What is the most annoying trait a horse can have?
Today I discovered it – being difficult to catch! I find it so irksome I think it would put me off buying a horse who wasn’t a hundred percent to catch.
I’ve started working with this new mare and on Friday I went to catch her. She took one look at me and cantered off! I’d hardly come near her! She careered around the field merrily, trotting swiftly away from me when I even looked in her direction!
After a bit I got some feed in a scoop but even then I only got close enough for her muzzle to go in the scoop before she ran backwards as I edged towards her neck. In the end her owner managed to catch her. I spent a bit of time trying to bond with her as I lunged her and let her sniff me all over. But her whole demeanour was uptight, and on edge.
Today I was a bit more prepared, with half a carrot another horse had donated, and I walked nonchalantly towards the mare. My body language passive and submissive, as non-threatening and disinterested as possible. She watched me, intrigued, so I made a big deal of showing her the carrot and seeing if she’d come to me. She didn’t. But on the other hand she didn’t turn tail and flee!
For the next twenty minutes she walked around me, just out of reach, but very curious of the carrot. I had the same problem where she came tantalisingly close but had I moved to her headcollar she would have gone. I let her eat a bit of carrot so she got the taste for it and learnt that I was a friend with presents, and after getting to within breathing distance a few times she eventually gave in and let me clip on her lead rope. Again, I gave her lots of attention walking in and when I turned her out, hoping that she was learning to trust me.
When a horse is difficult to catch it can be the most frustrating thing in the world. Minutes slip past you. You can’t get upset or tense because in makes the situation worse. You can’t think about how this is making you late, or what you could be doing right now. You just have to stand there as if you haven’t anything better to do and look like you aren’t posing a threat.
This mare is hard to catch because she doesn’t trust strangers, so I hope a few more quiet stand offs, where I wait to get my way will earn her respect as well as trust. I think perseverance with her is the way forwards so we become friends.
Some horses, however, can just be naughty on the odd day – but how good is their timing?! It’s always when it’s raining, or your late. Then they gallop full speed around the field, bucking, while you sigh with frustration. They won’t take any notice of you!
One cob I teach and school can be tricky to catch, so the first thing you do is show him the treat and then he’s putty in your hand and won’t bat an eyelid as you fasten the headcollar.
Sometimes catching or removing the field companion can help persuade a horse to be caught, or at least follow to a corral or smaller paddock. I always take the option of shutting any gates to minimise the distance the horse can put between themselves and me.
I remember a colleague telling me about “good cop, bad cop” for catching naughty horses. I think it depends on the type of horse – it won’t work for the timid ones, but I’ve never used it. One person goes into the field and shouts and flaps, making as much noise and unsettling the horse as possible. After a few minutes someone else enters the field with some food and quietly approaches, or let’s the horse approach them. The idea is that the second person seems much safer and nicer to be around so the horse with (hopefully) let them catch them!
Has anyone used this technique? Or for that matter, what are everyone’s tips for catching difficult horses?