Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Candy corn, the vegetable of candy

Dressage riders tend to be big sugar feeders. Feeding sugar causes the horse to increase salivation, relax the jaw, chew on the bit, and sometimes unlock more at the poll. It's not a "cheat" necessarily, but a tool to help a horse be more comfortable in the mouth, and sometimes more comfortable mentally.

Many horses don't need help salivating while riding, or relaxing and chewing on the bit. Others, like Guinness, can use all the help they can get. He has a naturally dry mouth, unless stressed when strings of saliva will stream from his gritted teeth. (It's lovely. Really.) I decided at the start of the year to see if feeding him a bit of something could help him unlock his jaw, slobber, and chew some.
Tense, dry mouth. Not pictured: streams of saliva.
I started with his favorite treat, apple slices, fed just as the bit was given. This helped a bit, but I found that every third ride, Guinness would hold the apple and drop it somewhere during the ride. Apples? Not effective, also messy to carry around.

I tried sugar cubes for a time, but Picky Horse refused to eat them (typical racehorse). I could get him to take them with a slice of apple, but most of the time he would work the sugar cube around and spit it on the ground. Messy, and sticky. Also annoying.
But! The days he would take the sugar and eat it, he would come up with some okay foam...
So last month, I went to my local specialty grocery store (Baesler's. You're the best!) and hit up the bulk candy aisle. I tried everything from buttermints, to jelly beans, to spice drops. I knew there had to be a better option out there.
Just some of my massive candy haul... 
On the first try, I discovered he liked *drum roll* candy corn! Of course I couldn't stop there, so I went on to feed him a spice drop. He loved it. Until it stuck to his teeth and he made the most hilarious faces (picture a dog trying to get peanut butter off the roof of it's mouth). After that he refused to eat anything from me at all.

Sigh.

So, I decided to stick with candy corn and feed the rest of the candy to all the other horses. Over the last few weeks, I've slowly been getting him used to eating candy corn, and he is starting to really look forward to it. This is a huge breakthrough, as this animal is distrustful of anything that is fed to him. You'd think I regularly fed him poison. 

The best part? Candy corn is really getting him to chew the bit and soften up. He was already getting better about this, but it's been instrumental in getting him to really foam up nicely and accept the bit even better. I am so excited I finally found something he'll eat! Now, to go hit up those awesome Halloween sales...
Candy corn foam is awesome!
Does anyone else have a picky horse? Do you feed sugar as a training aid?

21 comments:

  1. I have not tried this. Houston is a slobber monster though. I would probably be drenched in slobber post ride if I encouraged it.

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    1. Oh yeah! My trainer's horse is a slobber monster, and she still feeds him sugar mid-ride when he really rocks a movement. Usually her tiny little hand comes away totally engulfed in foam. It's both hilarious and gross!

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  2. I have never heard of this, and really want to give it a try!

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    1. Give it a shot! It's not a miraculous cure-all, but it does help your horse stay a little more engaged with the bit. That's always awesome!

      I'd caution to stay away from things with red-coloring, as you don't want your horse's foam to turn red. Some people even wrap the bit in a fruit roll up, but that is flirting with danger at a USEF show!

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  3. I don't know about Cosmo, but I love candy corn! Does it have any benefits for riders? :)
    I didn't know this about sugary treats, interesting. I might have to try it.

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    1. Benefits for riders ... hm ... delicious with peanuts? Excellent for raising energy levels? Not so good for staying on your diet...

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  4. Huh. I've never heard of this trick before, but suddenly it all makes sense! I knew that the Spanish Riding fed sugar, but I didn't know why other than the obvious positive re-enforcement gig.

    I know my horse Copper loves liquorice, he gets a little every time I walk out to catch him in his paddock. (24/7 turn out with herd means sometimes pony doesn't want to come in and play nice! o_O)

    I don't know about feeding him while bitted though... I thought they weren't supposed to eat with the bit in? Bad manners and all? What about the nose band? How does that work in relation to getting the treats in their mouth? Or do you feed this once the horse is bridled, before doing up the noseband?

