How can I catch the panicked horse in turnout? Or loose on the property? Or showgrounds?
This is often the stuff of nightmares - there’s a loose horse running through the barn or a horse is going wild in the turnout and there’s no calming him down. In this particular article, I’ll talk about catching horse from a pasture or the barnyard once the switch has flipped from mellow to panicked. A larger discussion later will cover what to do if you are “in the wild” with a loose horse, such as can happen on a trail ride. While some of these ideas are great for the horse that thinks getting caught is a game, these are not the permanent solution to this behavior.
Horses seem to have this fine line between playing around, and all out panic/freaking/imminent death is near so must be crazy. Whatever the reason, dealing with a panicked horse that won’t be caught can be dangerous and scary. So here are some ideas on how you may be able to catch that loose horse!
First things first - you must have a horse that you can halter and lead safely. If the horse is new to the farm, it’s new to you, or there’s extra excitement at the barn, consider letting the horse wear an all leather halter or a nylon halter with a breakaway crown piece while in turn out. Speaking of halters, I prefer the style that you slip over the ears and snap at the cheek piece. Halters that require you to flip the crown piece over the poll and then buckle take too long, allow for escape, put you in more danger if you have a panicked horse.
-Don’t panic. Yes, much easier said than done.
-Don’t chase. You have suddenly become a ferocious lion and you are clearly going to eat the already panicked gazelle.
-Do give a warning to other people on the property that there is something going on. This will also *hopefully* gather some extra folks that can help you.
-If you do manage to herd your horse into an area where you could catch him, be aware of hazards around him (like arena drags, cars, tools) should he turn and burn away from you. Give him a safe way to escape, just in case.
-Don’t punish your horse for panicked behavior.
Do you really want to catch this? Sometimes you have to.
Think about a horse’s natural instincts and work with them.
-Herd mentality can help you. If you have a super calm babysitter type horse, you can lead him to eyesight of the spazzy horse in hopes that the “buddy system instinct” will take over. Many times a horse becomes uncatchable because he thinks he’s alone.
-Use food. A recognizable bucket (empty or full) or a flake of hay tossed over the fence can sometimes give you distraction enough to catch your horse. Even if there’s food already there, it’s worth a try. I don’t like this technique for horses that always run around when it’s time to come in. A bucket or flake is fine for those exceptional instances where your horse seems to have lost his mind and is clearly frightened.
-Be as un-lion like as you can when you approach. Avoid walking towards your horse directly head on or tail on. From the side, with your eyes avoiding contact, and aiming for the neck is best.
-If at all possible, have another set of hands help you with the gate. A horse that is bonkers often has very little respect for people and gates.
If your horse is loose on the property, there’s also the “OMG I”M FREE” factor to consider.
-If your property is not fully fenced and gated, station someone at openings to head off a wild horse.
-Your horse may want to run back into a safe place for him, like his stall or paddock. If your barn routine is to shut all doors and gates after your horse has left the stall, he will not be able to get back in, which may cause further panic. If you can, open his door or gate so he can zip in.
-Chances are you will catch him on some grass, near his buddy, or near the hay area.
What have you done to catch a panicked horse?