Most horse owners including myself have gone through a period where their horses become difficult to catch. Often this is just confined to a few days when the spring grass comes through. But what do you do if you start to find your horse has become difficult if not impossible to catch?
1: Think like your horse. What is this ‘good deal’ you are offering that he should want to come with you when he could be in the paddock with his buddies? Does your interaction with your horse comprise of quickly turning him out in the mornings, putting him in at night with some feed and occasional rides? If so, no wonder he prefers the company of his friends. Spend quality time with your horse and chances are he’ll want to come and spend time with you.
2: Don’t pretend you are not there to catch him. Whatever you do don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you should hide your halter. If your horse has become difficult to catch chances are the moment he sees you he’ll start walking off whether you’re hiding the halter or not. Have your halter and rope in plain sight. When you enter the paddock walk towards him and say something like: ‘Hi buddy, how about we go in and get some tea?’ Walk towards your horse at a steady pace, holding the halter where he can see it, clearly showing your intention to catch him.
3: Don’t bribe! People may tell you to take a bucket of feed or offer treats. Don’t. For one thing you are teaching your horse bad manners. For another, he will probably grab the treat and then run off. Have a treat hidden in a pocket for when you DO catch your horse. Your horse only receives the treat when he has done as you asked and you have his head collar secure and the rope attached.
4: Don’t run after your horse. Do you really think you can win this one? You’ll be collapsed in a heap on the ground when your horse is only just warming up. Not only that, he’ll treat this as a game.
So, you’re in your paddock, halter in hand, treat hidden and your horse is moving away from you. Now what? Follow your horse at a steady walk. Do not speed up. If you horse changes direction, turn and follow but keep the same pace all the time even if you horse begins to trot. Project your energy from your abdominals and ‘push’ your horse onwards if he tries to graze. The idea is that if your horse is not going to be caught he’s not going to graze either. Horses are highly intelligent. He will soon begin to work out he’s not going to be allowed to feed. His two options will now be keep moving or come with you.
Keep talking to your horse in an even voice and keep repeating it’s time to come in to do what you have planned. Start to watch what your horse is doing. You are now looking for something called the ‘tell’. This is when your horse begins listening to you and will show you he is getting ready to be caught. Usually your horse will stop and turn towards you with an almost questioning look on his face. When this happens stop. Now, drop into a squat talking to your horse. Often at this point your horse will walk right over as he’ll be intrigued what’s going on. If you horse remains standing where he is, slowly stand up and talking all the time, walk towards him. If he moves off again simply watch for the next ‘tell’ which won’t now be long coming. Repeat the squat and if your horse doesn’t move stand up and walk towards him again.
I have always found that any horse no matter how difficult to catch, will be caught within five minutes of showing you the first ‘tell’. Once you have caught your horse, pat him, praise him and give him his treat. Above all, no matter how long is has taken you to get to this stage, act as if your horse came to you at once.
You will find that it will take less and less time to catch your horse each time you do this until you should be able to catch him with no trouble at all. Natural horsemanship practitioners will find that repeating ‘Join Up’ also often solves this problem and if you haven’t done Join Up yet then consider doing so with the help of someone experienced and you’ll discover your horse is not only easy to catch – he’ll follow you anywhere!
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