Is Your Horse Hard to Catch? How to reverse this

My heart breaks when I hear people talk about ‘catching their horse’ or worse: having a horse that is ‘hard to catch’. Why is this heartbreaking to hear?

The horse clearly doesn’t want to engage and that’s not a message we want to hear from the horse we love so much. The good thing is that’s pretty easy to reverse.

Catching vs Being Welcomed in the pasture

When you need to catch your horse, it implies that the horse is walking away… That he doesn’t want to be with you! That’s heartbreaking…

Not only for the owner (we have horses to love and we want them to love us!), but sad for the horse.

Walking away from you is a clear signal that should be addressed! The horse clearly has no intention of coming with you happily. If he would, he would be greeting you at the fence or walk up to you to say ‘Hello’.

Possible reasons for this behaviour

Many reasons can drive this behaviour. Think of:

  • Horse is anticipating on what he has to do when he’s caught (riding, groundwork, driving, leaving his herd, being groomed) and wants to avoid it
  • Maybe he has an unbalanced rider that’s really uncomfortable for him
  • Poor fitting tack
  • Facing lots of aversives in training and/or punishment
  • Horse is unsure what’s expected
  • Distrust of people
  • Learned behaviour (playing tag with you and enjoys this game)

Choosing a solution

Depending on the cause of your horse’s behaviour of getting away from you and trying to avoid being caught, you choose a solution.

If he’s in pain (poor fitting tack) you could clicker train him to accept the aversive bridle or saddle, but it doesn’t revolve his discomfort, pain or fears.

Often it starts with offering your horse a choice and showing him that you’re listening! That’s when he’ll start telling you more. The more you know, the better you can address his issue and the sooner it will be resolved.

I have a hard to catch horse

Currently I’m riding a horse that is hard to catch. She’s walking away from me and when I follow her, she trots a big circle before you I can approach and halter her. This is how they catch her.

Interesting part is that she will let you halter her, but she clearly doesn’t want to.

I’ve been showing this horse, that she has a choice.

Now I gave her a voice she’s saying ‘No’ to me and won’t let me approach her with a halter. That’s to be expected. It tells me a lot!

I’m not worried. Soon I will have taught her to approach me and nothing bad will happen. Only good things!

I’m confident it won’t be long before I can halter her and investigate further what part of being caught/being with people she doesn’t like. That’s why I’m making a video of this behaviour before the problem goes away. 😉

Give your horse a choice and you’ll get answers!

Some people are afraid of giving their horse a choice or a voice in training. Yes, it’s possible that your horse will say NO. This will give you so much information, that you can use to make riding or training win-win.

Often horses are very willing to cooperate with you, once their problem is solved.

The problem can be anything: from fear of pain or punishment, insecurity, to learned (undesired) behaviours. Once you give your horse a voice, and start acting (!) on what he communicates, your relationship will become better!

Every time you listen to your horse, he is reinforced to communicate more with you. No more unexpected bolting, pulling away from you, spooking or biting will happen. It can take time, but the more you listen (and act on his message!!) the more he’ll tell you and the more he’ll trust you.

What to do when your horse is hard to catch?

So, I’m not worried about my free lease horse trotting away from me. Before long, I can halter her and she’ll be at the fence greeting me. Looking forward spending time together.

Positive reinforcement is giving your horse something he wants, so he’ll give you something you want. It’s more fun working with a cooperative horse that’s eager to work with and for you!

Want to know how I do this? Read the related article (bottom of this one)

Join the Clicker Training Academy

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with their horse? Would you like to understand your horse better and help your horse to understand YOU better? Get access to many online clicker training courses and a fabulous, supportive R+ community in our HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy. Check out the link!

Or start with a free clicker training assessment to get taste of what it feels like to work with me. Discover your strong points and weaker points in training (if you have some) so that you know what to focus more on, in order to get the results you want. 

After your assessment you have a clear plan and know exactly what your next step will be in order to accomplish your dream behaviours with your horse. Book here

Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc., founder of HippoLogic & HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy

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Related article:

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly!

10 Funny Horse Memes

  1. As equine clicker trainer this meme always cracks me up. I am very visual (a great skill to imagine how training will go) and I know lots of farriers out these are still very traditional.

2. About the gaits. I do love a great trot, who doesn’t? Love that they are in sync.

3. Growing up with Dutch as my first language I haven’t heard so many silly and ambiguous word jokes. So if you have a lame horse joke, leave them in the comments! Humor is the unexpected and I love those word twists.

4. I wanted to find the picture of the sign at a horse rental that says:
We have experiences horses for experienced riders, Fast horses for fast riders, Slow horses for slow riders and We have green horses for green riders. But I couldn’t find it.
This one is funny, too.

I once had a swan that LANDED on the horses head at night in the outdoor arena. Similar experience as below…

5. As a cat person I see the humor in this one! I love the smiles!

6.Again a word twist… And horses do think this!

7.Having a horse is a lot of responsibility and keeping them is hard work. We, equestrians, that have cold or muddy Winters know all about it. We’re troopers!

8.This one is about context shifts. Yes, we behave differently if we want to show off, an audience is often a context shift and still… we fall for it, right?

