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. šŸ˜‰

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)

Are you a compassionate horse owner who wants to build a strong friendship with your 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!

Not sure? Start with aĀ free clicker training assessmentĀ 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.Ā 

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!

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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  • Professional, personal positive reinforcement advice on your training videos
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Tons of Winter Training Ideas

Here in Canada it is Winter again. Normally the climate is mild here in Vancouver, BC but this winter we’ve already had snow that’s lasted for almost two weeks.

_Kyra_sneeuw_hippologic.jpgWe all know that frozen pastures limit our horses ability to exercise themselves and horses generally are more spooky and more forward in cold weather conditions. Riders with an outdoor arena can’t ride due to the frozen ground. How can you get the most out of this time of year? Here are some tips.

Work on Simple behaviours

Choose to work on some smaller, but still important behavioursĀ that will make your life easier and improve the relationship with your horse.Ā Does every ride start with a bit of irritation because your horse lifts his head every time you want to halter/bridle him? Does he always walk a few steps while mounting?

How does that influence your relationship? Imagine how you would feel toĀ have a horse that would put his head into his own halter or bridle, align perfectly next to your mounting block andĀ stand still until you give the cue to walk on?

Simple behaviours you can work on in Winter that would improve your life at the barn can be:

Have some fun with your horse

If the weather isn’t allowing you to ride you can spend time with your horse , groom him and do a wonderful photo shoot. Maybe you can have eternalize some of your equestrian goals you worked on this year.

_Smile_tricktraining_horse_hippologic.jpgYou can take your horse on a walk toĀ hand graze your horse. This would be a perfect time to start teaching him how to quit grazing on a cue, since winter grass is less enticing than the juicy green Spring grass that will beĀ back in a few months.

Start trick training and have a good time! Here is a good book that will get you started on a few easy tricks.

What does your favourite Winter training looks like?

Sandra Poppema
Are you interested in online personal coaching, pleaseĀ visit my website