Question Category: Issues from the Ground
I would love some tips on the hard to catch horse. Spring fever has sprung and he is avoiding me. He figures if I can’t catch him I won’t make him work.
Answer: For your hard-to-catch horse: you need to “walk him off.” To do that, put on a pair of comfortable walking shoes and allow yourself plenty of time (you shouldn’t need more than an hour). Walk out into that pasture/pen with halter in hand (don’t try to hide it) and look your horse square in the eyes with a look on your face that says, “I am going to catch you, even if it takes me ALL day!”
Walk after your horse, straight towards his head, looking him straight in the eye. Do not chase him and do not try to corner him or any of those other games horses love to play. He will run off, tail up in the air but the mental pressure you are putting on him will start to drive him crazy. It may take a while (the worst horse I ever walked-off took 45 minutes) but eventually he will not be able to take the pressure and he will stop, turn and face you with his head down. At this point you should stop and turn your back to him for a moment, taking the pressure off of him as a reward for doing the correct thing.
Then approach him slowly and casually with your eyes down and averted and your shoulders cocked away from the horse (there must be a distinct difference in your body language from when you are pursuing him to when you are walking up to him after he has given in). Put the halter on, lead him a few steps, pet on him and let him go. You could give him a treat at this point if you want to (only AFTER you have caught him, NEVER use a treat as a bribe to catch a horse).
The next day, you’ll head out to catch your horse in the exact manner but you’ll find it will only take a few minutes, from then on he should be fine. Horses are very keen to your level of intention and determination. This process proves to your horse that you have very serious intentions to catch him and he will not challenge you anymore. Give it a try, it really works!
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer
FOLLOW-UP Dear Julie,
Thanks so much for your suggestions a few months ago on how to catch a horse that does not want to be caught. I tried your suggestions–walking determinedly toward the horse with the lead rope and halter. She ran. I followed–walking, not running. When I got near, she ran again, and I followed. We continued this process for about 20 minutes, when she surrendered and let me put the halter on her. The next time I tried to catch her, she tried me and ran away a short distance, but stopped when I came after her. For a few days, we went through this process. Then, one day when I opened the gate, she came to me. Now I can catch her any time!
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