happy horse catching

The Catching Games

Ok, so I’m going to share a secret with our readers, and anyone else who may stumble across our little blog.  Our beloved Fizzy, yes, this absolutely adorable little face that we rave about and praise most of the time. Yeah.  He’s a jerk.  Really, I mean it.

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On and off for the last few years, we’ve had problems with catching him in his field. It got so bad he actually turned and kicked at us, and there was a time that he ran AT me, ears pinned and everything… and I’d had enough.  It had to stop.  All of it.  He’s got a large field, about an acre or so.  Now, imagine trying to catch a horse on that much land when he decides he doesn’t want to have a halter put on.  Are you picturing lots of inappropriate and offensive words?  If you are, that would be about accurate.  So, let me tell you our story, and all about how we (think) we have remedied this issue.

For a good while, we put band aids on the problem because it was just easier, and quite frankly we didn’t know how to address and fix the real problem.  The band aid was, make him wear a leather breakaway halter 24/7.  It was, lure him with food and distract him while you sneak another halter on as you search for the destroyed one in the field.  It was cry because you couldn’t work him that day.  It was letting him win, over and over, leaving the barn upset because you failed… again.   Let me tell you a secret.  Those band aids?  They always fall off, eventually.  Then, you’re back to square one.  Band-Aids don’t work.  Let me repeat that again for good measure.  Band-Aids. DO. NOT. Work.

So, you ask, what does work?  Well, I’ll tell you what worked for us.  There will be a short summary at the bottom for those that don’t feel like reading our story, so scroll on down if you’re short on time, but read our story if you want all the good stuff!  Good old fashioned ground work and exercises in respect (and of the cardiovascular kind) is what ultimately works.  I’m sure all the natural horsemanship people out there knew about something often referred to as “join up” or something like that.  Well, I didn’t know squat about how to achieve this, until the day I did with the help of our boarding facility owner. And let me just say, it was epic.  I wish there was video evidence of this epic battle, that I eventually won!  It would surely have all of you laughing (probably at my expense) but hey, it’s worth it!

Here’s how it went down. I prepared myself as instructed with his halter, lead attached, and a long lunge whip, and I marched out to the field ready for battle.  Halter in my right hand, whip on the ground.  As instructed, I walked toward him calmly, speaking the word “whoa” in a very firm voice, giving him an initial opportunity to submit to my demand.  As expected, the little turd looked at me, saw the halter, and the game of wits began as he turned to trot away. As instructed, I began cracking the whip, chasing him.  Smacking it at him, on him, in his direction, whatever I could do to keep him moving.  If he thought running away was a good idea, I made it my idea to make him run.  If he wanted to stop, I didn’t let him stop.   Keep chasing, keep running:  Do. NOT. Stop.

Not until YOU want to, that is.  When I wanted to stop, I stopped.  I was told to lay the whip on the ground as to not appear threatening, and give him a chance again with the “whoa” as I approached.  If he stood, I kept walking forward, repeating the word “whoa” in a very firm voice.  When he would step away or turn to walk/run away, the game began again and I went after him.  3 or four times, this happened over a period of about 45 minutes.  Are you laughing yet?  Looking back on it, I am… I am sure we were hilarious.  My less than totally in shape self, chasing a much more fit to run horse around a gigantic field, flailing my arms and the whip around and yelling at him “get out of here” and all sorts of other things to make him move.

Finally, that moment came.  He was out of breath, I was out of breath, but the “whoa” worked, and he didn’t try again to run.  As directed, I approached him from the side at about his neck (never went toward his face) and used the lead rope first to go up under his neck and around, as to make a sort-of lasso, instead of going straight for his head with the halter.  Then, while keeping a tight grip on my “lasso” with my body facing the same direction as his (so basically my behind to his chest) put my hand up around his head, brought the halter up to his face.  He didn’t run.  THANK God, Sweet Baby Jesus, and everything Holy because I was tired of chasing him!

