How to catch the horse that runs away
Are you sick of chasing your horse all around the paddock every single time you need to catch him? Or maybe it’s not every time, it just seems to be the times you are in a hurry!
Are you starting to get thoroughly fed up and need to know how to catch the horse that runs away?
I know it can be infuriating, you wander out to bring your horse in, he sees you coming out of the corner of his eye and does the bolt to the very furthest corner of the paddock!
Your temper starts to rise as you realise you are going to be chasing your horse around for the next half an hour, you are going to be exhausted and your horse is going to be worked up and agitated.
All you want to do is go for a nice ride or maybe just bring him in for the farrier, the vet, some other professional, who is now waiting on you and your horse!
Slightly embarrassing isn’t it? So how do you catch your impossible to catch horse?
First we need to determine why it is your horse does not want to be caught. Then we will give you three techniques to put into place so your horse wants to catch you every time.
Why trying to trick your horse won’t work
I know we have all done it, hidden the halter up your jumper or behind your back in the vain attempt to trick your horse into thinking you have just come with carrots and are not going to actually catch him.
Horses have a sixth sense about this stuff. If you have ever gone out into a paddock with a group of horses you know all the ones you don’t want to catch come up and say G’Day. They are in your pockets snuffling, getting a pat and generally just mooching around you. You could easily catch anyone of them.
But the one you want has hightailed it out of there.
You didn’t even look at him or give any indication that you want to catch him at all. And yet he knew before you even opened the gate that it was him you wanted.
How do they do that?
Horses are highly developed when it comes to intuition. They needed to be when their lives depended on running from perceived danger to stay alive. It has been pre-programmed into them to flee first and ask questions later.
Now I am not suggesting your horse thinks you are going to eat him, but consider what you do every time you catch him.
Generally we catch our horses because we want to do something with (or is that too) them. Often times it is something which will make them uncomfortable or something at the very least they perhaps do not want to do.
We have two issues here. For this to work you need to consider the bigger picture.
You need to make it so your horse:
- Doesn’t feel uncomfortable when you spend time with him by teaching him to be a good equine citizen
- And you need to spend non-demanding time with your horse, and simply enjoy each others’ company sometimes
Teach your horse to be a good equine citizen
You might be thinking what is a good equine citizen and how do I help my horse to be one Heidi?
To me a good equine citizen is a horse that is confident in themselves and looks to their human for guidance then they are unsure. You teach your horse to be a good equine citizen by being a fair and equitable leader and by teaching your horse what is expected of him in any given situation.
It starts with the little things. Can you lead your horse without him pushing all over you or running you over if he gets a fright? Your horse needs to respect your space at all times.
This shows a deeper respect for you as his leader, one your horse thinks is worth following.
As an example I was leading Jon out to his paddock the other day. He was his usual metre or two behind me on a long lead. We were walking at a steady pace towards the paddock when something startled him from behind.
He is quick my Jon and before I had a chance to react he had shot forwards and sideways to avoid colliding with me, all the time still staying behind my shoulder.
I had left him enough room to shy without running into me and he chose the path to avoid me because he respects my space and my person. Now this could have been a train wreck.
Had I been leading him up close “by the beard” as we like to call it he wouldn’t have had any space to move his feet without ending up on top of me.
I have encouraged Jon to be self-confident, but things will still frighten him, but even in his fright he still respects me enough not to knock me over.
1. Deal with Known Issues Now
Not everything you do with your horse is going to be pleasant for him. But if you teach him to be a good equine citizen you can reduce the angst for your horse and those around him.
Does your horse have a particular issue – maybe the farrier, or having his teeth done or worming even? Don’t leave helping your horse by trying to train him while these things are going on. It is too late then and you can’t provide the reward and release you need to actually make a difference to your horse’s mindset.
Let’s take another example. Worming your horse.
This is (or should be) a regular task you need to do with your horse. Do you have to do battle every time? When your horse sees you coming with the wormer tube does he disappear? And when you actually catch him and start do you end up wearing more of the wormer than what goes in your horse’s mouth?
Have you ever tasted that stuff? It’s really awful, very bitter and not pleasant at all. No wonder your horse sticks his head up in the air like a giraffe or carts you around the yard trying to avoid getting that stuff in his mouth.
So why not make it more tolerable for him. I worm my horses with molasses at regular intervals between actual worming.
What! Yep I simply fill a worm tube with molasses and go through the motions exactly as I would if I had wormer in the tube. My horses see me coming with the wormer tube and rush to the fence to be the first to get it. They get wormed with molasses twice as much as they get the real thing.
When I do actually worm them I also cover the top of the tube with molasses. This is not bribery, it is to make the awful stuff taste a bit better for them. Why not do what you can to make the experience better? I think they appreciate it.
