How can I teach my horse to accept being caught? He is a total dingbat!
This is pretty much the equivalent of a horse tap dancing on my very last nerve. If your horse knows nothing else besides eat, drink, poop, and sleep, the next thing he must learn is how to be caught. Aside from saving a bunch of time and headache, it will teach your horse that you are the boss, but also a friend, and not something to avoid. The longer this unsafe and obnoxious behavior continues, the longer he will see you as a bothersome pest on the ground, and on his back. Not safe.
I can hear him saying "neener - neener, you can't catch me!"
Before we even tackle how to correct this behavior, let’s talk about setting yourself up for success before you invest the time to train. I also suggest that you work with a reputable trainer that is experienced in behavior issues, this is not a behavior problem to be tackled by a novice.
- Work with him when he can focus on you. Right before the first meal of the day is probably not ideal. A better time might be after he’s had a lot to eat and is a bit satiated. Or, you may discover that your horse is more easily caught a short time before feeding.
- Have your tools handy. A halter that goes on quickly over the ears and clasps on the cheek is safer and faster than a halter that buckles over the crownpiece. Have your lead rope already fastened and not looped on any part of your body. I’m not opposed to turning out a horse with a halter on to facilitate catching while your horse learns. As long as it’s a break away style, like a leather halter or a nylon one with a leather crownpiece.
- Avoid turning your horse out with other horses while you are teaching him to be caught. Other horses can easily “influence” him, or vice versa, and end up running all over the paddock. Other horses can also get in the way of the communication that you have going on with your horse, and may physically block his way.
- Don’t use food as reinforcement. Other types of positive reinforcement are better suited, such as a pat/scratch, kind words, a click of your clicker, once you have caught him. Once you have caught him is KEY. Rewarding him before you have him teaches him to come close, but not close enough.
- Use appropriate body language. Never get into a staring contest, don’t wave your arms, do your best not to act like a mountain lion that is going to eat him. If you approach from the shoulder side of him, it’s much less threatening.
- Plan on spending a lot of time on this! But, you often get a better response when you can catch him, and do something minor and easy. You could remove him from the paddock, pick his feet, reward him, and put him back. No big deal.
- Be consistent every single time you interact with your horse. It’s the kindest and fairest way for him to understand you.
- Remember that your horse may avoid being caught because he fears what is going to happen to him! Is he overworked for his fitness level, does his saddle fit poorly, does his bit hurt his mouth? Are the only times you fetch him going to end the exact same way? Use the activities that he LOVES as rewards to being caught so that he learns there are good things on the other side of the fence. A horse that is a weekend warrior is a great candidate for being an uncatchable dork. Work with your horse every single day, even if it's only to catch him, brush him, put him back.
So - down to brass tacks. How to stop this horrid behavior!
- Never let him “win” by not being caught.
- Make it more interesting to come to you than to avoid you. Turn your back, walk away, check the fence, fiddle with the water trough, go pay attention to the horse on the other side of the fence, pull weeds, do whatever it takes to get him walking to you.
- When he comes to you, praise him till the cows come home! The first few (or few dozen) times he comes to you, don’t slap on a halter and go work him in the arena. Give him attention, put on the halter, go outside the gate with them, then turn him back out.
- If you have a horse that sees you and runs, you will need to go way back to basics and approach him without a halter and lead rope. There are some horses that respond to the technique of work as a consequence of running away. By this I mean that if a horse that runs from you is asked to run even more, he may learn that running away just equals more running. Certainly this is not ever a good idea in a large pasture, and definitely not good for a herd situation. Small turnouts or round pens are best here. Always use this technique under the supervision of a trainer that specializes in corrective training.
- Work up to putting on the halter and leading him out of his enclosure. Then, make his time happy, light, and without pressure. You may be able to do this several times in a day.
- The goal is to have a horse that wants to go with you. It’s up to you to notice what his patterns are and to work within them.
- Don’t be bashful if you need to ask for help on this. Remember your goal, and work towards that. Also remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you will probably go two steps forward and one step back. Maybe you will do this a few times.
What have you done to train your horse to be caught?