Need Strong Talking-To...Making Horse into a Danger w/ Constant Treats & Nipping

I need a strong talking to. I am always giving my horse treats and I love that he always comes to me and “loves” me, etc. But a while ago he started nipping for treats. I always drive him out of my space and correct him strongly when he does that. But then it starts up again.

I’ve had nips that hurt and I always swear “No More Treats”! But I guess the codependent in me wants him to come to me, follow me around, “love” me (I know its not authentic love) wins over and I start with the constant treats again.

Sometimes he doesn’t nip for while, and i go back to constant treats. Today he nipped through my fleece pullover and broke skin, out of the blue. So its just too dangerous becuz I don’t know when he’s going to nip.

He’s a super kind guy, and this is all my fault. When I bought him from the cowboy he didn’t even know how to eat a treat from my hand.

Ok, Lay into me, I need it. thanks.

If you want him to follow you around, clicker train him to do so.

He’s being obnoxious. You are training him to be obnoxious. You have identified the problem. You need to untrain him before he becomes a 1200lb menace and you get thrown out of your barn because he’s a pain to live with.

You wanted a talking to, there it is!

You want to be kind to him. Remember that it is a kindness to teach him how to be a good citizen in the world. It will make him a better resident of his farm and enable other people to handle him safely. If you teach him to be rude you’re teaching him to behave in a way that will get him smacked until he stops. It will be kinder if you teach him that he needs to respect others’ personal space so that he expects a consistent result from others if he behaves politely.


Do you keep him at home? If not, try to imagine how obnoxious he might be to the barn staff.

My horses are at home; I don’t hand feed any of them treats because it’s just too dangerous to be in a herd of horses while they are fighting for who gets closest to me.

One of mine is an “in your space” kind of horse. And even without hand-feeding treats, every now and then she follows me and/or grabs hay from me while I’m putting it out. Nothing will make you find it less adorable to have a horse following you, than when they flip your hay cart, dump your wheelbarrow, or push you over in the snow and ice. And sometimes those stupid things are followed by bucking snort fests because they scare themselves.

Too dangerous. Horses have to learn to respect your space.


Oi vey, OP, you know what’s happened here. You know it’s your responsibility. I am actually a little bit concerned that you’ve come to a message board and asked posters to lay into you when you know exactly what the issue is, how it got that way and what you need to do to fix it.

Do you see a therapist or counselor? I have a student with a similar issue: she loves her horse, she loves that [she thinks] he “loves” her back, but her love is misplaced and dangerously so. She has been injured by her horse due to her unwillingness to face that fact that her relationship with him is unhealthy and yet for the longest time she was unwilling to acknowledge HOW unhealthy it was for her and the horse.

I finally got through to her when I told her that if she truly loved her horse, she would accept that her “love” is making him an anxious, miserable mess. That seemed to do the trick. She, of her own volition, decided to start seeing a therapist and - not surprisingly - has found that these beliefs play out into a lot of other non-equine relationships and she’s discovered how unhealthy her understanding of love and affection is. It’s been pretty eye opening for her. Your admissions have a lot of parallels to her story, so I don’t say it lightly when I say if you don’t have someone you can start working through these things with, please get on that.


If your horse is nipping you for treats, he’s probably got the upper hand in other areas too. That’s a problem unto itself, but especially because this kind of thing is so likely to escalate.

If you really want to turn this situation around, I’d take a few days to really examine the dynamics of your relationship with your horse, in the saddle and on the ground - not just around treats, but around good manners generally.

Once you feel you have a pretty good grasp of who’s pushing whom and how, see if you can turn the tables in small things, so you can gradually regain your leadership position without a whole lot of sturm und drang. You might, for instance, teach your horse to stand perfectly still before he gets a treat, or to back up respectfully and halt when you bring him grain or hay. You might hold him motionless at the mounting block for one minute before letting him walk off, or practice adjusting your own body language when handling him so he gets into the habit of respecting your nonverbal cues as a matter of course. There are dozens of opportunities like that throughout the day.

I rarely see situations where treats are the only reason horses get pushy. Usually it’s a broader problem that just happens to manifest that way most obviously.


I won’t lay into you. Warwick Schiller has some great videos on mouthy horses and some of the leading voices on clicker work have great insight into the timing of treats regardless of whether you do clicker training. I can feed my mare 20 treats in a day and she has never put teeth on me or even threatened. I’m far from an above average trainer, I just established guardrails around receiving food and was very consistent. If he learns treats only come from being in a certain place and that exploring your space will be interpreted as a desire for me to interact with her face.


Horses either need to be trained to have appropriate manners regarding treats or not given treats.

