CATCHING THE HORSE: BY ERIC HOSMER
"Catching a horse it seems is an annoying task for many horse owners, and I am constructing this article too help horse owners get a understanding of the principles, psycology, and techniques involved in catching a horse and making each subsequent session shorter and easier. I would like to start off with a basic rundown of the techniques/habits that we are going to try to get away from. I have noticed that many horse owners will often attempt one of two things when trying to catch a horse, one is bribing a horse with food and the other is sneaking/moving slowly toward the horse with the lead rope and or halter hidden behind their back. I do not like to see these used becuase neither one puts the person in control of the situation if your bribing with food the horse is in control becuase he will eat or come to the food at his leisure and hiding things from the horse means that you are trying to get close enough to latch on to him and that he is unaware of your intentions meaning that if he becomes aware you believe he will flee(now I understand there will be opposition saying that these techniques work just fine and I'll say yes they do but they are not concrete nor stable, and as I said before do not put you in charge of the situation) . Another method widley used is just trying to catch the horse by walking straight towards him and when he flees and unless trained to do otherwise he will flee they begin to chase him all over. I will go into some detail later as to why these methods should not be used and what methods you should use instead.
Catching a horse requires a little knowledge of the horse in his natural habitat and knowlegde of the horses psycology. Now in a natural horse habitat their is a heirarchy of dominance. The lead mare is the dominant horse in the herd that's right the mare not the stallion the herd will consist of a lead mare, a lead stallion, some mares and their offspring, being colts and phillies until they become mature enough to leave the herd and establish their own or join another, also some colts might stay and try to challenge the lead stallion for his spot or in some cases actaully tag along with the lead stallion as if the lead stallion were to pass his spot down to him but that rarley happens. Now that you have an understanding of what makes a herd you need to understand how dominance works within the herd there are two ways a horse will show dominace, the first the horse will walk straight toward a horse or horses with a purposeful movement ears straight up and looking directly at them the lesser dominant horse or horses will then immediatly leave the area as to flee from him/her now this is the dominant horse saying I want to graze or be in this area and I don't want you around, pretty much get out of my space. The second way is much different where the dominant horse will gradually at a slow pace walk toward the horse or horses with his/her head down,ears relaxed and not making eye contact at all. Subsequently the lesser dominant horse or horses will stay and continue doing what they were doing the dominant horse had pretty much said I'm more dominant but I invite you to stay I don't mind that your here. Now understanding these two methods you can understand a few things that apply to catching a horse the first is when you walk directly toward the horse with purpose and eye contact he will more than likley flee and the thing that many people don't know is he is doing this out of respect for your dominance which makes it so ironic your trying to catch a horse by signaling for him to get out of your space(another factor to his fleeing may be due to fear of an object in your hand which will be covered later but even if this is the case it is still mainly your show of dominance causing him/her to flee). Secondly by understanding the second method you should be able to realize what kind of body language you need to posses in order to catch your horse.
I would like to use this section of the article to address another common mistake almost all owners make, and it is simply catching your horse should not be considered a task it should be lesson one, by this I mean many people will go into the pasture area and catch the horse using the same techniques and the same amount of time as always thinking I'm going to catch you and then well go on to training, well the training should begin as soon as you enter the feild or pasture to catch the horse. By using the time as a training session you will be teaching the horse that it is enjoyable to be caught and also you will be creating a bond of trust with the horse that will strengthen every other aspect of you and your horses relationship(training,showing,riding,ect...). Another great advantage is that each time after, you will notice it will take less and less time and effort to catch him/her so instead of just catching the horse each time your goal now is to teach the horse to be caught or ultimately come to your call.
Now before actually begining the session its time to go over a few principles and factors to remember. One thing to keep in mind is that all horses learn at different speeds like humans so what may take 30 minutes with one horse may take 2 hours with another so the most important factor is patience. Keep a clear head don't bring your bad day into the pasture leave it at the gate horses are very perceptive animals and can pick up on negative body language which could make your session last longer than originally needed. This one may sound funny to some but one thing I like to do and I feel it makes the whole session run a lot more smooth is something I call "horse time" when I first walk into that pasture with any horse for the first time I imagine im a horse for the first part of the session, this is not a nescesary step but I will touch on the things I do later on and it is just a way to add to the session.
