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I cannot catch my horse!

My horse just will not be caught

I cannot catch him/her in the field – it is driving me round the bend.

It can take 1-2 hours or more with some horses. People say use food and others say use lunge reins / lines to coral them to the gate – but they get wise to that too.

We have all heard these stories or know someone who has a problem and may have encountered the horse or pony that just wont be caught ourselves.

OK, it is a pain and you might think they are being deliberately naughty but we have to realise that this ‘not wanting to be caught’ is often ‘learned behaviour’.

A variety of reasons could cause this problem.  It helps to try to work out why it is happening.

It could be the saddle or back hurts or the teeth need rasping and the bit is hurting.   This sort of thing causes pain and the horse associates being caught with pain. Have them checked even if you think it is not that.  He may be unhappy when you are riding him for one reason or another.  He associates being caught with riding. He is not being

Not wanting to be caught may happen after a long Winter when he/she has been confined to the stable for long hours.  Now however the grass has grown and he/she doesn’t want to leave it.  They are born to eat grass and having been on restricted grazing for so long it is understandable that the horse doesn’t want to leave it.   Do not just get cross – think about it from the horses point of view and try to understand them.   Check this out

Habit:  For many however, not wanting to be caught has become a habit brought on by something in the past that you may not even be aware of.

We all know how hard it is to change or break a habit ourselves – and horses are no different. It will take time for the horse to get out of this habit and to re-learn another type of behaviour.

To overcome this problem is going to take some time and most of all it is going to take patience.

You might not be able to ride your horse or pony for a few days or a week – or even longer. You will have to set aside some time for working with your horse on this.

Learned behaviour:  The behaviour you are seeing is learned behaviour.  It is a problem that can seriously interfere with your day and your plans.  You may have to cancel things or change plans.  You may have to give up trying to catch your horse because you have other things going on in your life.

You may have arranged to go for a hack with a friend or friends only to have to let them down because you cannot catch your horse.  Later you hear that they all had a great hack and feel very left out and frustrated. You may be going to a show and cannot get there in time because you cannot catch your horse.  You may be having a lesson and when the instructor arrives you still have not caught your horse.

  • If you do not sort this issue now it will continue and you will be continuously frustrated at not being able to catch the horse or pony.

What happens when you try to catch the horse or pony?

The usual scenario is that the horse or pony sees the person with head collar coming towards them and the learned behaviour / habit kicks in.  The horse may allow you to walk quite close at which stage they simply walk away. Even with food/tit-bits, if the grass is sweet they will ignore the food.

You have to remember that grass is better than anything to most horses.

Some people try to follow the horse round the field – but it can take hours of following before the horse gives up and allows you to catch him / her.  Other horses see you at the gate and just ignores you and just will not come to you.  When you go towards them they gallop off and have a high time just running around.

The Intermediate Diploma  is full of ideas and tips to help you with your horse and has a subsidised fee too.

SO: What do we suggest to fix this learned behaviour?

Kimberley Gilgrist & new horse

Your ultimate aim is for the horse to come to you. Take it step by step and don’t move on too quickly.

Step 1.  First of all you will need to spend some time in the middle of the field sitting on the grass (you could always sit on a plastic bag if wet).  You should read/listen to a book or check your phone or whatever. Sit there for 30 minutes or longer just not looking at the horse.  If there are other horses in the field though you do need to be aware of things so that you can move out of the way of any possible problems.

Initially when you start this exercise, if the horse comes to you, you should quietly speak to it but otherwise just ignore it. Providing it is safe, do not get up or do anything – just carry on with what you were doing.

Step 2.  Do this at least 2-3 times either on the same day or on consecutive days.  You must not catch the horse to ride it on those days – this is important.

When you are working on this and standing in the field with phone/book do NOT attempt to catch him at all. If he/she comes to you, just pat him and talk to him and carry on with what you were doing.

• If for some reason you need to bring him in at night – leave it as late as possible in the day before going to stand in the field with your phone (put head collar over your shoulder – not in your hand). Then catch him once he has come to you to investigate. However, remember you should not ride him.  He must not associate being caught with riding.

Step 3.  Then do the same standing in the field thing the next day (& on 2 consecutive days). Just stand in the middle of field – you could talk to the horse if he/she comes up to you and maybe even pat it and stroke it.

Step 4.  Next day do the same thing but stand closer to the fence. Do this on at least two occasions / days.

Step 5.  Then continue to do this – in the middle of the field again now and start taking head collar as well – hang it over your shoulder – but if he comes to you just talk to him give him a pat. Eventually when in the middle of the field you can catch him and if possible put the head collar on – give him a tit bit and release him again. Do not take him out of the field.

Step 6.  Next time go closer to the fence line and do exactly the same thing – do not catch him on the first occasion but on the next you could see if you can put the head collar on and give a tit bit and release him again.

Step 7.  Next time you could try leading him further INTO the field – and release – stand around for a bit again before leaving the field.

Step 8.  Next time lead him towards the gate and release. Stand around for a while again.

Step 9.  Next time you repeat this you can lead him out.  (if you are not sure if it is all working, you could turn him/her out again almost immediately – it is your horse and you are the one who will know how things have been going)

Step 10.  FINALLY when you go to catch him next time put the head collar on your shoulder – walk along the fence line – not towards the horse. Look down as though looking at your phone. Then stand and wait for him/her to come to you. Give the tit bit and lead out.

You might have to repeat that last step a couple of times.  You may however, feel the problem is fixed. You might have to repeat Step 10 for a few weeks before you can go back to catching normally. You are the only one who will know when it the time is right.

It is a long process but, unless you do it now the problem will continue.

  • There is one very important thing to note however
    – only move on to the next step when he is easy with it.

Take time to sort it now – I know you won’t be able to ride him/her for a few days but it will be worth it for the good outcome in the end.

You have got to change the habit. This is learned behaviour so you will have to be patient and persevere until the new type of behaviour has been learned.

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