Thursday, February 12, 2009

More Thoughts on Catching

Come and get me, Pony Girl!

Here is the scoop on the catching issue.

At the time of this incident in December of 2007, catching My Boy was not the huge issue it has become. When I first leased him he was either in a stall with no run, or a stall with small paddock. The worst thing he ever tried was walking away from me.

Once I started care-leasing him, I was concerned because he was moved to a pasture. It's not huge, but it is bigger than a paddock. I'd say it's maybe, me out Paint Girl, maybe 1/2 an acre? Definitely more space for him to get away from me and give chase.

However- catching him here wasn't an issue. Again, an occasional walk away, but I'd usual say whoa and he'd stop and let me catch him.

Fast forward to last spring, when he would literally meet me at the gate, pushing his nose into the halter to come out. Who was this horse?!

But last summer, it slowly started getting worse. He would walk away. Then he began pulling out of the halter before I had it buckled and run off. Then I would make him run, so it became a chase. I tried every method in the book, advice from bloggers, DVD's. Many of the techniques were successful- somewhat. But nothing has cured him of the habit. It is still a work in progress.

What is interesting is that I thought the pulling out of the halter was a NEW issue. At the advice of readers, I was concerned that it could be a physical issue and I considered possible ear pain or being out in the poll or back. But this was also perplexing because it wasn't consistent and he was usually fine about bridling.

So, what I realized? That back in December, over a year ago, when he wasn't even my horse yet, he pulled out of the halter! And I even said, "but as I was putting it behind his ears it got stuck in his mane (he always gets a little weird about the halter going behind his ears anyway) and he started to pull away." I just attributed this to him being weird about it, but did not connect this behavior to his aversion to being caught.

So there you have it, I even admitted he'd always been a little weird about the halter going behind his ears! Huh? I don't even remember that about him! In my defense, he wasn't my horse at the time. I rode him a few times a week, but he belonged to someone else and I was still getting to know him and learn about him. I hadn't learned all of his idiosyncrisies yet, his problems weren't ultimately mine yet, as I still had his owner to consult and help me with him.

This is a huge relief to me. Yes, something about his respect and view of me had changed enough from spring to summer to cause a resurgence in this behavior. Maybe he was feeling more comfortable, as some readers suggested. Maybe it was because the spring season meant more work and riding and he wanted to avoid work and riding. Maybe I just dropped down to low woman on the totem pole hierarchy in our relationship.

I have attempted to become more "low key" in my approach to him in the pasture. The "let your horse catch you" theory is great and it works. It just takes a lot of time and consistancy. Unfortunately I do not have a lot of time with my horse. Not every day, at least. If I saw him every day, he wouldn't eat his meals until he was caught. Oh Nellie, he'd be meeting me at the gate in five minutes if that was the case! It's hard to inspire him to come out of that pasture when it is the place he gets to loaf under his tree and take naps, eat all of his great food, roll in his dirt hole, and nibble on grass.

Christa Lynn from Cow Girls Don't Kry wrote some some great advice for my problem on a recent blog post:

"If we put a lot of pressure on our horses after they have made a break-through like being caught, then many times they don't absorb the catching lesson, they are on to anticipating the next turn of events."

Oh goodness, you hit the nail on the head, Christa! This is so true! It comes back to my whole concept of "moseying" with your horse. I think I need to spend more time catching my horse, ending it positively by releasing him right afterwards, and NOT bringing him out to work him.

Thank you all- I have many new ideas. Spring is around the corner, meaning better weather and more time with my horse to approach this issue with a fresh start!


  1. Oh boy...spring cannot get here soon enough for me!!! Hey, guess what??? You won my giveaway!!!!!!! Email me your address so I can get your treats out to you!!!!

  2. Have you tried catching him with a bucket of grain? We ran our horses out on the ranch in huge pastures of thousands of acres, and when we'd show up with a half of a bucket of grain, give it a shake, the horses would come a running. We trained them to know that they'd each only get a bite or to of grain, but once they were caught and haltered, they'd get to go back with us into the barn and get their ration of grain. Horses that weren't caught didn't get the barn or the grain, thus getting caught became a treat for them. Almost all of our horses were very easy to catch out in the open because of this, granted there are always exceptions. Just curious if you tried this?

