On countless occasions I’m asked, “why does my horse run from me when I’m trying to catch him?” Not being able to catch your horse is really frustrating. Chasing your horse, boxing him in a corner, or using a treat or feed bucket is a very unpleasant way to start the day with your friend. It seems that many owners, as well as myself, in the past have experienced this feeling. Let’s look at what might be going on in the horse’s mind as well as his surroundings.
First, let’s address things from his viewpoint! When you start into the pasture to catch Jasper, has he just been turned out from a long night in the barn? Is he full of energy and just getting out on the playground with his buddies? Are you approaching him with an arm full of halters, lead ropes and other items? Is your approach direct or passive? Has the catching experience been negative for him in the past? I speak with countless owners that punish the horse after they catch them. Hmmm, how does that work? Here’s how the horse viewed punishment after getting caught—“I get caught, I get punished. You’re not catching me again!” All of these are legitimate reasons that Jasper might be causing you to create new words for the horse. Without further explanation, I think we can conclude how each one of these concerns could affect his behavior. Now, what do we do about it?
I’m going to offer a couple of options dependent upon the environment Jasper may be in. The primary focus here is there is no time limit! If it takes a couple of hours to fix this then so be it. It didn’t happen overnight, nor will it be fixed overnight.
Today will be Jasper with other horses. Here, he may be thinking about playing with you or his pasture buddy so your focus will just be on Jasper only. Forget about the other horse totally. I want you to focus your eyes on Jasper’s tail and start following directly behind him at a steady walk—no running here—just a steady walk. Focus that you stay directly inline behind his tail. This causes him to have to yield his hindquarters completely away to see you. After a few moments of running and kicking up their heels, the other horses will understand that you are not after them and will settle down to eating or resting. Jasper is your only focus. As Jasper uses the other horses as a barrier, just continue to walk to the tail. Don’t be surprised when the other horses start pushing Jasper away from them as the pressure increases because they want to be left alone and running Jasper away will leave them in peace. If Jasper stops without turning around, use your lead to lightly move him on. When Jasper stops and shifts his body to look at you, stop. Turn and walk away. Yes, Jasper did the right thing and we are walking away to reward him by removing the pressure. After a few times of this, change by turning your back on him to give the release. Twenty seconds, walk away. When his focus leaves, then start the tracking again. After a few times of turning your back on him, change by focusing your attention on his eyes with a passive stance. Shoulders drooped, body quartered away, eyes gazing down or at other things. After twenty seconds, turn and walk away. Now, here’s where your timing is going to play an important role in making the last few steps really work out! As you re-approach Jasper and he stands, continue to move towards him with a passive posture stopping one step before he walks off. This is timing folks. You have to release the pressure before he moves away. Stop, wait and retreat. This is a give-and-take situation so when you do reach Jasper, rub and walk away. Again, rub and walk away. Again, rub and walk away. Next, rub with the halter and walk away. Again and again. Jasper will tell you after each step when you can advance to the next step. Listen to your horse! After you halter him, take it off and walk away, again and again.
I hope you’re beginning to understand the process going on here. We start by annoying Jasper by walking around following him. His response is to look at you wondering, “why is this crazy person following me?” He realizes that by looking at you, the pressure will go away! See how this works? After a few times, you up the ante a bit for Jasper to get the release. In a short time the catching experience has become positive because of all the releases. That’s how we teach our horse. Pressure then release. The horse views it as Pressure (stress) = Release (relief).
A couple of notes here—The release to the horse should last between fifteen to twenty seconds each time. No more is required. A horse lives his life in ten second intervals. Unless experiences are exceptionally good or bad, the clock runs out on them. If you’ll notice their focus is very short. It’s not their fault, its how they survive! They can’t get fixated on things and get eaten by the tiger.
This lesson should continue for a few days. We’ll see the payoff of everything we teach the horse as habits form. To ingrain the habit we have to continue with the desired results many times over. You’ll know when good is great! Jasper will walk towards you as you approach. In his mind, that’s how to make you go away and if the joining is positive it will continue to grow!
Have a good ride!