In your situation, where your horse is breaking the skin, I vote no more treats.


My natural inclination is to be a treat machine. In general, it has never been a problem. Regardless of how many treats I feed, most of my horses have remained respectful and never been a problem.

However, I have had two horses that required me to enforce a strict “no treats no way no how” policy (and it’s soooo hard! :slight_smile: ). Both of those horses had more dominant personalities. The kind that want to intrude into your space and prefer to run the show on the ground and under saddle. Going “no treats” was just part of the program to keep them respectful.

So I think it makes a lot of sense that a horse who is aggressive over treats is the kind of horse who is likely to attempt to get the upper hand in other areas, as well.


This is my new mantra! and yes, good issue for therapy! Also printing out pics of horse bites from internet and putting them on my walls (very gory). This is a saintly horse with no other behavioral issues and this is my doing and my fault. I always bought the next-day half-price candy canes, candy hearts, candy corns, etc. I am calling for a big course correction on my behavior and judgement.
Please continue the stern words and laying into me. Otherwise I’ll be in the ER.

Clicker training done right will train a horse to stand back to receive a treat for a specific behavior. My older mare is very pushy but now instead of mugging me for treats she “smiles” or rolls her Pilates ball up to me. She has always been super soft taking treats. But if she is angry she will bite hard especially on your thigh or butt when you are brushing her wrong. She has learned a large repertoire of tricks and we even do little performances for kids.

The younger mare I’m working with is very mouthy, can nip, but has never bitten me in anger. For the first year working with her I held off on clicker training, I wanted some other basics installed. Now I have started formally doing clicker. One of the first lessons is to turn her head slightly away and wait for a treat. It has helped her stop mugging me for treats.

Both these horses are very food motivated, interested in people, and fairly smart.

I find horses like the concept of clicker training. Reward based training is not natural to horses. In their own lives they apply pressure and punishment. They need to learn the concept of a reward for an action. They do get it pretty fast. Then they love that they can control the interaction to some extent, and train the human.

If you want to bond with a horse on the ground, clicker training is a nice focus. But read up on how to do it properly. Once you start, stop with the random treats.

When you clicker train you go through a couple handfuls of treats at each session. You can’t continue to use high sugar candy. I find it works well to use a kibble type grain feed that isn’t in their regular daily diet, bonus if it’s low NSC and a nice larger shape so you can feed one at a time.


OP Stop it. Stop IT. STOP it . STOP IT.

If you still want to give your horse treats, do it by putting the treats in places where you dont feed directly from your hand.

I throw my horse his treats in his hay. He loves nosing through his hay to find his treats.

Or put them in his feed bucket.

You can feed him in his pasture over the fence or drop them on the ground.

You still can give him treats if you must but you are much safer and you have some distance between him and you.

Good luck and please stay safe.


Excellent point. OP, wouldn’t you rather your horse came to you, followed you, etc because he found being in your company pleasant & calming & a source of security for him? I only treat ours once back in their stall at the end of a ride, or during, as a training aid. I hate mouthy horses. And with the young ponies especially, I see not encouraging that behavior as an imperative because it will be primarily kids handling them. Never have problems getting them to come to me, follow me, etc. Even if he was turned out, all I had to do with the dressage horse I leased was call his name & he would nicker/whiney in response & come galloping to the gate.

I require horses to respect my physical boundaries. Conversely, I also respect theirs. I’m not one to impose extraneous touching on them (I don’t expect them to cuddle) and while I do teach them to be respectful while being fed & eating, I’m not a believer in standing in their stall messing with them while they’re trying to eat their meal.

You can do it. It is safer & better for both of you. Someone once said “The kindest thing you can do for a horse is train him, and train him well.”


Agree with everything said here! Also just know that even if you stop giving him ~constant~ treats, you can still reward him for things like walking up to you in the field AND allowing you to halter him politely. I’ve always given horses one, tiny treat for allowing me to catch them in turnout, even if it’s just like a handful of hay, because I can’t stand a hard to catch horse.

Try starting small by just reducing the amount of treats he gets and making sure they’re associated to something he did right! Standing there looking cute does not count.

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My horse probably gets more mints in a day than an over-treated mint-eating menace. She. Does. Not. Bite. She came to me as a biter. She. Does. Not. Bite. The end. Zero discussion. There were consistent repercussions for bad behaviours. She. Does. Not. Bite.