    I've dealt with horses like Big Boy who'd shy away when the halter was near their ears, and to solve that I'd slip the halter rope around their necks, before haltering, so I'd be able to still have a little control with the halter rope if they decided to shy. Doesn't always work, but sometimes helps them understand that they can't just run away.

    Cowgirl in the City

  3. Your "soft" approach really works for me too - we've got some really large pastures, and if a horse walks or runs away from me, I just head to where they're going to be, no pressure, just walking - on an intercept vector. In most cases, after a bit of this they stop and wait for me. After a few times of this, the catching issue often disappears. But you're right to notice the issue with haltering, too. I find it often takes extra time invested to save time later - sometimes a lot of extra time!

  4. I have found that if you have a hard horse to catch you should get a bucket with a bit of grain or a treat or two in it and go in their enclosure and never look them in the eye or even acknowlege they are there, you take the bucket and walk past them as though they do not exist then go and stand with your back turned to them and act like you are doing something that is taking all your attention even if it is counting the blades of grass or grains of sand. They can't stand it I promise you. Their curiosity will ALWAYS get the best of them and they will come up behind you to see what you are up to. When they are close enough reward them with a treat and stroke them on the neck and walk back out. Do this a few times, see what happens.

  5. Pony Girl! I was taking to Cowboy Kyle here at the stables he sad if you have the stomach for it...Try to catch him,before dinner. If he won't be caught, don't feed him that night. Then the next morning go out with a bucket of grain and let him eat. This will associate you with his food and he will feel real good about seeing you the next morning and be happy to be caught! Repeat as necessary! I told him I would pass this on and get all the "Mad comments" that will come his way!

  6. I like your last idea--the catch and release often one. Unfortunately, it's hard on you, having to go that far--but winter is a good time to do it. Horses are smart.

    I do have a friend, I may have mentioned her on another post, who had a hard to catch horse boarded, and she always came out with treats in her pockets. Her horse now loves to come to her and check her pockets, but she spends a fair amount of time saying hello and letting him relax with her before haltering or starting work--and she lives closer than you do.

    I have a pony who is truly impossible to catch in a pasture. I picked her up from a friend who picked her up from a friend...she has issues and everyone has hoped to solve them--I wanted a challenge getting her over it--and was overly confident I could. I've worked with her for a year and a half, and I can walk up to her in a run and even in a roundpen, but not in the pasture. Someone caught her with grain, because she's scared to death to come near a bucket of grain--they must have reached out and grabbed her. I don't know what all happened to her in her life--if only she could talk. But she won't come near a grain bucket unless you're standing about fifteen feet away.

    Sorry for such a long story--I didn't want to highjack your blog. I just want to encourage you because it sounds like your boy isn't much of a problem. And all of them go through stages depending on the day and season.

  7. {Cowgirl}~ Actually, when I see him, I always take a bucket with his daily grain, treats or carrots. It sits outside of his pasture. He knows I have it. He does not get anything until the halter is on and he is led out of the gate. My Boy is ruled by his stomach, food matters immensely to him. So I do use this to my advantage.

    {Amanda}~ Yep, that curiosity will get the best of them. I usually head straight towards the run-in shed first, pick it out and fluff it up, totally by-passing my horse and just letting him watch me and not worry that I'm there to catch him right away. Then I start to make my move. Now I know that makes me sound like a predator, but I really have learned to finesse how I do it and I am NOT tricky (I don't hide the lead rope, etc.) Linda, I have a feeling that someone tricked that pony a lot and he just doesn't trust anyone.

    {Desert Rose}~ This is not a bad idea, maybe when I'm up at the Painted Creek for a few days in a row. I don't mind him skipping a meal once. As my farrier said, he needs to be a little more dependent on me!

