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)

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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!

What Impression does Your Horse make?

Have you ever been in a situation where you wanted to show off the amazing goals you’ve accomplished with clicker training?

Visitors at the barn

One time a Facebook friend who was eager to learn more about clicker training visited me at the barn.

On this particular day in Winter it was cold, windy and rainy. The field was muddy and when we arrived all horses where gathered around the feeding place in the field.

As soon as Kyra heard my voice she came over to the gate and while I was haltering her, I was pondering how I could show off and what I would do in order to impress my friend.

We went to the indoor arena where Kyra and I demonstrated a few tricks at liberty.  I also kept it short because it was cold and when we brought Kyra back to the field, I asked her what she liked best.

Her answer was not at all what I expected!

 Instead of asking me about How I trained lying down or Spanish walk, she told me that she was very impressed that Kyra had came across field, all the way to the gate. My friend assumed we had at least to wade thru the ankle-deep mud in order to get Kyra or maybe even chase her a bit before I could halter her.

To me this was not something impressive. I didn’t realize that something as simple as your horse coming over to meet you could impress people and I will never forget that feeling. She was already impressed before we started! Just by Kyra showing me she was eager to interact with me and willing to go through the mud!

From that day on, I paid more attention to what impresses horse people.

Some people are surprised that, when Kyra gets loose because I am bad at tying knots, she doesn’t run away from me and I can simply walk over to get her.

Others notice that she’s not mugging me while I obviously have treats in my pocket. While I hope they are impressed by the behaviours I spent hours training, most people are impressed by the side-effects positive reinforcement training has: a confident horse and the relationship I have with Kyra.

How does your horse impress other horse people?

Next time you’re at the barn, pay attention to what others admire about your training. What remarks do they make that tells you they want what you can do? Sometimes their sentence starts with simply with the words “I wish my horse would….

  • I wish my horse would be easy to catch…
  • I wish my horse would stand still…
  • I wish my horse was more like yours…

Share with in the comments what others admire about the relationship you have with your horse or what you’ve trained they wish they could.

Read more: How to Get your Horse out of the Pasture (effortlessly)

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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 make training a win-win.
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Halter Your Horse in 3 Steps with Clicker Training

What is your biggest struggle in clicker training? Splitting behaviour? Do you catch yourself sometimes lumping behaviour?

The most challenging task for a positive reinforcement trainer is to ‘thin slice’ your goal behaviour into trainable steps. This process is called a shaping plan.

Key Lesson for Trainers: Shaping plan

One of the 6 Key Lessons for Trainers in HippoLogic’s horse training system is teaching horse people how they can make good shaping plans for their horses.

Shaping plan in 3 easy steps

Step 1 Determine your goal behaviour

Step 2 Divide it into smaller steps. And even smaller. If you can, even more baby steps.

Step 3 Write them all down

#1 Determine Your Goal behaviour

Describe your goal behaviour in a detailed way. Asking questions will help you with this description:

  1. How does the horse behave (describe)
  2. Does your horse move slow, fast or not at all in the goal behaviour
  3. Where are his feet ideally?
  4. Where is is head
  5. How does he use his neck
  6. What about his other body parts: what are they doing and how do they move
  7. Where are you: in front of your horse, next to your horse (left or right) or on your horse (riding)
  8. And so on

Example: Haltering

  1. The horse is calm and is relaxed
  2. Horse stands still (otherwise halter becomes challenging)
  3. His feet are on the ground (not on my feet), so no pawing or moving around
  4. His head is relatively low
  5. Neck horizontal (horses that keep their head high or moving are hard to halter)
  6. Tail doesn’t move (no swishing)
  7. I am in front of the horse (I know traditionally you need to stay at the left. Clicker training is not traditional. It’s OK to break some rules. I like to be in front so it’s easy to teach horses to ‘self halter’.)

#2 Divide Goal into Trainable Steps

When you did a good job describing the behaviour you have a lot of starting points to make a good shaping plan.
In your shaping plan you write down every step you need to teach your horse in order to train your goal behaviour.

It helps to remember that your horse has no clue what you want to accomplish!

Every step in the description above can help you divide the goal behaviour ‘haltering’ into smaller steps.

The first step has to be that the horse stands still and is approachable. We all know how hard it is to halter a walking or trotting running horse, don’t we?

So all the above steps in the description of the goal behaviour can be steps in your shaping plan. If you think this is undue than you’ve probably never tamed and trained a wild horse. Also for halter shy and ear and head shy horses these steps all can be necessary.

Now you have the perfect body posture trained the next step is to bring in the halter. Some of the other steps in the shaping plan of training haltering are:

  • Horse stands still and keeps his head still when he sees the halter
  • Halter can move towards the horse and the horse keeps his head still
  • Head is at a height that is convenient to halter
  • Horse keeps his head still or
  • moves slightly down when the noseband is around his nose (Key Lesson Head lowering and Key Lesson Targeting are excellent training tools to train this part)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece touches ears (for head and ear shy horses you need to thin slice this even further!)
  • Horse keeps head still when head piece goes over his ears
  • Horse keeps head still when handler closes the halter

Each and every step in the above list can be divided even small if the horse needs it.
In your shaping plan you also write down when you want to move to the next step, what reinforcers you use and what the set up of the training environment is.

#3 Write it Down!

Studies have proven that writing your goals down help improve accomplishing it with 39%. People who share their goals and make themselves accountable (by sharing their goal with their coach or close friend) even increase their chances to 79%!

If you’ve written your shaping plan down it’s also way easier to remember. You’ve already visualized it in detail in order to write it down. Don’t underestimate the power of the pen! If you need help writing shaping plans, I happen to be a star in it! I also offer accountability for my students, so if you want to increase your chances of success, you know how to find me, right?

Read on

Smart strategy to re-train a halter shy horse with video.

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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!
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What is the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy? It’s an online place where you can learn to train every behaviour you have in mind with R+. We have a small, all-inclusive community in which students can thrive and develop.

  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
  • Super affordable
  • Student levels are novice to very advanced clicker trainers

Join the HippoLogic Clicker Training Academy and become one of the 25 ‘founding members’ (those students who receive extra privileges because they are the first) .
The 25 founding members get a free 90-minute coaching session with me (value $150 CAD). There is still room for you!

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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10 funny horse cartoons

It is the weekend. Time to enjoy and have some laughs!

The 10 funny horse cartoons have moved!

Find the 10 Funny Horse Cartoons here: https://clickertraining.ca/10-funny-horse-cartoons/

More fun

Are you in the mood for more fun? Take a look at the 10 funny horse photos  I selected or the 10 Funny Halloween Horse costumes

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Become a member of our Happy Herd on Facebook and get access to my Facebook LIVE’s.

Sandra Poppema, B.Sc.