’
Sandra Poppema, BSc
I teach horse people to connect with their horse in training, so they get results and the relationship they want with their beloved horse. Make training win-win!