It can be extremely frustrating if you turn up to the barn to bring your horse in for a quick ride but your horse refuses to play ball and runs in the other direction when you approach with a halter. Sadly this is something that is all too familiar to many of us but the solution is much simpler than you might realize.
How do you catch a difficult horse? Without looking the horse in the eye slowly walk towards them, stopping from time to time. Horses are inquisitive so, after a while, the horse will want to know what you’re doing and why you’re not paying attention to them and will come to find out. Voila, the horse is ready to catch.
There are many tips and tricks to catching a horse that doesn’t want to be caught (such as bringing all of his field mates in first) but while these may work short term the best solution is to train your horse to want to be caught. I know that this may sound strange, or even impossible for some horses, but with a little bit of time and patience it will work time and time again and before you know it you’ll be catching your horse within minutes.
Why are some horses difficult to catch?
In order to be able to catch a horse successfully, every time, you need to change the way you think and understand why your horse doesn’t want to be caught. As prey animals, they’re hard-wired to be difficult to catch, after all, it’s an instinct that has helped them to stay alive in the wild. The problem is though that they’re no longer living in the wild, yet can still be hard to catch.
There can be a wide range of reasons why a horse doesn’t want to be caught but whatever the motivation it can, usually, be boiled down to one of two distinct reasons, either fear or learned habit. Understanding which group your horse falls into will help you to better understand why they’re acting the way they are and therefore help you to catch them in the future.
Why is it important to always be able to catch your horse?
You might not think that it matters if you’re unable to catch your horse now and then but it can be far more important than you realize. While it may not be a nice or comfortable thing to admit, it doesn’t bode well for your relationship if your horse won’t allow you to catch him.
If you allow your horse to go uncaught your teaching them two negative lessons, one is to disobey you (which makes them think they’re the boss) and the other is that if they just hold their ground you’ll give up. Both of which will only make it harder for you to catch them next time, and even harder the time after that!
Hopefully, it won’t happen but if you need to catch your horse in an emergency it can be very serious if you’re not able to do so. After all, if there’s a fire and you need to move your horse what are you going to do if you can’t catch him? Then there are the health reasons for catching a horse such as a veterinarian or a farrier visit.
Don’t trick your horse
While it might work in the short term, tricking or bribing your horse to be caught is not a realistic solution. For starters you’ll draw a lot of unwanted attention from other horses if you wander into the field with a bucket of carrots, they’ll want to know what’s in the bucket and will want some of the food themselves.
It can also lead to bad habits as your horse will expect treats every time and will be coming to you for them rather than because you’ve called him. This is never a good basis for a successful relationship. You can give your horse treats from time to time (if you want to), just don’t use them to trick him into being caught.
Reprogram your horse’s brain
If your horse is difficult to catch then you’ll be making your life much easier if he doesn’t automatically associate you entering the pasture with him being caught (or at least you attempting to catch him), but to do this you’ll need to ‘reprogram’ his brain. Don’t worry though this isn’t as difficult as it might sound.
You simply need to spend more time in his pasture without trying to catch him, instead, you can carry out various tasks such as removing poisonous plants, cleaning up manure, or checking the water troughs. Whatever you choose to do though it’s important you don’t approach your horse and if he does approach you you don’t try and catch him. If your horse does approach you though let him investigate what you’re doing before YOU walk away from him. It’s important that you make the decision to leave rather than your horse. By doing this you’re teaching your horse not to link you being in his field with him being caught.
If you do this a few times every day it won’t be long at all until you’ve reprogrammed your horse’s brain so that he does automatically think if you’re in the field it means he’s going to be caught.
How to catch your horse, successfully, every time
Now that you’ve broken the connection in your horse’s mind so that he no longer thinks you’re going to try and catch him the second you enter his field it’s time to train your horse. This stage is the most important so it’s crucial you don’t rush this or cut any corners.
Make sure you’ve got plenty of time
As with any form of training, it’s important to make sure you have enough time to do it properly. Hurrying through it as quickly as possible isn’t going to help anybody, it’ll only frustrate you and confuse your horse. Your horse will also think that he’s won the battle which will make him twice as hard to catch next time.
Don’t always try and catch your horse
When you’ve decided you’ve got time to start training your horse don’t begin by catching him (or at least trying to) immediately. Instead slowly wander into his field before stopping and picking up some grass, take a few more steps toward your horse before stopping and picking up some more grass. Repeat this a few times and before long your horse will wonder what you’re doing and move towards you to try and find out.
