How to Get the Hard to Catch Horse

“How can I catch my mare more easily? I have tried treats, approaching her shoulder, sending her away when she moves away from me, sweet talking, forcefully calling, begging, pleading, walking away from her, and still she walks away.   I have even just gone up to her just scratched her and walked away.  Any suggestions to resolve this problem?”

Mutual Trust & Respect

A horse that doesn’t want to be “caught” is a common problem that many horse owners deal with. It is particularly frustrating when the horse will allow herself to be caught some days, but not others or will come for the barn manager but not for her owner. The reason a horse does or doesn’t want to be caught is generally about the relationship between the human & the horse.

Horses that like to be with their owners are ok with what happens to them when they go with them, are willing to be caught and will often come to the person … no catching necessary.An integral component of building relationships based on mutual trust, respect and confidence is consistency.  We can all relate to how unsure we feel around a person (or horse) whose behaviour is not consistent.  Humans, horses and other animals all feel more secure when they know what to expect in any given situation.  That is why we pull into the Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s when we are in an unfamiliar location.  We know what to expect when we go to those types of franchises.  When you try “everything” or many different techniques with your horse, she does not what to expect from you.

Pay attention to the word we use when talking about getting our horses … “catch”. Predators catch their prey. But, prey animals’ avoid being “caught” as their survival depends upon their ability to get away. Are you hunting your horse? What we ultimately want is for the horse to willingly come to us because she wants to be with us.

Here are three tips to apply if you have difficulty getting your horse from the paddock.

  1. Walk towards the shoulder not the head. Horses do not like impulsive (pushing) energy going towards their head or neck. If you walk directly towards your horse’s head, your horse will move her head away from you. As the head turns away the body generally follows and the horse moves away from you. Horses move in arching paths. Walk a “rainbow” that arches away from her head and towards your horse’s shoulder. Horses read your entire body so be aware of your body alignment so that there is no push from your hips, core or shoulders towards the head or hips.  If she starts to look away as you approach, stop and try drawing her focus back towards you by taking a couple of backwards steps – arching away from her head.
  2. If your horse runs away when you walk towards her, push her around. Make sure your push goes towards her flank (the “go” button).  Separate your horse from the rest of the herd by pushing her out of the group, Put yourself between your horse & the rest of the herd. Horses understand that being sent out of the herd is a punishment for inappropriate behavior. A rude horse will get pushed out of the herd by a higher ranking horse and kept out until she shows signs of respect. The horse will stop trying to run back into the herd, face up, stand with front feet square (a sign of not needing to move) and give a bow. This tactic may take a lot of effort on your part the first few times you try it. Your horse may not give in easily. But the effort pays off in the long run.  The success of this technique will also depend upon how much work you have previously done with your horse to establish “who pushes who”.  Do you move out of your horse’s way when she dances on the cross ties or when you are hand grazing her?  Or do you stand your ground and ask her to yield the space to you?
  3. Really analyze your relationship with your horse. If your horse enjoys your company and feels good about being with you, she will leave her herd mates to come to you. If your horse does not enjoy spending time with you, then you need to take a hard look at how you are treating your horse when you are handling, grooming and riding her. Is she engaged with you in a positive way and being a willing partner both on the ground and in the saddle? Or is she stressed, angry, resistant or shut down?

Developing a relationship with your horse based on mutual trust, respect and confidence creates positive, lasting results but requires consistent awareness, good body language, and empathy.  The real diagnostic question is “Why doesn’t the horse want to be caught”. The reason is ultimately about the relationship between the human and the horse.  A horse that likes the experience of being with you, no matter what you are doing together,  doesn’t need to be “caught”. She will give herself to you – willingly.

Do you have a question about your horse’s behaviour, training, riding or your own confidence issues?  Submit your questions at Ask Anne


2 thoughts on “How to Get the Hard to Catch Horse

  1. Just wanted to share my thoughts about this… most horses that are “hard to catch” are that way for a reason and it’s usually a human-induced cause. If the horse is always being sent immediately to work after being caught then he links the haltering to work… and in my experience, theses horses are usually rode hard and put up wet.

    Re-training a horse to be caught needs a human who takes time to hang out with the horse, approaching and retreating, and when haltered, is often taken to do something that the horse considers enjoyable (i.e. fed a treat, hand grazed, groomed the way the horse likes it etc…). This doesn’t mean you can’t “work” the horse, but the riders and trainers who put in punishingly long and intense rides or do boringly, redundant training, are training their horse to dislike being with them, whether they mean too or not.

    I’ve got an article about what I do over here:

    I now have a new horse, was told she was hard to catch, and within 10 days I have her walking to me in the pasture. My pony actually canters to me once she hears her name being called. 🙂

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