    Sorry for all the questions - just curious! :D

    bonita of A Riding Habit

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    1. Questions are awesome! Bring them on!

      Don't get me wrong, the positive reinforcement thing is a huge part, too. Sadly, my horse isn't terribly food driven, so that doesn't necessarily always work for him. However, I do know lots of riders who will stop and feed sugar after their horse does something really great. They just lean down mid-ride and feed a little treat.

      As for feeding bitted, my thoughts are that grazing is off limits while in a bridle. I do this to keep Guinness thinking that bridle on = business time. Treats are a little different, though. I don't think those distract him enough from his job.

      As for the noseband, I don't use mine to crank the mouth closed and it is very loose. Usually I give a piece of candy just as I give the bit, then again right before or as I get on. Because the noseband is loose, he's able to chew the treat without a problem. :)

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    2. Great - thanks for clearing some of that up. I don't crank my noseband either - he's in a loose cavesson on a normal two-finger space setting, so he could eat if I let him.

      I guess treats wouldn't be as distracting as grazing either, but I know I wouldn't do it with a mouthy horse.

      I wonder how Copper would go. He's fairly food motivated, and I tried carrot bits once, but that didn't go so well. Maybe I need to test out a few different things!

      Hmm. It could be interesting....Might help with relaxing him a bit more.

      bonita of A Riding Habit

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  5. Interesting! Simon is a picky eater, and won't touch apples or mints. He does like sugar cubes , but he is a huge slobber mouth so I don't need to find him any sugar.

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    1. Haha, probably not! Being totally engaged with the bit isn't as big of a deal in the hunter world as dressage, either.

      Most ex-racehorses I've met don't like mints. Treat feeding isn't terribly common on the race track, I think.

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  6. so... uh... isabel wants to know if you have any candy left over lol. really - anything will do!

    but seriously - glad you found something that seems to work for your picky boy. bring on the candy sales!!!

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    1. Candy sales!! Funny thing is, I don't really like sweets. So, candy sales now mean something to me. :)

      I'm jealous of Isabel's appetite!

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  7. I obviously live under a rock, as I've never heard of this before! So do you feed the candy corn with the bit?

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  8. Sydney foams like crazy … Speedy, not so much. But while I am riding Speedy, I'll see long strings of saliva drip to the ground. He doesn't keep his mouth closed around the bit though. He opens his mouth, gapes his lips, etc. Sydney on the other hand sucks the bit like it's the best piece of candy he's ever had. I can hear him doing it non-stop. So my tense horse sucks the bit like crazy and gets all foamy while my relaxed horse keeps a dry mouth. Go figure.

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    1. So weird! Sounds like Sydney is actually more comfortable with the bit, which wouldn't be weird for a racehorse. Lots of times they get used to holding onto the bit, and really like to. His tension is probably just stiffness related, not bit related. Speedy, meanwhile, is flexible and works over his back easily. So he's relaxed there. But maybe he is still working out how to relax and really take solid contact? I don't know...

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  9. Beefs was mostly into peppermints, but I bet he would have loved candy corn too. Indy has never once eaten anything even close to a treat, she's so picky. I think I will have to give her oats to get the foamy mouth result.

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    1. Guinness is super picky. I've had him for years and years, and apples has always been the only thing he would eat other than grain and hay. Don't give up hope on Indy, I'm sure she'll expand her tastes some. If you stick with it. :)

      When I read Feedly on my phone, I forget to check and see what blogs have updated and I miss a lot. No worries!

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  10. OK I might have just commented like 3 times in a row I'm not sure.. in case I did please delete the above! :)

    Just wanted to add my two cents that I started using tic tacs as a treat for Teddy to get him to accept the bit more easily (which worked great) but then Really noticed the side benefit of happy foamy/chewy mouth! Plus, tic tacs = easy to carry in their little containers, pop out one at a time, and don't get squished in pockets

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    1. Tic Tacs! What a great idea! I bet those work great!

      Also, I'd never checked out your blog before, but am totally following now! My husband is a 4th year med student, so I totally know where you're coming from!

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