On to actually begining the session, I always bring a lead rope no halter just a lead rope of course if you want you can bring a halter but it is just not really needed for the entire session so I leave it. Standing outside the pasture or paddock I will take a few minutes to observe what the horse is doing how he is acting so on anything you can gather from this time can be useful later on but keep it low key as to crouch by a pole don't just stand and stare at him if he sees you looking at him you could make the session longer than need be ill explain later, now once your done observing its time to get in the pasture and begin, this process can take 30minutes to 6 hours it just all depends so be patient and plan it on a day where you can devote the time to this session. On entering the pasture your going to want to walk in the opposite direction of the horse and don't make too much eye contact or stare at him the reason being horses will intentionally ignore each other sometimes and the one who shows the most curiousity will lose and will usually be the one to walk to the other so to save a paragraph detailing this process im just going to say let him look at you more than you look at him this initiates curiosity on his part, and curiosity or thinking is exactly what you want from him, being a flight or fight animal you can think of his brain in two sections thinking and reacting while catching a horse you always want him to use his thinking side becuase his reacting side will only make him move away or flee. Therfore make him curious. Now as your walking in the opposite direction move rather slowly pacing back and forth and in strange patternes but just make sure your moving away from him I like to keep the lead rope visible and moving all the time drag it behind you and hold it in front of you and so on. This is the best time to incorporate "horse time" I like to crouch down and pick grass with my hand for a while reaching all over grabbing little handfuls here and there as if I were a horse grazing, I also like to move my head down looking at the ground sometimes as a horse would anything that you can do to mimick a horse in a quiet but noticeable manner will work great. Now I generally will spend 30 minutes to an hour doing this exercise it is entirely up to you the amount of time you spend but things that you need to look for in the horse are if he has accepted you being in the field is he paying a lot of attention to you by looking at you and does he seem relaxed if so you can use this as a break point I like to use break points where I will leave the horse for 15-20 minutes to himself and then return to start again, notice that the entire time in the pasture I have not yet paid any particular attention to him or made any advances toward him then left him for a short period of time. Now the second part of the session your going to work on the progress you made the first part which may not seem like much but if he was looking at you and watching what you were doing you accomplished plenty, now building on that your going to enter the pasture and walk the opposite way again but only for a short period of time just long enough to confirm his intrest in you. Once you confirm he is curious you are going to begin your advance to him now while approaching him keep note of how relaxed or tense he is if he sees you coming to him as a threat and begins to tense up like he is going to move then simply turn and walk away always walk away from him before he walks away from you keep control of the situation your the dominant horse. It should take anywhere from 5-20 minutes to get close to him depending on a lot of factors but take your time and walk in different patterns, walk a zig zag then back track it a little then zig zag closer some spots it is effective to actually just stop and crouch down for a moment then walk the opposite direction and then zig zag toward him looking to the ground as your zig zagging, eventually you will be withing 5-10 feet of the horse and this is the most crucial time( the methods im describing here are assuming that the horse has not had any type of training to be cuaght or who has very little hman contact but still yet it is great to use these same methods on a horse who is decent with being cuaght just the same I use this method with all horses I encounter as a concrete foundation for all other training). I say this is a very crucial time becuase being this close the horse is very prone to being more tense and alert so extra attention should be paid to how he is acting and moving at the first sign of tension in that horse walk away it is far better to walk away then to let the horse walk away becuase if you walk you can quickly turn while still close to the horse if he walks you may lose a lot of ground you just worked for and he may be leary of you from then on but if this happens it is not a problem just a little more work on your part, now once in close range of the horse 5-10 feet you will still be advancing toward him but this is the time I like to take my time and try to get the horse to "hook on" per say I will glance to the horse and extend my hand out to him as if im offering something I don't look directly at him as if im on a mission I just glance lightly at him and offer him to smell me sometimes he will sometimes he wont but if he raises his head as if to extend his nose toward my hand I will slowly close the gap hand still extended for him to smell once he gets a smell I walk away about 5-10 feet then I start again slowly and usually this is the point where progress will pick up speed at this point you can usually get to him and touch his nose now and what your goal now is to desensatize him to you in a matter of speaking you add a stimulus then take it awaywalk to him touch him(stimulus) then walk away this allows you to make more and more progress each time by moving from the nose to the side of the body, now on the next retreat remember you should be holding your lead rope in plain sight all this time so on the next advance let him smell the lead rope by holding it down rather low keeping his head down then touch him with it then eventually make a circle with it and slip it over his head this may be a problem for a head shy horse so if this is the case don't start a battle with him just try to wrap it over his neck instead but keep it loose then let it hang which ever way you choose then rub him down with the lead rope hanging then remove the lead rope the same way you got it on and walk away now leave the field for another 15-20 minutes. Upon return begin to advance toward the horse in a zig zag motion still moving slow and smooth but a lot faster than the previous times and once again offer your hand for smell or you can attempt to get the horse to close the gap for you for this grab some tantilizing grass and put it in your belt loop or in your back pocket if he closes the gap reward him with the grass this is not bribing it is a simple reward showing the horse that due to him walking to you he got rewarded but make certain the grass is not visible too the horse now you can try to walk away from him and try to get him to close the gap again if he does this time don't reward him with grass instead rub him in a desireable place nose withers anywhere that your horse may like. Now as you conmtinue to play this game of catch and release you will notice at some points the horse may follow you as you walk away simply keep walking don't turn and acknowledge this even go so far as to walk outof the pasture. At this point you can reasonably call the first session a sucsess and you can call it a day but each day that you possibly can you should begin a new session and you will begin to notice the ease you will be able to catch the horse with each new session take the things that made the best impact for your horse and use them to your advantage customize your own lesson and continually learn new things to do this is not set in stone I use this method here a lot but I am constantly changing things here and there until I get them how I want I try to learn new things everyday to help make training more effective and easier for everyone.
Now one more thing that you might have to deal with is the fact that the horse may be head shy or have a fear of the lead rope and some horses can even be aggresive while being cuaght going as far as to run away in a canter or charge you the method I described above is not meant for horses that aggresive and I will write articles in the future addressing these problems just remeber understanding how the animals communicate to each other and what their body language is saying you can go along way into understanding the best way to approach many obstacles just use common sense methods that will benefit both the human and the horse until my next article be safe and have fun" Eric "HOZ" Hosmer.
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