Thursday, June 25, 2009

Catching the Uncatchable Horse

An interesting thing about training horses and being online is that I get a lot of questions about various topics. Ok, well that might not be so interesting, but what really is interesting is that when I get a question from someone out in cyberspace, it almost always coincides with an issue that I am currently working on with a horse. A few weeks ago I was commissioned to rehabilitate a horse that had a severe bucking problem. I did not advertise it online, but out of the blue, I got someone asking about a bucking problem with their horse. When people send me their horses for training, I try to keep a running blog of their day to day activities so that the owner can follow their progress. Well it turns out that these blogs are getting fairly popular. To some extent, more popular than my main blog "The Enlightened Horseman" which you are reading now. (To check out these side blogs, look at the links on the left hand side of this page.)

Last week, I was commissioned to help a client who had adopted a Wild Mustang. The mustang was in his pasture and would not allow himself to be caught. Right at about the same time, someone in Cyberspace asked for my input regarding catching a horse that had, over time, become uncatchable. So again, I put out a quick side blog on the subject. But I think it is important that I really go over this issue in greater detail because I believe that many people have this same problem. Furthermore, it is common for horses to develop this problem over time. So I thought it might be a good idea to cover how to catch horses, and more importantly, how to avoid creating an uncatchable horse.

First of all, let us list some items regarding the psychology of the uncatchable horse.

1. The horse is a prey animal. He is always on the look out for predators, and his survival depends on his ability to avoid being caught. Thus, he is very good at it.

2. We are predators, our survival depends on our ability to stalk and hunt prey. We are out of practice, thus we are not very good at it. But what we are good at doing is looking like we are stalking and hunting. So we tend to stalk the horse. We creep quietly to him, thinking that we are making him feel less nervous. But in fact, we are alerting him to our intentions by our stalking behavior and making him even more nervous.

3. Horses have a feeling that when we do catch them, we are going to do something unpleasant to them. We are going to put a halter on them, we are going to hurt them, we are going to eat them, we are going to put saddles on them and tighten the cinch, and ride them hard, etc. And they are almost always right. So don't do that. Just stop it. Walk up, pet them, give them a treat, and walk away. Catch and release. Don't catch and torture. I know, you may not think of it as torture, but remember that a horse who works in the arena for an hour travels about 5 miles in that arena. I remember a lesson from a trainer from the Spanish Riding School who said:
"The horse in the Arena runs 5 miles in an hour of training. All you riders, how many miles have you run today? 1? 2? or none? And yet you expect him to do all this with weight on his back and be happy about it?" Needless to say, I was very embarrassed. And I still don't get my lazy butt out to run 5 miles a day, but I am sensitive to the fact that every time I catch my horse, I don't want her to think that it always means a 5 mile forced march with a pack on her back. I also watch my diet and try to keep my weight down below 20% of the horse's weight. That is of course, weight including my saddle. So for a 1000 pound horse, if my saddle weighs 30 pounds, (and many western saddles weigh more than that) I cannot permit myself to weigh more than 170 pounds. Which sucks because I hover at around 175 pounds (And I love my Mango Sorbet). So I ride a lighter saddle and back away from the buffet. As for catching and releasing; for a horse that is hard to catch, you should catch and release 5 times more than you catch and ride. For the horse that is easy to catch, you should catch and release at least 2 times for every time you catch and ride. This will definitely make him easier to catch and will not create a problem that will be difficult to fix later.

4. Always have the halter in hand and visible when you go out to catch your horse. You do not want to creep up on him, you do not want to trick him, you do not want to surprise him. If you are going out there to catch and release, bring the halter and lead rope with you. Catch him, halter him, lead him a couple of steps, give him a treat, and then remove the halter and let him go.

5. Spend time teaching the horse to be caught and face you when you go out there to catch him. This lesson requires time. Spend as much time on this skill as you might on any other riding skill. After all, you can't ride him unless you can catch him.

You can look on the blog on the link on the side titled "Side Blogs by Request." for details about catching the uncatchable horse. By the way, the horse in the videos is now easily caught in a round pen after 4 hourse of training over two days. He will now remain in the round pen where he is easy to catch for a few weeks before he is released into the pasture. He started out as a completely wild mustang and after 4 hours of training, he can be haltered, petted and groomed. No picking up of feet yet. That will come on Friday.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog. Ironically, my horse has been allowing me to catch her for the past three days. The catch and release is something I have been doing for a few weeks. Taking her to the round pen for the hip pressure method is working on our communication. And, I've been riding her bareback.. This is awesome! Robyn in Hawaii.

Geneva said...

Yeah, folks -- be sure to go to the "side blogs" and watch the videos. This all shines a whole new light on the subject of horse-catching.

And I can't believe you do all those videos with a pint & shoot still camera.

Jon said...

Robin - just came across your blog - phenomenal my man! I've had a recent avoidance issue as well with a foal -
It is getting better the past few weeks as I've been doing pretty much what you've described and for me (a rookie horseman) it's vindication that I'm not out in left field.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the article! My horse does not like to be ridden so naturally she tries to avoid being caught. This article will be very helpful for us. :)

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