  8. The grain thing works wonders. We run our horses out 1,000 acres or so and I wistle and they come running because they know that they will get a little grain. Another thing I do with mine (somebody may have already said this) is when I put them in the pasture to turn them out I pat them before taking the halter off and when I take the halter off I might pet them again but I always make sure I am the one that leaves first. I turn my back and walk away witch usually causes curiosity with what ever horse I just used and they follow me. I especially make this a point when I am working with scared horses. I know your boys not scared but I do it with my others as well. Also an old cowboy we worked with once said "If you can catch your horse easily you are not ridin it enough" ;) Megan

  9. You know the whole catch and release is excellent. Even if you just carry your halter out there brush him and walk away. Then he never really knows what you are going to do. The next time again take you halter with you go up to him pet him all over and just walk away. Catch him and then release him and thats it for the day and maybe the next day you actually catch him, ride him... It seems to work for me and I have a hard horse to catch. I usually always take my halter with me even if I am not going to ride. Keeps him guessing! :)

  10. Great post Pony Girl. I can catch all of my guys that I have now but over the years I have had some that weren't good about it. Treats usually helped but not always.

    You asked me a few weeks ago if Buddy changed color over the years. Stop by my place as I found some pictures that were taken when I first got him and he was so dark! Amazing how much brown he lost over the years!

  11. I just wish for a fast forward to Spring so you will have more time to work with him. I have one horse that hates to be caught and another that won't get away from ya. I so need to spend time with them but there aren't enough hours in the day. It was great you had the old blog to remind you of the issues though.

  12. This is one problem that I don't have with Jem (yet). My problem is putting a bit in her mouth, because she throws her head as high as she can, and removing the bit, because she freaks out when it touches the back of her teeth. Thanks for visiting my blog!

    Christy Lee
    *~Petals and Pine~*

  13. I love Christa Lynn's advice. I've found that so true with re-starting my horse. When we struggle with something, and then we have that breakthrough, instead of continuing to push or moving on to something, I quit for the day. And then he's much better about that issue from then on. It's worked time and time again.

  14. Everyone has good ideas and you seem to be making headway. You may also want to look at his workout sessions too. Is he bored? Is he always worked really hard? Are they not fun? Uninteresting? His tack fits OK and your riding style is not making him uncomfortable?

    Try making riding fun, do things he likes to do or different things. Set up a trail course in your ring, do light jumping or gymkanna one in a while, if he is being perfect then stop early, don't drill, give him a treat before you leave the ring -- a box of sugarcubes is easy to keep around the arena.

    I grew up with Appys and seems that a lot of them were hard to catch. They also were as smart as they were stubborn and we really had to keep things light, interesting and fun or they soured really quick.

  15. I think I left some thoughts awhile back about catching (look at him & when you make eye contact, release your gaze) but thinking about the halter & him not liking it behind his ears... wonder if you left his breakable halter on, but when you catch him, slide a rope halter on over it. Bring it around behind his ears a good 6 to 10 inches & tie it. Then bring it up in place & retied after he has settled. It's harder to get that slack with a web halter.

    In nice weather, we ride with a group on Wednesday nights. If horses are in pasture, I always worry about catching just because I am crunched for time. Usually don't have a problem, but do find I approach them from behind their shoulder, not straight on. They will still be pills sometime - and if they do, then out comes the ATV and they know I mean business! They run for home really quick! LOL!

  16. That makes perfect sense. Reward him for being caught, by releasing him. Wishing you luck with your catching problems!

  17. Hey!

    Sounds like we have a lot in common. I was thrilled to see your Buck Brannaman link-I have one too!

    Yes, in my opinion, trying to catch him, and then release him, and NOT riding, would be a great exercise for the 2 of you. Please don't revert to grain! *wink*

    The other thing to think about regarding his catching you, is to make him want to be with you. Yes, it takes time. But so do a lot of worth while things! When he truly see you as his herd leader, he will obey, it's part of the unwritten horse laws. So, as you assume your role as herd leader, play around with your body movements and his actions/reactions. If you have a smaller area, that is ideal, however, I have done this in a 2 acre field.

    Another thing you can add is to rub him all over with the halter. Show him it is his friend. Crush it up and use it on him like a curry.

    Check out my training tips on my blog, I have written a couple of articles about this subject.

    Keep us posted!



I love hearing from my readers!! I truly enjoy all of your feedback, advice, helpful tips, and stories. You all make me laugh and I learn so much from you, too. I will try to post replies to your comments as often as I can.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin