"But you don't understand, Dr. Suzanne. She is IMPOSSIBLE to catch!"
We often hear horse owners say this. And it certainly can feel like Mission Impossible if every time you approach your horse with a halter in your hand there's a 50/50 chance (or more!) of her running away from you.
But it doesn't have to be this way!
Here are five ideas for teaching your horse that being caught by you is way more fun than anything else she could be doing.
1. Train yourself to never go out to catch your horse with an attitude of "this is not going to go well. I can never catch this horse." It's uncanny how horses seem to be able to read our minds. Convince yourself that catching your horse is something that is going to happen, and it will be a rewarding time for both of you!
2. Help your horse understand that when he sees you walking into his pasture with a halter and lead rope, it doesn't always mean you're going to catch him for something less fun than cavorting in his pasture! Being caught by you could mean he gets a treat or a lovely grooming session or just a snuggle. Walk up to him. Give him a treat. Put the halter on him. Give him another treat. Groom or snuggle him. Give him another treat. Then release him. Working on this for a few minutes every day can produce amazing results.
3. Make the space your horse is in small and contained if you're having trouble catching her in a large pasture area. Use temporary panels or moveable electric fencing to create a small pen that's about the size of three or four stalls. This makes it more likely that she will approach you. You can then work on the catch-treat-halter-treat-release pattern described above.
4. Make it more interesting for your horse to come to you than to avoid you. Approach your horse without staring at her, then turn your back and walk away. Go check the fence. Make sure the water tank is full. Toss a few rocks out of the pasture. Go pay attention to another horse if you have one. Do whatever it takes to get her walking toward you. When she comes up to you, praise her for all you're worth. Give her some love and maybe a treat. Halter her, but don't take her anywhere. Spend some time just giving her attention. Then take the halter off and let her do her own thing.
5. Don't be shy about asking for help with this! Dr. Suzanne has helped many horse owners overcome the "uncatchable horse syndrome".
A couple of important points as you work toward being able to catch your horse every time you try:
- Once you start, you cannot quit. If you chase your horse for a while and then quit, you just taught your horse how to avoid you and avoid being caught. So, when you're working on this process, start when you have all day to spend because it might take that long at first. You can't work on this process for an hour and then leave for your dentist appointment. Pursue the horse until it is caught.
- Set yourself up for success from the beginning. If your horse is in with a herd, it's wise to remove the other horses. If the whole herd is on the run, your horse isn't going to stop and allow itself to be caught. If your horse is alone (in a smaller area or round pen), it's more likely to come up to you.
The goal is to have a horse that wants to go with you. Work on that, and the act of catching him will fall easily into place.