Catching seems to becoming an increasing issue for owners and perhaps as we do our best to fit so much into our daily lives we forget that our horses are not on broadband! It’s easy to imagine when you only have 1-2 hours to spend with your horse you can end up rushing into the field, grabbing your horse before you tack up and ride and rushing off again so you can pick up the kids, feed the dogs, make dinner and prepare for work the following day!
So a good start is realising how we could be contributing to the problem and understanding that horses quickly learn by association. You horse knows when you come out of the feed room with THAT bucket they get food, they know to breathe out when you tighten the girth and catching is no different – when you walk across the field with a headcollar and lead rope what does your horse expect? So It’s our job to work in a way that makes them WANT to come in with us … but how do we do that?
The key is to create a pleasant association to catching – how many times have you caught your horse and brought him in just for a groom or relaxing treatment? If you always catch your horse for work its no surprise that they will learn ways to avoid you, so mix it up a little and the easiest pleasant association you can do is give them a small feed as soon as they come in as an instant reward* – you will quickly see results!
I hear you shouting thats all very well but I can’t catch my horse in the first place to give him that reward! I have worked with many owners and on a rehabilitation yard so I really appreciate this challenge. If you have a ‘wild’ unhandled horse (truely fearful of human contact) then you would approach this slightly differently but the tips below are for a horse who is well handled but would prefer not to be caught!
- Understand your body language – direct/jerky movements, eyes on eyes means go away, use soft body language and approach/ draw the horse near you with circles.
- Know his blind spots – so avoid walking up directly behind or in front of him – try to approach his shoulder and speak softly so you don’t surprise him.
- Give yourself time, don’t rush and breathe or sigh to let him know your relaxed.
- Aim to touch stroke him and walk away, predators grab their prey by touching and walking away you telling him you don’t intend to grab him. If you can’t get that close walk up as far as you can, mirror his movements and walk away before he decides to move off, then try a little closer.
- Stroke and make movements as if you would clip on or put the headcollar on (but don’t) until your sure he won’t move away and get away before you catch him.
- Herd him into a smaller area – this will save you lots of running about.
It is important to schedule reinforcement – which means doing the above once a month won’t help, but making it part of your daily routine will see great improvements. Working with Fateful Meg (who has had a rough background with headcollars) I put her headcollar on everyday before she goes out and catch her every evening and take it off – does she need to have it on daily? no, but I know the day when she does need it on (for the farrier, denist or moving fields) I want to know that catching is reinforced enough to know it isn’t a problem – I’m setting us both up for success which is what every owner should do with their horse.
You can find more support on this area on Monty Roberts online Unversity, or Kelly Marks has written a book ‘Catching Horses Made Easy’ (only £4.99) or you can call out an Recommended Associate like myself – you can find a full list on the Intelligent Horsemanship Website. Intelligent Horsemanship also run an ‘Handling the Untouched Horse’ course in Oxford if you was working with a ‘wild’ unhandled horse/ pony.