Few things make you feel more helpless than watching your horse high-tail it away when you come to catch him. In the December 2018 issue of Horse&Rider, equine behaviorist Justine Harrison demystifies the reasons why a horse becomes hard to catch, plus offers some solutions.
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Here, I’ll share additional tips and reinforcements on dealing with this frustrating behavior, with links to more detail.
• Halter ‘massage.’ Clinician Pat Parelli tells you to use your horse’s halter and lead as a scratching tool. Gather them in your hand and rub them all over your horse’s body, paying particular attention to his favorite itchy spots. This changes his attitude toward “catching equipment” and makes coming to you a pleasurable experience. If need be, perform this exercise in a round pen, so you can more easily approach your horse until his attitude begins to change.
• Bravery boost. An overall skittishness can contribute to a horse’s disinclination to be caught. Up your horse’s baseline calm and bravery with a stick-and-string exercise from clinician Glenn Stewart. Rub your horse with the training stick, then fling the stick’s string all over your horse’s body, starting with the areas he accepts easily and progressing to his don’t-touch-me-there spots.
• Earned trust. Clinician Jonathan Field advises you to deserve your horse’s trust by being dependable and consistent in how you handle him. Accomplish this by making your cues unfailingly clear and reasonable. When your interactions with your horse always come from a place of wanting to help and educate—not punish—he’ll more naturally want to be with you.
• Slow ’n easy. Hurrying creates an atmosphere of “afterness”—an intensity of purpose coupled with time urgency that’s an automatic red alert to prey species, including horses. So whenever you’re with your horse, slow down. Measure your movements. Breathe deeply from your gut. Relax—and don’t be surprised if your horse does the same.