Catching your horse

A horse that refuses to be caught so you can ride it is no fun. But there are ways of breaking this bad habit, writes Kim Dyson.

It’s Saturday morning and you have one hour to catch your horse, saddle it, go for a ride, untack and be on your way home. Your darling Honey Apple is out in the field with the other horses. As you approach her, she turns and runs off. You know this ‘game’ can last for a long, long time and it’s damaging your relationship with your horse.

The first step to ‘fixing’ this problem is to understand why it happens. When you see your horse walking/running away from you, it’s saying: “I don’t want to work with you, and I really don’t care what you think about that.” It’s therefore important that your horse associates you with pleasant activities. If you constantly fetch it to dip or clip it, it will automatically associate you with negative things.

Horses are social creatures that seek safety in numbers. The minute you isolate them in a stable or threaten them by shouting at them they’ll defiantly pick you last to join their circle of friends! What you need is a little reverse psychology. Have you noticed that when, after an hour of chasing your beloved horse around the field, you break down and phone the groom to come help, he calmly walks up to your horse, puts on the head collar and hands you the lead rope?

Play along
Why is this? Because your groom does all the fun stuff, such as grooming and feeding! So make your horse look forward to seeing you. You don’t have to bribe it with a carrot every time you see it – try to see things from its point of view and help it understand your actions.

The bottom line is, if your horse is difficult to catch, you’re being unsympathetic to its needs and/or it hasn’t learnt to trust you and work with you. If you know your horse is difficult to catch, you must allow a lot of time for this. Never give up until it has been caught. Most horses will circle you, play a little, and then surrender to you. So play along. If your horse takes a step towards you, reward it by taking a few steps away from it.

This is exactly the opposite of what it is expecting you to do. The horse will be puzzled and it will want to be close to you. Mirror the horse’s actions, in other words. It must be like a dance. At no stage must your horse feel that you’re chasing it. Then slowly close the gap. When you’re an arm’s length away, don’t lunge. It is showing you tremendous trust by just standing that close to you.

Instead, pat it gently on its neck and step back. Do this until it allows you to put the head collar on. Now I know there are sceptics out there saying, “Lady, you’ve never tried to catch my pony!” And this kind of horse does require drastic measures, which means devising a routine that will get your horse accustomed to you being around. Make a small paddock with a large entrance. Feed the horse at the same time every day. But don’t try to catch it every day!

Reward
Always reward it by backing out of its personal space when it takes a step forward! Play games with it. Groom it yourself and let it want to be with you. It also has a choice. Take time to prove to it you’re worthy of its trust and friendship. Catch it, then lead it a few steps, and then let it go again. Eventually it will go anywhere with you!

Contact Kim Dyson on 082 888 6511 or at [email protected]. Please state ‘Horse therapy’ in the subject line.