Are you ready to put on your animal behaviorist and trainer hats? I have a situation for which I can use advice. You know, back in the olden days, one had to buy a book at the shop or head to the library and browse through the card catalog for a book to get good advice. Now, a couple clicks of the mouse and the world is at your fingertips, with people of varied experiences to offer up their help. Isn't it lovely?
You have probably heard me mention that at times, My Boy can be a pill about being caught. This was the selling issue for one of his previous owners. It been a small issue for me, and we have mostly worked through it. But now that the weather is getting cooler and I'm back at work and my horse is spending more time being an independent horse, the issue has reared it's ugly head.
Will he or won't he?
The interesting thing is, it isn't like he turns and runs from me the minute I walk into the pasture with the halter and lead. Well, that's not exactly entirely true. Sometimes, he will come down to the gate and let me catch him. Other times, he will turn and walk a step or two away, then stop and let me catch him. Even on a bad day, he lets me get this nose in the halter. Here's the kicker. It's when I go to put the crown piece of the halter behind his ears to buckle it that he pulls back (and subsequently out of the halter.) Then, he is usually wide-eyed and snorting, like I just electrocuted him. The reapproach is either successful, or, results in a gallop about the pasture.
Look mom, I can run really FAST!
Last Saturday, My Boy did this pulling back out of the halter routine and ended up running himself into a sweat. I thought for sure he was going to slip and break a leg. I was lucky I had time to kill and plenty of daylight left. I did not give up. He ran and ran until steam rose off his back and his sides were heaving. It was probably the best workout he'd had in months. Finally, I got him haltered. I then cooled him out and let him graze before putting him away. If it was work he was dreading, he had nothing to fear. He took care of that himself. In fact, at one point, he ran in large galloping circles around me and his run-in shed. I actually said, "Whoa," and bent down to look at his hiney like I do with his Parelli circling game and he stopped and faced me. Silly horse. I think he relinquished some control there?
Maybe she can't find me if I'm in the back corner?
I have followed this technique of making him work when he won't let me catch him. It seems to be successful, or at least, it has, because I don't give in until he's caught. Although next time, I might bring out the carrot stick and prop it outside the pasture in case things got as bad as they did Saturday. I realized that I do not want it to appear that the halter and lead rope are in any way my "motivators" to run, as I feel like it becomes a "chasing game" and I don't want him to fear the halter and leadrope, goodness, that's half my problem right there!
Here are a few other things I do:
1. As My Boy is pulling away or starting to move away from me, I add "pressure" to make him think it was my idea for him to move off. I do not like giving him the chase, because it does seem like I am confusing him (whoa and let me halter you, no- run from me!)
2. When he stops and faces me, I actually don't reapproach him to be haltered, I reward him by turning my back and walking away back towards the gate. He keeps those eyes firmly on my next move. Usually, at some point he'll start to follow me back down to the gate. Once I've patted him and he relaxes (he is so tense and worked up at this point) I can often put my hand under his chin and just lead him back. It's when I got to halter him again that he is fine, or he panics again and pulls back.
3. Once I have the halter on, I usually give him a treat of some kind as a reward. But not until then. I know many might disagree with this, but I am all about positive reinforcement.
4. I have noticed a few patterns. If I go to catch my horse and it is within an hour or so of feeding time, he is MUCH bigger stinker at being caught. Also, when I have not seen him in a week or so, and, the weather starts getting cooler, he tends to be worse, as well.
5. I will not leave a halter on my horse in the pasture on a daily basis, it is too dangerous, especially since his pasture has metal posts. However, I am considering doing this overnight next Friday because the horseshoer is coming Saturday morning and he has to be out and ready.
I'm sorry, mom!
I know this is a common problem, and I know for many, it often comes and goes. I am lucky my horse is not out in a large pasture. However, his anti-catching antics have also never been quite this bad, in my year and a half with this horse. Any additional advice?
In my next post, my sister Paint Girl needs your advice on another issue, too!