Does Hand-Feeding Treats Promote Biting?

Q:I am a novice horse handler/rider. I've been told that hand-feeding treats to horses promotes biting. What is the "industry" stance on this issue? In my limited experience they seem to enjoy it and almost all horses I've hand-fed take it gently with their lips. A few are a bit aggressive, but no bites.

RHG, via e-mail

A: Feeding treats to horses is not necessarily a bad thing if done in moderation. There are some horses that become overly eager to get a treat, and it is best not to continue the practice for them. Some people get their hands bitten because they do not keep them flat. Generally, however, a food treat can be used as a reward for a job well done. The Lipizzan stallions at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, receive one small hand-fed treat after each training session. The treat is kept in one coattail of the rider, who removes it after he has dismounted and is standing in front of the horse. It is obvious that the horses quickly learn to look forward to their reward.

About the Author

Bonnie V. Beaver, BS, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVB

Bonnie V. Beaver, BS, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVB, is a professor of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

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