There is nothing more frustrating than going out intending to ride your horse and as soon as he sees you coming, he runs the other way. Oh yeah, it’s happened to me and I was furious! Did you know there is a way to fix it? Yes, there is, but it is not a quick fix. Like anything, it takes time and patience, but it is worth it in the end when your horse meets you at the gate rather than runs for the hills when he sees you coming. This worked to fix my hard to catch horse and I think it will help you too.
It’s going to take a lot of time and patience to fix a hard to catch horse, but these are things that worked for me and I truly believe will fix any hard to catch horse. As long as you put in the time, have the patience. There is no set time on how long it will take because each horse is different, along with different circumstances. But I recommend halting riding until you make some headway with the situation. Before you are ready to say no way to that. Think of the long-term benefits.
Steps to Fixing the Hard to Catch Horse
The main reasons a horse is hard to catch is because he associates being caught with work and leaving his buddies. Neither of those things he wants to do, so he’s going to avoid it as long as he can by running away and avoiding you. But by changing his experience with being caught is the key to fixing the root of the problem.
Tip the Odds in Your Favor
Begin by tipping the odds in your favor. If your horse has a sizeable area to run from you, then move him to a smaller area such as a pen before you begin. This will make the training go much faster and easier.
Catch and Release
Catch your horse like you normally would even if it takes 30 minutes. Then, once you he’s haltered, rub his neck and let him know he did good. Then immediately take the halter off, rub him one last time and walk away, leaving the pen. This new encounter will most likely confuse him and he won’t know what to think. Horses love to predict what we are going to do and expect what we will do next. But by catching him and then letting him go, you’ve given him a unique experience with you than he’s ever had before. This may seem silly, but it’s vital work you are doing. I would do this a few times at least.
This time catch your horse, but not do any work at all. No riding, no groundwork- no work at all. Don’t ask for any output from your horse other than to enjoy his company. This is where you could groom him, take him for a walk, or simply pet him. It really doesn’t matter as long as your horse is enjoying it and you’ve got the halter on. Again, I would do this a few different times.
Don’t be sneaky
Whatever you do, don’t pretend you aren’t there to catch your horse by putting the halter behind your back. These steps are all about earning his trust and building a relationship. Don’t use a grain bucket to catch your horse either. Those tactics teach him to come to you only when you have food. You probably already know that, but maybe you’ve used these tactics in the past because it was faster and easier, but if you truly want to fix the problem, then I would avoid use food.
Let Your Horse Catch You
Begin by having your horse in a smaller area such as a pen, as mentioned earlier. Then, use an approach and retreat method. This is an R- (negative reinforcement) type of training. You will approach and add a little pressure and as soon as your horse turns and faces you, then back up and relax your body, thus removing the pressure and rewarding him for giving you his attention. Continue to do this until the horse approaches you on his own. This is going to make the biggest difference. When you can get your horse to approach you on his terms, then you’re well on your way to fixing the problem.
Positive reinforcement training (R+) is a great way to incorporate rewards for your horse, but you must tread carefully with this type of training. It must be done properly. Never have the treat in your hand, enticing your horse to come closer to you. The treats must be only given once he’s haltered and never asking for them. In fact, it’s best he doesn’t even know you have the treats until you offer it to him. I recommend doing some research on R+ training before you begin. Just note treats aren’t necessary for this training to be successful. These are the treats I use.
Find Work Your Horse Enjoys
Finally, once you have your horse getting easier to catch and you’re ready to begin riding and working together again, then I recommend trying to find work your horse enjoys. Liberty and tricks are great training tools to add to your repertoire. They are beneficial for relationship building and communication. Not only that, but can be a lot of fun.
Let me know in the comments below. Have you ever had a hard to catch horse? What did you do?
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