Run, Run As Fast As You Can, You can’t catch me I’m … Your Horse!

You’ve arrived at the stables and have arranged to ride out with a group of friends. They have already brought their horses in from the field, so you set off to catch yours ….  And off he goes, strutting his stuff way out of your reach. Not even the old trick of rattling something in the bucket entices him to come within an arm’s length of you.

Your friends set off to enjoy their ride, leaving you behind wondering what is to be done to improve the catching process between you and your beloved horse.

Frustratingly, as soon as you turn to leave the field, your horse follows you willingly down to the gate!

Not being able to catch a horse means some horses spend a long time in boxes, small paddocks or being turned out in a halter  sometimes with a small rope attached to it to enable easier grabbing.

As with trailer loading, catching your horse has to be practised. You never know when you might have to do it quickly and in an emergency. Or even when the field is very wet and you don’t want to sink up to your fetlocks in mud.

If your horse is not being openly aggressive or disrespectful to you, has not been misused or abused and doesn’t have a genuine and justified fear of humans, your horse is most likely playing a catching game with you.  Because he can!

If you can’t beat him at his own game then join him at it. Start making it seem like it is your idea to play!

Assuming you have been able to get him into a smaller enclosure, the time has come to start playing the game of catch me if you can. You will need a small enclosure, pen or round pen to minimise the distance and area the horse can move around you, and so you don’t have to get your energy up too much or even run around after him like an Olympic athlete. . .

Walk confidently up to your horse.

Remember, your horse is a prey animal, you are a predator. When you approach your horse, try not to sneak up on him like a tiger ready to pounce and snack on him for lunch. Walk up to him confidently but quietly with good posture. Try not to engage in a battle of stares – keep your eyes soft but be aware of his movements and disposition.

Walk away again.

If he turns away from you to start his catch me if you can game, turn around and walk confidently back the way you have just come – become a retreating predator!  Pretend you never intended to try to catch him at all!

Repeat the approach and retreat if necessary.

Learn to observe him quietly as you walk away. When you see or feel that he is no longer concerned with taking flight, turn around and walk back to him (you’ve got it – Approach and Retreat!).

Look for the time he is about to depart once more and turn purposefully away from him before he takes his first steps away from you.  You might have to repeat this many times, depending on how established the horse’s habit of catch me if you can is.

If the horse follows you, resist the urge to trun round and grab him.

You will have to work on improving your feel and timing for this.

By that I mean releasing the pressure (i.e. turning away from him just before he starts to turn away from you).

Your horse might even follow you upon your retreat on occasions. If he does, resist your predator’s urge to turn round and make a grab for him – it is still too soon in the catch me if you can game for that.

Stroke the shoulder or neck. Nothing more.

Repeat the approach and retreat, pressure and release game until you have desensitised him enough to be able to stroke his shoulder or neck. Nothing more than that for the time being. Just do it, and then walk away again, confidently.

Watch for signs that the horse is relaxing - licking & chewing, "yawning" etc.

Practice and practice until you can see a change in him – dropping his head, maybe even licking and chewing.

Then you will be able to see that you are slowly winning the game with him.

Practice turning around and stroking him all over his front end (stay safe). When he accepts that and you can stroke his head without him pulling away then you can let him sniff at the halter that you have in your hand.

Quietly put on the halter.

Slip the halter on him and pet him and praise him. Even give him a carrot or treat if you wish.

If whilst practising approach and retreat, your timing is off and you don’t get it right, then up the ante a little and send him away from you, making it seem like it was your idea all along to let him move away from you. Use just enough energy to drive him away from you – you don’t want to send him into the next county!

Let him run around a few circuits then position yourself just slightly ahead of him on the circle around the level of his shoulders. Rotate the shoulder nearest to your horse inward towards the centre of the pen. This is his signal to slow down to or even halt.

Send the horse away from you.

Rotate your outside shoulder towards the middle of the round pen.

Repeat until you get walk. When the horse drops down into walk and maybe even stops and looks at you, turn around and walk away from him.

This is his signal to stop.

Repeat retreat.

Repeat the approach and retreat as in the first example until you can put the halter on him as described above.

And approach.

If you are in a round pen, focussing on your horse’s nose pushes it to the outside to encourage a turn to the outside, focussing on the shoulder should bring him down to a slower pace, even halt and focussing on his hind end (the engine) tells him to move forwards.

The longer it takes for the horse to slow down or stop, the longer you should release the pressure from him (i.e. let him soak).

This might go very much against your instincts as you  might be more inclined to punish him for not doing as you wanted him to do in the first place.

When the horse does stand still and either lets you into his personal space or you can call him into yours, make it a really nice place for him to be. Don’t punish him once he has accepted your leadership. You want him to be happy and confident in your presence.

This way you have turned the Catch-Me-If-You-Can game into a Come-To-Me-Now and Follow-the-Leader game.

Be sure you know what you want to achieve before you start out on this path – no half measures or giving up half way through.

Remember you can either ignore a horse’s behaviour or correct it. Either way, you will have taught it!

Enjoy your ride!

11 yr. old Emily asking a 3 yr. old Elektra to turn in from the fence in canter.

Use the comment box to write and tell me about your “catch me if you can” experiences with your horse. I’d love to hear from you.

And from the other direction.

You want the horse to want to be with you - make it a nice place for him to be.

Use the comment box on the blog itself to send me your questions about horse training. You can also write in about any problems you might be having with your horse.Either I or one of the resident expert trainers will do our best to answer your questions.
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Always wear appropriate safety items of clothing, gloves, shoes and head protection when handling or riding your horse. There is always some risk involved in horse training for both you and the horse. Be sensible and stay within your level of training. This information illustrates the training methods and techniques I and my colleagues use. It is your responsibility to use it wisely. It is not intended to replace personal instruction from a professional instructor. Keep yourself and your horse out of trouble. if you wish to learn more about these methods contact us at:
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