Biting has about nothing to do with treats (although treats certainly can reward the behaviour when used inappropriately) and everything to do with setting boundaries and expectations and sticking to them absolutely 100% of the time. Horses are not allowed to bite humans. Horses are not allowed to THINK about biting humans. You must do whatever necessary to erase biting as a form of communication. If we listen, we can hear them talk to us without them having to get so “loud”. Likewise, if you absolutely 100% enforce that “shouting” will not be tolerated, they will find other ways to talk to you. Horses have extremely expressive faces and are quite aware of how to use them to their advantage.


You are training and allowing your horse to be “nippy”. Because you LOVE her, you forgive her when you get bitten. But when she bites someone else, someone is gonna wind up and whack the crap outta her… and she’s not going to understand why? And it’s going to be YOUR fault. Be kind to your horse, and train her appropriately for both your best interest, and hers.

Passing a horse a treat to show your appreciation for a job well done isn’t in itself a bad thing, can be useful. But YOU have to be in control of this, not the horse. Don’t be a “vending machine” where the horse presses the lever, and you produce the treat, because you lose control over the horse and the treat, and that is a bad thing for both you and the horse.


Are you 12?
I find it truly hard to believe a functioning adult cannot modify their own behavior when they have evidence such behavior is physically endangering them.

I handfeed treats to my Herd of 3 daily - morning & evening.
They know how to stand respectfully in a group around me and accept each treat.
Morning cookies are dispensed while I sit on a bench on front of my barn, after I have picked stalls, fed & topped off water buckets.
Evening cookies are given out through their partly-opened stall doors, after feeding hay & rechecking water.
The only contact I allow is licking my hands after treats are gone.
I swear they can count - 4ea morning, 3ea evenings & nobody begs for more.
Once the Magic Number is reached, they go about their business.


I have been starting the project horse on clicker training. After about a week we are working on building a few specific behaviors in her stall and she has stopped mugging me for treats.

But then I tried to introduce clicker with a friend on the ground while I worked on mounting her. She’s come back from the colt starter and I am easing back onto riding her here.

Friend is a fairly experienced amateur clicker trainer, committed to R+ training. But it’s interesting that whatever the combination of trying to do this in a more complex situation, horse turns into a wiggly nippy over excited mess when I get my friend to try to click and treat while I’m on the mounting block. It ends up being counter productive.

Horse starts mugging friend because she knows she has treats in this situation. Isn’t mugging me because she doesn’t think I have treats in this situation.

Since the goal is to get me up and riding her without a bronc episode, I am not going to spend a week working on the clicker manners at the mounting block. That’s kind of an unnecessary detail. We will just cut back the attempt to use clicker at the block.

When you are working with horses you need to be constantly aware what you are reinforcing for good or bad. I love it when horses start to help you put on the halter or bridle, and I definitely notice and praise them, for instance.

If you are making your horse nippy stop whatever is encouraging that.

BTW horses get attached to the person who is the calm consistent leader who makes them feel safe. They want to be with you because that feels like a calm place where they understand the rules.

Horse contentment can be just standing very close to a person or other horse and relaxing. I think owners sometimes want to see doggy style excitement in their horses and get them all pushy for treats. But actually this isn’t good even for dogs. Thats where you get neurotic toy dogs yapping and begging and never settling.

So OP you need to look at what needs of yours are being met by creating a pushy nippy high maintenance horse.


Here’s some tough love: you are setting your horse up to be euthanized or go to auction because of the dangerous behavior that you trained him to do. Put a higher value on your horse’s future safety vs indulging your emotional insecurities.
None of us can ever say “he will never leave my farm, this is his lifetime home.” Train your horse as if you could be hit by a bus any day. Which is true. Give him the best outcome possible to land in a good home.


I don’t know if this will be help, Scribbler, but I do all mounting block work on my own and only have a header the first time I swing a leg over. The header never gives a treat. Ever.

I teach the horse to wait for my hand to appear under their mouth during the standing at the block stage.

During the laying over and actually getting on, I teach the horse to turn their head back to my hand after a touch on the shoulder so that I’m not leaning/reaching as far forward as my hand will go while in a dubiously safe position.

But, the point, which I think you’ve figured out, is that you want that horse’s attention on you, not on the new Pez Dispenser that just appeared lol

Yes, yes, yes. It’s always awful seeing social media posts, ads, etc from kind-hearted people trying to help place absolutely rank horses in the wake of a friend or family member’s passing. Horses that are 15 & still not halter broke, you name it. Locally, someone was trying to place a family member’s WB stallion. I don’t know what the deceased was doing with it. Sounds like they might have bred horses years ago & poor health got the better of them for the past 10 years. Because this stallion was in it’s late teens & basically unhandled. Had good bloodlines but not a suitable project for 99 out of 100 people.