It might not seem like doing this will help but you’ve managed to get your horse’s attention which is half on of the battle. Not only do you have his attention though but he’s also engaging positively with you.
Once your horse has done this walk away before he does, it’s important that your horse isn’t the one who makes the decision on when you go. While it may not seem like a massive issue, in your horse’s mind he will think that he’s dominant if he chooses when to leave.
Approach your horse from the side
Horses have a blind spot just in front of their noses as well as directly behind them so if you approach your horse from either of those areas then there’s every chance he won’t be aware you’re there and will be startled when he does. Instead, it’s better to approach from the side (without looking him in the eye) and move in a sideways fashion yourself too (you can use your peripheral vision to see where your horse is). Approaching your horse like this will give him plenty of time to see you beforehand.
If your horse allows you to walk up to him straight away don’t be tempted to catch him immediately, instead make a fuss of him first (stroke him, groom him or do whatever he prefers) for a few minutes first. Don’t worry though, if you make it worth your horse’s while he won’t even think about wandering off again so you can easily catch him when you’re finished fussing over him.
Don’t always bring your horse in
Just because you’ve successfully caught your horse it doesn’t mean that you need to bring him in. Some horses don’t like being caught because they associate it with having to do some work. By not always bringing your horse in you’re breaking that mental connection.
I’m not saying that you should turn your horse away as soon as you’ve caught him but just don’t bring him in every time. Instead, you could take him for a short walk, tie him up and groom him in the field or even give him his food. By doing this you’re creating a positive experience which will make it easier to catch him again next time.
Don’t be reactive to your horse
If your horse runs as soon as you enter the field it can be so tempting to react to this by chasing after him but this will just make your horse run even more (and probably faster too) and there’s no way you’re going to be able to keep up with him. By chasing after your horse you’re encouraging his behavior, even if you do eventually catch him.
Instead, if your horse does run don’t pick up your pace as well, continue to walk calmly towards him, and when he does stop to look at you, carry on at the same pace towards him. If, when your horse does stop, he starts to take a step backward mirror that behavior and do the same. If you continue to do this your horse will eventually allow you to walk up to him and catch him, at which point you should heap plenty of praise on him. You need to let him know that when he does what you ask him to he’s rewarded, this will make it easier to catch him next time.
This step is the most important one and shouldn’t be rushed or skipped. Yes, it might take you the whole day to catch your horse but I promise you, if you follow this step, you’ll catch him in a fraction of the time next time. Before long you’ll be catching your horse in a few minutes, EVERY TIME!
Make sure you reward your horse
You might think that catching your horse is the most important aspect of the training but it’s only half of the story. Of course, you want to be able to catch your horse but the real objective is to be able to do so over and over again which is why you need to make the experience a positive and pleasurable one. The best way of doing this is to reward your horse every time you catch him. You don’t necessarily need to reward him with treats, it could be just as simple as a massage. Whatever you choose to do is up to you, what’s important is that you’re rewarding your horse for letting you catch him which will stop him from associating being caught with something negative (such as having to do some work or a farrier visit).
Things you should avoid doing when trying to catch your horse
While it’s good to know how to catch your horse properly it’s also important to know what you shouldn’t be doing.
- Never grab the halter – If your horse already has a halter on don’t be tempted to suddenly grab hold of it, you might think that it’s the only way you can catch your horse but it could panic him and force him to rear and possibly take you with him.
- Don’t go in wave your arms around – If you enter your horse’s field shouting and waving your arms around you’re going to scare your horse and make him want to move away from you instead of coming towards you.
- Don’t trap your horse – Horses are prey animals that really don’t like to be cornered with no way of escaping. Not giving your horse the option of leaving could cause him to panic and cause far more problems than it’ll solve regardless of whether or not you do catch him in the end.
Should you turn a hard to catch horse out with a halter on?
As a general rule you shouldn’t turn your horse out with his halter on but if he’s difficult to catch it’s okay to do so while you’re retraining him. If you do though it’s crucial that you either use a leather halter or one with a breakaway crown. This will mean that if your horse gets it caught he can easily free himself.
What should I do if my horse bolts every time I turn them out?
Some horses get overexcited about being turned out and can’t wait to rush into the pasture and see their friends. While this can be a good thing if your horse is too keen it can be difficult and painful if they pull the rope from your hands. The best way of dealing with this is to wear gloves to protect your hands but also to slip the rope through the halter rather than clip it on. That way you can very quickly release it without hurting yourself or your horse.
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Over the years I use have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.