Once upon a time before I understood the relevance of food exercises with horses, I merely gave my horses treats whenever I wanted or just avoided food when it became an issue.
Upon learning the Carolyn Resnick's Waterhole Rituals, I became very aware of what an important area this was to work with.
As I began working more appropriately with food, I found ways to incorporate it into all types of exercises.
Let's start with simple ideas like how horses move each other around food to show leadership and rank when we drop multiple piles of hay, they will move each other around those piles. Sometimes people think it is mean or random but it is natural behavior amongst horses.
When I observe horses eating together it can tell me who is food oriented and who is not, who are buddies (they will share food), and what the general rank is in the herd.
When I have very little time to build rapport with a horse during session, I will use food or treats to get a feel for a horses' character. If I offer a horse food and he is stand offish, that tells me something about how he feels about me or people. If I offer a horse food and he tries to grab it or get pushy with me, that tells me about that horse. With the pushy horse, I know I have an opportunity to start shaping boundaries and that let's me start a natural flow to the relationship. I will spend more time with the shy horse trying to grow their trust until they are comfortable with me.
Another way I use food, is as a measure of how much a horse is set against something. For example if I am going to try to use food as a motivation to encourage a horse to do something more challenging, like step toward water and he wont take it. That tells me he is not ready to do the task. This is not to be confused with coaxing. It is meant to be a reward that is given for a good effort. (see videos below, horses are allowed to choose interaction with the exercise and leave if they want at any time).
When I travel with horses to new places, The grazing exercises combined with Eye Contact are invaluable. If I unload my horse from the trailer or have him at a new place with lots of stimulating activity going on, asking my horse to keep an eye on me and then giving permission to graze is a really good way to reward and gain focus. Once I have focus, I can keep the lines of connection and communication open between me and my horse.
Here is a video playlist of how I used treat games to work with clippers with several horses at Liberty and one in particular who refused to be clipped and was quite dangerous. I am also employing the very effective Monkey see-Monkey do approach by working with several horses at once and employing a couple that are comfortable with clipping. Enjoy!
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