9. What do you wish to be?

10. I love this one because this never happens to me anymore! The other day I called Kyra and I got Kyra + her friend coming over to the gate. All horses at the barn love to engage with me because I have to offer something: the Magic of Clicker Training. Can you relate?

More FUN

10 Funny Horse Cartoons

10 Funny Horse Pictures

10 Funny Halloween costumes for Horses

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Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
Helping horse people to bond with their horse and get the results they want.

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Step-by-step Guide to Teach Your Horse to Come When Called

This month Horse Rookie published another article that I’ve written for them. It’s a shaping plan to train your horse to respond to his name so that you can get him out of the pasture effortlessly.

Why teach it

The better question might be, why not teach it?! It’s fun to have a horse that responds to his name, but it’s also useful.

Instead of trudging out to the back of the pasture, simply call your horse’s name and watch him come running. 

If your horse ever escapes from his enclosure, whether at home or away, he will come to you when you call his name.

Icing on the cake? People will be quite impressed when your horse responds to his name!

Click the picture below to read the whole article on Horse Rookie.

Sandra Poppema's article Teach Your Horse to Come When Called

Join the Clicker Community!

Do you want to have a horse that comes trotting to the gate with a nicker to greet you, instead of a horse that requires you to go into the mud to get (or catch) him? Start small and learn a bit of clicker training. It will almost happen instantaneously. I’ve seen this happen over and over with my students.

  • Are you looking for professional positive reinforcement advice?
  • Do you need an affordable program?
  • Do you want to turn your equestrian dreams into reality, but you don’t know where to start?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to one or more of the above questions, join the Clicker Training Academy for online positive reinforcement training, personal advice and support in training your horse.

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologic
Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.
I help horse owners get the results in training they really, really want with joy and easy for both horse and human. I always aim for win-win!
Get a FREE 5 Step Clicker Training Plan.

Related article:  How to get your horse out of the pasture. Effortlessly! (with video)

How to get your horse out of the pasture effortlessly

I sometimes jokingly call myself a ‘lazy horse owner’. Why? Because I rather spend a bit of time training my horse than deal with undesired behaviour day in and day out and get frustrated all the time.

Tips for getting your horse out of the pasture

Here is a video of me getting Kyra out of the pasture.

I prefer not to get stuck in the mud, surrounded by horses. I am, like I mentioned, a bit lazy and I don’t want to chase my horse or to walk over to ‘catch’ her if she is in the far end of the pasture. Way too much work…

Make yourself fun to be around

Since I started clicker training horses, I discovered a huge change in their attitude towards me. I have changed from being (I am guessing here) ‘not so much fun’- to be around to ‘I rather be with my human than with my herd’ attitude. Just by switching from traditional/natural horsemanship methods to positive reinforcement.

It is not only the food rewards that make my training interesting. I think it is also the puzzles my horse must solve in order to get that click. She is not afraid to try out new behaviours, she is not afraid of being punished for displaying her ideas. On the contrary, she is encouraged to think and to figure out what it is I want from her.

So the first step in getting a horse interested in coming out of the pasture is to ‘offer’ something. Be more reinforcing than the herd and the hay or grass.

Chain of behaviours

What you see in the video is actually a chain of learned behaviours. These are the steps I all trained separately.

Responding to her name

I taught Kyra to respond to her name and come to me. I used targeting to teach her that. As you can see, I don’t need a target anymore and I even don’t need to call her. If she sees me, she wants to be with me.

Stopping at the gate

I taught her to always stop before an open gate and wait for a cue. I reinforced her in the past (click & treat) for stopping and waiting until I clicked my lead rope to the halter.

The second step in this proces is to reinforce her for the opposite behaviour too: walking thru the gate on my cue.

Turning around

I always teach my horses to turn around on cue, so I can close the gate safely.

Waiting

After walking calmly thru the gate and turning around, Kyra has to wait for me to close the gate. I have reinforced this step many, many times.

I realize that I need to be more reinforcing than the juicy grass patch on the outside of the fence. I don’t want her to drag me to places she wants to go. I have often clicked for waiting while I closed the gate. I used a lot of high value treats, like a whole handful of pellets.

To graze or not to graze

Every horse and every horse person knows the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. I have taught Kyra to wait for my cue to graze and to follow my lead if we want to get away from the grass. As you can see in this video Kyra walks over to the grass (I wasn’t paying attention), but she is also willing to leave the juicy patch when I gently ask her to follow me.

This was a difficult lesson to teach Kyra and I did a lot of trial and error in this process. How to learn from my mistakes: join HippoLogic’s online Grass Training Course.

Last but not least

I taught my horse to walk with me without pulling the lead rope.
Is getting your horse out of the pasture just as easy? Let me know what difficulties you have and I can help you find +R solutions.

Related post: How to bring your horse to the pasture safely

_Kyra_en_ik_hippologicSandra Poppema, B.Sc.
My mission is to improve horse-human relationships by educating equestrians about ethical and horse friendly training. I offer coaching to empower you to train your horse in a 100% animal friendly way that empowers both you and your horse.
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