Posted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 10:37 pm Post subject: Catching
I received a very interesting question about a mare who won't be caught. Using "zigzag" and "shooing off" methods, the owner is able to get very close to her. Howevr, when she reaches out to touch the mare, the mare moves away again. I will be posting my response in several different messages; it was quite long.
I would be taking one of two directions. You describe her reaching over to sniff you; that's one of the directions, and probably the one I'd be more likely to use.
This is a bit of a complicated description, so bear with me With a
horse, the one who is more interested and curious is typically the more
submissive horse. The one who's ignoring all the hubbub and pretending
not to even see you is the dominant one. Now, a horse who won't be
caught may not have much faith in you. If you can demonstrate, even in
small ways, that you are more dominant, the horse may be more willing to
So. With a horse who won't be caught, you can move closer & closer,
pretending not to see her; stop and "graze" (squat and pick at the grass
with your fingers) every so often. When you finally end up right next
to her, you will still be ignoring her. Stop and "graze" right next to
her, but don't look at her. Wait for her to look at you. When she
does, tell her good girl and move off.
You can do this repeatedly over the course of a session; unlike much
training-type handling, the more you do, the more relaxed the horse
should get. So you could do this fifteen, twenty, thirty times...wander
off, come back, wait for her to look at you. If she will touch you, so
much the better. Try extending your hand (slowly!) while looking away,
to give her something to touch.
Once she is willing to see you, touch you, and stand still, she may
begin to allow you to do more to her. While she is touching your hand,
you may be able to move your hand around a little. If she'll stand for
that, that's enough--walk away. You can then repeat that multiple
times, until she doesn't flinch when you move your hand. At that point,
you may be able to reach over and touch her yourself, rather than
waiting for her to reach over to you.
Try to keep your hands in plain sight (remember the blind spot directly
in front of the forehead), to move slowly, and to be obvious about NOT
trying to catch her.
The previous post describes a technique similar to the methods I used with my Morgan, whom we acquired from our next door neighbor. She was skittish and unhandled, and frightened of people. If we were out on our property, she would come near out of curiosity--but not close enough to touch. Before we acquired her (before I knew we were going to acquire her), I felt bad for her nervousness and set about making friends across the fence.
I confess that I started with bribery I'd bring her a treat, which
got her closer to the fence. Then I looked away and held out my hand;
she would reach over and touch it with her nose. She was looking for
another treat, of course, but it was a start. After a while, she would
let me move my hand around her nose. She was very frightened of having
her forehead touched, so I avoided it. Instead I moved my hand around
and under her jaw--that's often an itchy spot, by the way, as dirt can
accumulate there and horses have no easy way to scratch it themselves.
At that point I stopped bribing quite so openly and mostly didn't
bring her treats. She would still come to the fence, though, and would
allow me to slowly move my hand toward her nose, then slide around and
scratch the jaw.
After a while, I started pulling my hand away, and approaching her with
the hand in other areas besides the nose. She continued to be shy about
her forehead and ears, so I started reaching out to pat her neck. I
just reached over, placed the flat of my hand against her neck, then
With gradual expansion of the areas she'd allow me to touch, by reaching
out to put my hand on her, then sliding it around, I eventually got her
to a point where she was letting me touch her forehead without
flinching. A week later, she was injured, ran up a vet bill, and
neighbor didn't want to pay it; we offered to take her and pay the bill,
take care of the injury, all of it; he gave us her papers. I was
tremendously lucky that I'd spent so much time working with her already;
within a few days she was letting us catch her with very little fuss.
I don't discourage the use of treats as an initial training tool, by the
way. I know that some trainers do. I find that they can be very
effective in snagging the horse's attention, and in leading to a
willingness to cooperate.
I mentioned several directions. The other direction that I've used,
depending on the situation, is to keep up the chase. Continue to chase
the horse any time she walks away, until eventually she turns and comes
*to* you. This may take a very long time; it may take tremendous energy
on her part & on yours. It might be very stressful.
I've used this tactic on horses who ordinarily would be caught, but for
some reason don't want to. For example, I leased a pony who had been
used in lessons; she was ONLY used in lessons, and got no handling at
all outside of lessons. She wasn't even groomed before being ridden.
Unsurprisingly, she wasn't excited about being caught. (As soon as I
began leasing her, I changed all of that. But she didn't know that I
would be different from all the people before.)
One day I spent about half an hour chasing the pony when she refused to
be caught. Any time she'd move away from me, I'd shoo her on. Any time
she'd stop and look at me, I eased up on the pressure. If she stood
there long enough without doing anything, I'd shoo her on again.
Eventually, she walked directly up to me. The next time I went to catch
her, she ran--I shoo'd her once, she turned and walked to me. I never
had a problem catching her again.
In using this method, you sometimes have to be very patient when the
horse is facing you. It can help to turn and ignore the horse, as in
the earlier discussion about dominance. But, even though you're
"ignoring" the horse, try to make sure you can see her at least a
little. As long as she's standing there, let her be. If she grazes,
wanders off, otherwise lets her attention drift, turn and shoo her on
This is a much more forceful method, and can be highly stressful on both
parties. I would generally not use it unless the horse is already
trained, but simply doesn't want to be caught. If you don't know why a
horse won't be caught, it's still probably not a good idea to jump in
and use this method. The other is less stressful and generally better