Can’t catch your horse?

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If you’ve been around horses for a while you’ve probably encountered one that decides he’s not interested in being caught. Interestingly, as I’ve moved more toward a natural herd environment, those chosen for riding activities are the most eager to come in (honestly, this isn’t a reaction I expected, but one I do appreciate). Still, even those not engaged in training routines need to be captured periodically for vet calls, trimming, worming, doctoring and other general maintenance demands. Whether it’s a riding horse that is playing hard to get or a retiree that has you spending hours horse chasing when you need to handle him, stop the frustration with some easy ideas to encourage them to come running.

Keep a routine

It’s always easiest on horses and humans if you maintain a routine. Feed at the same times each day, train at a consistent hour when possible, turn-out and bring into the barn on a schedule and keep your horse comfortable with a timetable he can count on. It’s amazing how a simple change in normal activity times can upset an entire herd and make catching a chore. Similarly, if your horse can’t learn to expect you at regular times, he’s more likely to avoid you when you approach.

Educating young horses

Sometimes the young horses that come to Halcyon Acres™ to be started under saddle chose to be difficult about coming when called. Many are not accustomed to turn-out and/or have been taught handling involves a chase and capture. Others are stressed from being in a new environment with a different routine. A few have had virtually no human contact and/or hostile handling and are fearful. Usually we can find an ideal buddy to help guide a new arrival.

For those who simply refuse to cooperate, we don’t chase them or bribe them with treats. We go to the gate at feed time and encourage the horses to come. Most will follow the lead of their chosen pasture companion – one familiar with the farm and associate routines.

For the few who seem to delight in the ‘see-if-you-can-catch-me’ game, we don’t play. These horses are given three opportunities to come to the gate for stall comforts and dinner. One with the companion horse; a second after the rest of the herd is brought in; and a final offer after all are fed. If they don’t want to come, they’re not forced. They’re given ample water and hay, but no grain and no companionship until they choose to come to the gate and be led to the barn. Most change their mind about their freedom quest after their first night spent outside alone. Some take a few days. It’s important not to chase these horses or threaten them in anyway. Just ask for their approach and if they’re not interested, walk away.

Alphas and other controlling horses

We have a mare at the farm that is extremely aggressive with the herd during feed time. She’s also decided of late to refuse to be caught for periodic maintenance activities. Interestingly, when she’s in training, she fights with the herd to be first to be haltered, but it will be a couple more weeks before we can fit her into the schedule. With an eight-foot cotton lead rope, we’ve stopped this attitude on a matter of minutes on every occasion (this is particularly effective at feed time). Basically we send her away and do not allow her to have access to any of the herd members (or the hay piles) until she asks to be caught. Body language is important too, but it works like a charm.

We had one horse in here for starting under saddle training (he was a colt that clearly didn’t need the ball baggage) that periodically refused to be caught. It was actually a funny scene to watch. He had been schooled at liberty in a 60-foot diameter roundpen. He’d run from his catcher, get sent away and would circle around the human relegated to retrieve him the exact perimeter distance of the roundpen, no matter the size of the pasture – always at a cadenced jog. This became part of the training routine – he’d see the human and start his circle. After about ten minutes, he’d approach and follow the handler into the barn. You didn’t even need a lead rope for him to follow.

Loose horse? Grab another steed to lure them home

Invariably, if you have enough horses you’re moving around, considerable land to traverse and that clever mare who’s figured out how to open every gate, stall door and latch you’ve installed to flummox her – to no avail – you’ll find yourself dealing with the challenge of escaped equines. Grain works sometimes to lure them, but generally grabbing a horse that others will follow is a quicker, easier and more effective solution.

Usually, it doesn’t matter if you’re on their backs or have them on a lead, but we did experience one situation where saddled proved necessary. We had two recently weaned foals break out of their paddock at dusk then headed for the back 100-plus acres at a breakneck pace. The challenge of getting them home proved akin to herding cats. We discovered our lead pony mare would have been a great cow horse as she jumped in to help with moves that would have been the envy of anyone witnessing a team penning competition. It was dark before we got them home, but once this gal realized the job requested, no riding cues were necessary for her to crouch, bounce, block and herd these two rollicking brats determined to head for the hills. Cool horse – this was all done with a halter and lead rope on one side of her neck because we were in too much of a hurry to tack.

Communicate with your horse with his concerns in mind

If you have an older horse that doesn’t want to come to you when you go to the paddock or pasture, think about what you may be doing during training or handling that makes him resent it. Try to add some fun activities for the horse in all your encounters, whether you’re riding him or not. Most horses relish training that is responsive and engaging. Maybe he’s ill. Is he hurting and turning sour? It’s not always appropriate (in fact, rarely so) to blame the horse. Think about what you can do to make training happy time.

Show you appreciate him coming to you. Sometimes this can be simply vibes (horses are more perceptive than most give them credit for), but can include a scratch on his favorite spot, a few moments of lush grass grazing or time doing what you’ve discovered he enjoys.

Think about why your horse may not run to you when he sees you. If he’s avoiding you, there’s probably a good reason – in his mind, anyway. You’ll enjoy your horse a lot more if he’s happy when you’re together. Figure out what he likes and you’ll likely have him chasing you to spend time together.

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