Question: I board my 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding at a farm near my home. He’s in a small pasture by himself. Whenever I try to catch him, he runs away from me. Treats worked the first two or three times, but he got wise to that, and now it takes me hours to catch him. Do you have any advice on how to halter a hard-to-catch horse?
– Sherry Johnston, Greenwood, Indiana
Answer: Sherry, having a horse that doesn’t want you to catch him can be very frustrating. It can ruin your whole trail-riding plan for the day. Your gelding is playing disrespectful games with you and winning. Why? He doesn’t respect you as his leader.
To fix this problem, you need to spend quality time with your gelding to build a mutual bond of respect and trust, with you in the leadership position. He should be happy to see you and come running when you call him. A kind word and a pat on his shoulder should be the only treat he needs.
Here are seven simple steps to teaching your gelding to come to you every time you enter his pasture.
Step 1. Teach your gelding a positive work ethic. Regularly perform ground work with your gelding. Regularly groom him and ride him in a safe area – not always on the trail. Be patient with him. Teach him that you’re not only his friend, but also his leader and teacher. Always put him away on a good note. Work with him four sessions in a row per week; one or two of these sessions could be a trail ride. Note that riding on the trail is, in fact, a training session. Everything you do with your gelding at any time is a training session.
Step 2. Call your gelding to you. After you’ve established a solid bond of mutual respect and trust with your gelding, with you in the leadership position, show up unexpectedly at the pasture, and call to him. If he doesn’t come to you right away, be patient. Stand still for a few minutes, and call him again. (If you wish, you can train your gelding to come to a kissing sound rather than a verbal cue.)
Step 3. Approach with the halter. If your gelding ignores your calls or kissing sounds, walk slowly toward him, halter and lead rope in hand. Don’t hide the halter; he has to know and accept that you’re going to catch him.
Step 4. Make your gelding run from you. If your gelding then takes off running, twirl the end of the lead rope toward him, and make him run away. This action will make him think that running away is your idea, not his. He’ll then know that you’re in charge at all times.
Step 5. Approach again. After your gelding runs away, he’ll eventually stop somewhere in the pasture. When he does, slowly walk toward him again. If you sense that he’s about to run again, twirl your lead rope toward him once again, and make him run away. He’ll finally realize that you don’t care if he runs away, and he’ll start to stand still and let you halter him.
Step 6. Halter and release. After your gelding allows you to halter him, stand with him for three or four minutes. Tell him that he did well, then remove the halter, and leave the pasture.
Step 7. Groom your gelding in the pasture. Occasionally, enter the pasture with a halter, lead rope, and grooming brush. Halter your gelding, then brush him right there in the pasture. Note: As you brush him, practice safe horse-handling habits. Never put yourself in an unsafe position.
These exercises deepen the bond between you and your gelding, and will cause him to look forward to seeing you and working with you. He’ll then come running when you call or kiss to him.