Catching horses has absolutely nothing to do with horse herds, pecking orders, respect or domination. Everyone must remember that it’s not a competition when you go to the paddock to catch your horse.
Horses know nothing about winning or losing. Some horses learn to run away when they see someone coming to catch them. This behaviour starts because the horse is nervous and worried around people. The horse learns to run away or even just move away for a few steps to keep the human at a ‘safe’ distance. The horse finds relief by running away or stepping away and so a habit forms.
The only way to overcome this behaviour is to build the horse’s confidence. You must go to the horse and show him that it’s always easy and pleasant to be with you.
In an open paddock, a hard-to-catch horse has the advantage of being able to move away whenever he pleases. And if your horse is hard to catch, you’ve probably noticed that he can run much faster than you.
Don’t get angry and frustrated if you can’t catch your horse. And never, ever chase him. Simply leave him in a small enclosure where you have the advantage. Take some feed and go to your horse and rub his head and neck as he eats. You may have to leave him in a small enclosure for a few weeks. With repetition, every horse will learn that it’s a good experience to be with you.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard “Don’t take feed to catch your horse. You’ll spoil him.” I strongly disagree. Horses that can be easily caught with feed aren’t ‘spoilt’. They’re confident, relaxed and happy to be with you.
Another thing people often tell me is that their horse doesn’t like having his head rubbed. This simply means that the horse is nervous and worried and not fully confident around people. Every horse will learn to enjoy having his head, neck and around his ears rubbed. It’s up to us to teach them.
Horse training is all about building trust and confidence. Whether you’re catching a horse, teaching a foal to lead, mounting for the first time or teaching advanced movements, every horse must be confident and relaxed before he can learn. Without confidence and relaxation, you really don’t have much at all.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.