Summer is now in full bloom and the fields opposite my house are full of horses; dozing in the shade beneath the canopy of the oak trees or grazing nose to nose on the patches of still lush pasture which remain unscorched by the fierce sunshine we've enjoyed of late. I was enjoying this delightful, tranquil scene from my kitchen window one evening when the peace was rudely shattered by the rattling of a bucket and a voice calling; "Come here, Treacle." in wheedling tones. A scruffy, black pony, who I took to be the Treacle in question, trotted purposefully away from the young girl with the bucket before giving her a two hoofed salute and cavorting off up the field to join his chums tucking into a particularly tasty-looking patch of grass.
Poor girl! We've all been there and done that though I suspect, especially in the springtime when our horses have spent much of the winter stabled and grass has been scarce. So, how do you go about catching the problem horse who simply doesn't want to know?
First of all, allow yourself plenty of time if you know that your horse is difficult to catch. If you have to give up because you're running late and have to leave him out; he's just learned that he can get his own way and you have an uphill task on your hands. You must also be consistent. Reward him every time he comes to you, either with a nice stroke or a head-rub or a tasty treat.
Keep your body language passive and relaxed, especially if your horse is a nervous type. Don't march briskly up to your horse's head brandishing a headcollar. You might startle him and cause his flight response to kick in. By all means be confident but keep your demeanour calm and quiet and don't rush. Give him time to understand what you want of him and to respond as you'd like him to.
I had a new horse once who was really tricky to catch because he had come to me from a dealer's yard where he'd been stabled non-stop for six weeks. He then spent a week in the isolation box on the yard as he'd come over from Ireland and it was yard policy that imported horses were put in a mini quarantine environment before they could be integrated into the existing herd. Understandably, the last thing my horse wanted was to be brought in from his lovely field and his new friends, just in case he found himself shut in on his own again. I found that by making time to visit him a few times during the day, pet him and give him treats without actually catching him he soon came to me every time I arrived rather than running away in anticipation of being brought in. I then started bringing him just for an hour or two to be groomed and fed before turning him out again. He soon realised that he wasn't going to lose his liberty or his companions and my problems catching him disappeared.
Horses like routine so you could try bringing your horse in at the same time each day, rewarding him with a grooming session and a small feed. Don't always catch him just to ride. Perhaps start off by riding him before you turn him out then when you catch him later, he'll know it's time for a feed and a fuss and be more willing to come in. Very often, bringing his companions in first will work well. If he's left alone he will probably be more amenable to coming in rather than be left out by himself.
Try turning your horse out in a smaller field or paddock until you are confident you can catch him. There's nothing more demoralising than trudging up and down a 20 acre field for hours whilst enjoying a view of your horse's backside as he makes good his escape.
Don't get frustrated and chase after your horse if he walks away from you; unless you're Usain Bolt you won't get anywhere near him! If you've taken a bucket of nuts or some treats, just settle yourself down and wait. Sooner or later, he'll come to see what you've got. I found that if I made it obvious I had something (apples in a rustling paper bag were favourites) and strolled away from my horse munching loudly on one, his curiosity always got the better of him eventually and he'd follow me to see what he was missing out on. It got to be quite a game; the more I walked away and ignored him, the more he chased after me! Sometimes I'd start jogging around the field and he'd trot after me, determined to get my attention. After a while I'd allow myself to be "caught" and once he'd let me put his head collar on and lead him to the gate, I'd share the prize with him.
If your horse won't allow you to put a headcollar on him in the field, turn him out in one. I would advise using an old leather one which will break if he gets it caught up on anything, rather than a nylon one which could cause nasty friction burns and won't break as easily, if at all. To avoid having to make a grab for him which could startle him and make matters worse, clip a few inches length of rope to the headcollar. You can then quietly use this to catch him and then attach a lead rope to bring him in with minimal fuss.
Finally, think about why your horse doesn't want to be caught. Is it because of previous bad experiences which have left him with confidence issues? Does his back hurt when he's under saddle; could it be that he associates being caught with being ridden and therefore with pain?
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