Updated: Nov 26, 2022
Let's talk about catching a horse that does NOT want to be caught. It’s likely that every horse owner is going to experience this at some point.
As with any issue, it’s important to remember that you are working with a horse, don’t get it twisted and try not to personify your horse. Horses, understandably, want to spend their time being horses. They are not looking to expend their energy unnecessarily and they love to graze in the pasture!
So, let's say that you have a mare who spends her days in her pasture. The root issue here is that the horse equates putting the halter on with having to go to work.
To begin solving this issue, start in an area big enough to work her in, but small enough to keep in contact with her. If the pen is too big then she’s going to be able to stay too far away from you too easily.
Go to catch her and if she’s stand-offish and goes to leave then work her around the pen more than she wants to, and get her busy. The goal here is to make the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. So the intention is to make standing with you, and eventually getting caught by you, the path of least resistance.
Now, if you step to her and she goes to leave again, start from the beginning of this system and work her around the pen again. If she continues to want to continue the behaviour of avoiding you and moving away from you then work her around the pen and keep her busy. Anytime she looks towards you for a change, turning into you, back off. Don’t try to catch her but get her ready to be caught.
Walk up to her and if she stands still then rub on her and make it a positive experience, and then walk off. Leave her without catching her or even attempting to! This is VERY important! The horse needs to learn that you being in proximity does not always equate to being caught or being worked.
In time she’ll want to catch you and will become easy to catch. Another tip to add in addition to this is to go into her pen to catch her, take the halter with you, but don’t use it. Don’t catch her or try to catch her. Rub her, rub other horses. This breaks the association of the halter always meaning work.
Additionally, if any of the horses in your herd are difficult to catch, address this with all of them. Bad habits catch on in the herd dynamic. So anytime you go to catch one horse, rub on them all, halter in hand.
In a nutshell - make your idea, her idea. If it’s more work to be away from you than with you she’ll get really keen to be with you, but you have to set yourself up for success by being in a small enough pen that she can’t get away from you, and you can successfully do the groundwork portion. Don’t begin this work, or any work, when you don’t have time to stick with it until you get a positive result. You don’t have to fix an issue the day you address it but you do need to make sure you end sessions on a positive note. A positive note in the above example might be that your mare turns towards you, you have the opportunity to rub on her, and you don’t catch her or try to, but you are able to rub on her and then leave the pen.
And remember, every solution begins with groundwork.
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