I am at the end of my tether with my pony Patch who absolutely refuses to be caught once he is out in the field. As soon as he sees me he trots off towards the other horses in the field, and every time I get close he tosses his head and zooms off at full pelt in the other direction. It can take me up to an hour to catch him, which is so frustrating when you’re on a time limit and want to head out for a quick hack with friends. Any advice?
There is nothing more frustrating than a horse or pony who won’t be caught! But, don’t take it personally, there are a number of strategies you can try to outwit your steed. First of all, try to work out what is at the root of the issue – is it that you are taking him away from his friends in the field, is he not wanting to leave his tasty grass, is he averse to exercise, or is he simply being cheeky? If you can identify the problem as being caused by one of these, then you can try to overcome it. For example, if he won’t leave his friends, take his friends out of the field first. If he wants to eat, offer him a tasty titbit that’s even more tempting to him than the grass.
The key to success is subtlety, patience and above all, safety.
The golden rule of catching any horse is never to look it in the eye. Look slightly downwards but make sure you can see your pony at all times. Do everything gently and in an un-pressured way – this means walk up to him, don’t march aggressively but offer a confident and relaxed manner. If he turns in the opposite direction as you get closer, slow your walk considerably. If you can, approach him on the side he is used to being handled from.
If he walks or trots away from you, repeat the approach and offer a titbit with an outstretched hand as you get closer, but again without looking your horse in the eye. You may well find that after several of these approaches he may start to get bored and give in. Once you are able to get close enough to reach him – Do NOT lunge at him in an attempt to grab a handful of mane or the head collar if he is wearing one! Remain calm, slow and talk quietly and gently to him as you put out a hand and slip on the head collar – now give him the titbit as a reward.
If your pony is particularly reluctant to be caught, spend time going out to the field, giving him a titbit, putting on the headcollar, leading him around with no pressure and then letting him go again. Alternatively, try just giving him a rub with the headcollar (not even putting it on), a tasty reward and then leaving the field. He will soon understand that being approached and caught isn’t anything to be afraid of — especially when a tasty carrot or apple is involved. By doing this you are helping to defuse the predator/prey relationship.
If you’re really struggling to catch your horse, take the pressure off yourself by going away for half an hour and then going back, trying the same method explained above. Both you and he may now be in a more cooperative frame of mind!
If nothing seems to work, have a chat with your trainer who might be able to help you by practically going into the field with you.
…and always put safety first by wearing a safety helmet when catching a horse.