Once again this is a regular occurrence for our horses. Does your horse dance around not keeping his feet still for a minute? If your farrier getting flung around on the end of a leg while he is trying to do his job? This is not safe or fair for either your farrier or your horse. You need to fix it now.
Start by making sure your horse is OK with things around his legs. Desensitise your horse to ropes around all four legs and then move up to using ropes to pick up and move his feet.
Teach your horse to lift his leg by pressing on the chestnut for the front and his hocks for the back. You do all these things by using pressure and release which we have talked about at length in our Groundwork Series.
If your horse has shoes on imitate the tapping of the hammer on his hooves and reward him only when he stays still.
Doing these things in between when your farrier arrives and you will be teaching your horse to be a good equine citizen. Then the farrier visit isn’t uncomfortable for your horse. He, you and the farrier have a pleasant experience and this then reinforces in your horses mind that the farrier is a non-event. And the job goes easier for everyone.
2. Non-demanding Time
Both you and your horse will benefit greatly by doing this simple thing. In a nutshell, just spend time with your horse hanging out, not asking anything of him, just sharing time and space with your equine pal.
You can read my blog about Mindfulness and Horses to get some techniques and training tasks for yourself on how to spend non-demanding time with your horse.
During your time, put the halter on your horse and then take it off again and walk away. Blow your horses mind!
He will be thinking “WHAT this never happens, usually she wants me to do something, hmmm well that wasn’t so bad after all.” Do this often, don’t make every time you put the halter on a precursor to doing something with your horse.
3. Join Up
Many of you will have heard the term Join Up or Hooking on. Join Up is a term coined and popularised by Monty Roberts and it is simply making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy for your horse. Most horses don’t want to expend any more energy than is necessary. Join Up is teaching your horse that the sweet spot, the space with the release, is standing quietly with you.
You are encouraging your horse to in fact catch you, rather than you catching him. When done correctly this is a very powerful way to show your horse that you can move his feet and that you will reward the correct behaviour. The correct behaviour is standing quietly and calmly with you and enjoying each others’ company.
Your horse will want to be with you, and to be caught, because the alternative is that he has to move his feet.
Right thing easy, wrong thing hard.
I always remember Buck Branaman’s saying, which I will paraphrase here – I am offering you a “good deal” (which is to stand quietly with me), the horse has a choice, or the “not so good deal” (which is having to move his feet).
Keep in mind horses want to do the right thing, sometimes they need to be shown what the right thing is. By offering them the good deal you show them how to get it right, but the choice is theirs.
Horses need to be encouraged and allowed to find the answer themselves, not be forced into it.
This is usually done in a round yard or at least a smaller space. You send your horse off at liberty (no halter, or at least no lead rope attached) out on to the fence and get them moving their feet. What you are looking for is your horse to turn and face you and then offer to walk up and either stand with you or follow you as you move off.
Rather than explain it step by step you can view the Monty Roberts video below.
Parelli also does a version of this, as do most other natural horsemanship proponents. It doesn’t really matter who you follow, the way it is achieved may be a little different from each trainer but the concept is the same.
I just want to add a couple of my own notes to this for beginners.
- I wouldn’t allow the horse to turn his rump to me. I have always been taught this is disrespectful (as well as dangerous). If the horse wants to change direction they should be encouraged to do so by turning into the centre. Any rump that is presented to me gets a reprimand and my horses know to keep two eyes on me at all times.
I never allow this and my horses now even move their backsides over to keep me out of the kick zone if I walk behind them – most appreciated boys 🙂
- Make sure your round yard or area is solid, secure and of a good height. Also, that it doesn’t pose any danger through sharp objects that stick out. While you are learning and practising this technique it is easy to get it wrong and end up pushing your horse through the fence. I don’t tell you this to alarm you but you need to be very aware of your positioning (behind the drive line which is the shoulder of the horse).
- I find Join Up is easier to achieve with Left Brained horses. The Right Brained ones have a tendency to lose the plot and just keep running around and around in faster and faster mindless circles – not good. This is not to say it can’t be done, it certainly can be, and is very worth doing with the Right Brained horse. Just keep in mind as a beginner you need to be able to read the horse better and sooner if it is a Right Brained one. If you are not sure if your horse is left or right brained check out our Horsenality article here.
Start today to change your horse’s mindset about being caught. Put these three things into place and you will be rewarded with a horse that catches you and is an all-round better equine citizen. These horses are a joy to be around and make your life, and theirs, so much easier.
Do you have a horse that is hard to catch? Tell us your stories and what you have tried to fix it, or if you give these ideas a try let us know how you went.
Do you have any other suggestions on how to catch the horse that runs away? We love to share in our community and if you pop your ideas in the comment box below it might just help someone else.