Then, much to his dismay, we went up to the barn and prepared for a session in the jog cart.  He was worked for another 25 minutes, while I sat on my butt in the cart!  He worked nicely, well behaved as usual, but I swear I thought by the end of it he was going to fall over he was so tired!  Then, I cooled him out and turned him back out, removing the halter.  There was no praise, no treats, nothing at all in the way of encouragement.

Next day, I walked out to the field prepared for battle again, but to my surprise, he only THOUGHT about running.  I could see it in his face, the wheels were a turnin! But, followed the “lasso” protocol, and he was caught.  This happened days 2-6, and each day he got lots of praise and treats for giving me no problems getting the halter on.  Then on that 7th day-It was NOT a day of rest.  This horse is so backwards! So, back to battle we went! However, I only had to chase him about ten minutes this time before he decided it was not a clever idea anymore.  No treats, no praise… just marched up to the barn, got ready, and worked.  No treats for working.  Nothing.  Not even a “good boy” voiced in his direction.  Day 8 rolled around and it was back to letting me catch him, treats, praise, etc.  Day 9, 10, 11, and so on… all good to go.  It’s been 34 days now since Day 1.  I haven’t been out EVERY one of those days, but I have been out MOST of them.  2 of those days were a battle (Day 1 and Day 7), and the other days have so far been GOOD. Even the day after we went to a horse show!

So, have we ripped off the band aid?  I think so!  He doesn’t wear a halter.  There hasn’t been a day since day 1 that I went out with the intention of working him that I haven’t worked him, and there certainly hasn’t been a day I cried because I didn’t know what to do.  So, if anyone out there has a horse they can’t catch, I can attest that this method has worked for us.  Eventually, they will get tired.  Eventually, they will give up.  You just can’t give up before they do!  DO NOT get intimidated.  Stand your ground and show your dominance as the “herd leader” and let it be known that they are to follow your commands, not the other way around.  As always though, stay safe!

As promised, you’ll find below 10 steps to happier catching.

  1. Give the horse a chance to be caught without issue.  Walk toward their SIDE, not their FACE, and firmly and calmly say “WHOA” as you walk up.
  2. If/when they run, make him keep moving. Use a lunge whip, your voice, whatever you need to do.  DO NOT let them stop when they wants to stop.  ONLY stop when YOU want him to.  Also, do not allow a change of direction, unless it is your idea.
  3. Give them a chance to be caught when YOU decide to stop. Make sure you drop your whip or anything else that could be seen as scary.  Remember, horses are flight animals and they flee in the face of danger. (YOU and your contraptions, whip, halter, lead, etc are the “danger” here) Again, walk toward the side, not the head, and firmly say “WHOA”
  4. If they move AWAY from you, make them move again, and do not let them stop again until you want them to. If they move TOWARD you, and in a calm manner, that is OK.
  5. CAUTION: Keep in mind the body language horses use.  Ears forward means they are interested, and OK with what you are doing.  Ears pinned back, not so much, so use good judgement.  If they are pawing the ground, they are trying to assert THEIR dominance.  Make them run, asserting yours.  There is potential they could run AT you.  Use your whip to deter them, but be cautious and use good sense to avoid getting hurt.  The point of this exercise is to establish yourself as the “herd leader” so that they understand they are to follow your commands, not the other way around.
  6. When they allow you up next to them, use the lead rope and go up under the neck and around, making a “lasso” around their neck. THEN with one hand on their head, use your other hand to bring the halter up around their head.
  7. NO TREATS and NO PRAISE if they make you work to catch them.
  8. If and when they let you catch them, give them all the treats and praise you want. Eventually, they will come to understand it is easier on them NOT to run, and they will always choose the easier way.
  9. At first, you have to be persistent and do this every day until you establish that dominance. If you’re lucky and you have a smart horse, it won’t be long before you’re back in charge. If you have a very stubborn horse, it may take a little longer! Be patient and keep trying until you win.
  10. Happy Catching Games, may the odds be ever in your favor!
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