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My horse is a wonderful horse. I may be only 11 but I'm not stupid when it comes to horses -- even though older people may think so.

I feel my mother has spoiled my horse by giving him an apple or carrot every time we go see our horses. I told her the possibities of him going sour if one day she didn't have the money to buy treats after a long period of time feeding -- excuse me, stuffing -- him with apples and carrots. I told her he could be spoiled, or he could even turn mean if it happened. In every book I have ever read, they told me not to give a horse a treat every time I saw them. But nooo! I'm young and I don't know anything, she says.

Well, all this winter we gave them light work out and my mom ended up giving them treats after every five minutes of trudging around the arena. They started to fight each other to be closest to my mom; she didn't care. Now I've started to work my horse a little bit harder. I have started to longe my horse because I just taught him how to and he is perfect.... for a while. He'll start to balk and turn to me for a treat. I'll toss the end of the longe line on the ground in front of me and tell him to go. He won't listen, so I'll crack the longe whip and he'll pretend to kick -- but I know he won't because he's too mellow of a horse.

Now I have no clue how to break him of his habit, I've told my mother he's my horse to train and to stop feeding him treats all the time, but Whiskey, sadly, hasn't learned. The only hint they gave in those books was to prevent this habit, but not how to stop it. Could you help me out? I thank you so much!

- K. P.


Welcome to the adult world! The sort of problem you describe has been around for as long as there have been grandparents who spoiled their grandkids. And that's just what your mom is doing - spoiling your "kids" (your horses).

In the 28th verse of chapter 8 of the book of Romans it says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him...." So how is God working for your good in this situation? As much as we love horses, they are of no significance compared to our kids. Sadly, a lot of grandparents seem to feel that they can buy their grandkids' affection by giving them lots of treats. Imagine what could happen (in another decade or so) if your mom spoiled your offspring and constantly undercut your efforts to train those little ones in the right way! As it is, you have the opportunity to discuss the matter with your mother and establish some guidelines about how you will relate to each other in your respective areas of responsibility. Most folks never get the opportunity you have now.

Be kind, gentle and respectful in how you deal with your mom (a lot like you'd treat a horse that's bigger and stronger than you). In working with a horse, you'd also pay close attention to what it's trying to communicate to you. Listen to your mom, and try to figure out what she's trying to say when she keeps trying to bribe your horses. My best guess is that she's really afraid of the horses. Since she doesn't have your knowledge and confidence in horsemanship, she may be trying to buy their affection and good behavior (which you and I know won't work).

Now, let's move on to the arena and your horse:

In your concern about treats spoiling your horse, you may be mis-reading some of your horse's actions. When you work a horse in the ring -- either on a longe line or at liberty -- you are asking the animal to obey and pay attention to you. When he's fully obedient, he'll tend to want to face you with both eyes and approach you. That approach is both an indication of submission and a request for you to confirm that he's been doing the right thing. Horses learn on the basis of simple reward or punishment of their behavior. As long as he's moving along the rail, he really doesn't know if you're pleased with him. (The crack of the whip may even make him wonder if you're not happy about what he's doing.) He's going to want to approach you at every opportunity, looking for some indication that he's doing good. His half-hearted kick may be a sign of his frustration when you don't give him the affirmation he needs.

I'll let the horse approach me, then give him the "friend" sign: one or two rubs of my hand from his forelock to his nose. I'll also say, "Good boy." Then I'll move him back to the circle and more exercises. As time goes on, he'll approach less often, because he knows what I want, and I can reward him by simply saying, "Good boy" as he moves around the ring.

At the end of the session I may reward him with a couple of those big hay and grain pellets sold as horse treats at the local farm store. It may sound strange, but Willy spits out apples, carrots, and even sugar cubes! I guess that's why we get along so well together -- we're both a little weird!

Happy Riding!

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