There are many horse people who I have talked to who refuse to use treats for their horse as a reward due to fear of the horse becoming too nippy. But this can be managed by developing good habits between the trainer and the horse to teach the horse to respect you as the alpha horse.
In the wild, if the alpha horse — which is usually a strong, young mare — doesn’t want another horse to eat they don’t until they are allowed to by the alpha. The alpha horse gets first choice. So as trainers we become the alpha horse. The more you know about how the herd works, the more we can get an insight into how horses communicate with each other. If we learn to read the expressions of the horse, then we communicate better with the horse. The way horses communicate is more through expressions with body language. It is a quiet language.
I would recommend going out whenever possible and watching a herd of horses together, seeing how they interact with each other. It is a very educational experience if you want to see exactly how they communicate with each other.
How does this work with teaching to do tricks? When we know how to work with horses in their own language, trick training will be easier and more fun for the horse. Clicker training is what I like to use.
How does clicker training work? You ask for a behavior, then watch for the slightest try, click, and then reward with a treat. This is the fastest way to get the trick learned. Again, there are people who don’t like to use treats, but as a trainer we need to be able to control the horse through all situations, even through how to take a treat nicely. As a trick trainer, we need to have total control of your horse’s body and behavior. So we need to be very well disciplined in the proper way to train a horse in ground work. Total control!
In order to do that we need to become the alpha and friend to the horse. That is how they work through the language of the horse. The more we study and learn this the better our relationship will become with our horse friend. Natural horsemanship is the best way to achieve this. Go and watch those horses with each other, that is how the real horse whisperers learn the skill of true horsemanship.
Here is a video for you. It is getting colder outside so I can’t really record myself doing it until it gets warmer. So it will have to be this video that shows what I’m talking about.