Having a horse who’s difficult to catch can be hugely frustrating. Instead of being able to ride or spend quality time with him, you end up walking endless laps of his paddock, watching his bottom disappear into the distance whenever you get close to him. As well as disrupting riding plans, it can add extra stress to farrier and vet appointments, as you’re never quite sure whether you’ll have got the headcollar on him by the time they’re due to arrive at the yard. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to teach your horse that being caught isn’t so bad and by following some simple steps, you may even find that he greets you with enthusiasm.
The first step to coming up with a solution is understanding your horse’s motivation for carrying out this behaviour. When a horse doesn’t want to be caught, there can be several possible causes, so you’ll need to put your detective’s hat on and work out which one applies in his case. Consider whether the behaviour…
- happens every time you try to catch him or some of the time
- coincides with when you want to ride
- happens when he’s due to be stabled
- only occurs when he’s turned out with others or with certain horses
- is affected by the weather
- happens before a vet or farrier visit – horses are intuitive and quick to recognise when something different is going to happen that they’re not comfortable with
Change the association
A lot of horses become difficult to catch because they associate it with something unpleasant happening to them. The most common reasons are that they’re ridden every time they’re caught or they’re put in a stable for a long time. Or, perhaps they don’t want to be separated from their field companions.
Once you’ve identified your horse’s motivation for not being caught, you need to address it before any long-term changes to his behaviour can be made. So, if it’s ridden work causing the problem, get his tack checked to make sure it’s not uncomfortable or poorly fitting and consider whether the level of work you’re asking him to do is too difficult. If he’s worried about being stabled, is it because he’s left inside on his own while his friends are out?
Ordinarily, the bottom line with a horse who’s difficult to catch is he’s learnt that staying in the field is the preferable option. So, in order to change his behaviour, you need to teach him that being caught is a positive, enjoyable experience.
Follow Anna’s easy steps to desensitise a horse who’s difficult to catch in the May issue of Horse&Rider, on sale 5 April.