As a horse trainer who uses food as a reinforcer (or reward) to train horses I am often asked if hand feeding horses makes horses bite.

The simple answer is, no. Hand feeding a horse does not make it bite, or teach it to be mouthy.

Using food to train horses as part of clicker training for horses and teaching others how to use food to clicker train horses I get to see a lot of people hand feeding horses many many times. That frequency of exposure to seeing how people think they should feed a horse and how the horses receive the food has given me a huge amount of ‘data’ about hand feeding horses. So I feel I can speak on this topic with a degree of expertise.

The one thing that tends to put people off clicker training is that they have to use food to train the horse. The reason for that is quite simple, but slightly off topic for now, it’s a primary reinforcer and primary reinforcers are the most powerful motivators. We want our horses to be motivated to work with us, but we also need them to be polite, and that includes being polite and having emotional control around food.

How do you teach a horse emotional control around food? I have this wonderful image in my head of a huge dining room table with horse feed buckets at each place setting and the horses waiting politely to be told that they can start their dinner. Now that would be impressive! The great thing is, it’s not that far-fetched, as long as you know how to teach a horse emotional control around food.

When I meet a horse who has little or no emotional control around food the advice the owner has usually been given is “don’t hand feed it”. That is simply avoiding the issue when in fact resolving the issue will bring some really powerful training results that will be incredibly useful for more than just hand feeding your horse.

Why does some hand feeding make horses bite yet hand feeding horses with clicker training does not teach horses to bite?

With the teaching that I do I come across my fair share of horses who are mouthy and who bite. They are frustrated and anxious about food. Then when we start to clicker train the horses (hand feed them) that frustration melts away and all of a sudden there is a horse who is polite around food.

What is the secret?

The secret is simply teaching the horse how we would like them to behave around food. In addition, we make the food delivery clear and consistent so the horse is not wondering where the food is, if the person’s hand will move, if the food will disappear etc. We create a consistent way to feed the horse and we show them how we would like them to behave.

Leave a Reply