We probably all know at least one horse who doesn’t like to come in. It can be a real pain when you’re trying to get to a lesson or have a limited amount of time to spend with your horse and they decide that they’re going to give you the runaround. Even though they’re awfully pretty to watch, it gets really frustrating when it takes forever and a day to catch your horse.
I can honestly say that neither of my horses has been hard to catch. My first horse was only a problem once you caught her (yikes), and my current horse, Moose, is usually an angel. He never runs away but he won’t necessarily come to me, either. This depends entirely upon whether or not he’s eating! Although I’ve been lucky this way, I have known my fair share of horses that don’t like to come in. If you own one, ride one, or love one, here are some tips on how to make it a little easier:
Groundwork. I probably sound like a broken record about this, but I can’t stress this enough: groundwork is EVERYTHING. If you have a good rapport with your horse on the ground it will translate to the other things that you do together. Getting some love and respect from your horse during groundwork will encourage them to behave when it’s time.
Start small. If you have a horse that’s hard to catch, try turning them out in a smaller pasture or pen. This gives them less room to feel like they can run around and avoid you. It also means you won’t have to walk as far!
Practice. Start out by working in a round pen. This is a small, controlled area that you can use to teach your horse to come to you. I wouldn’t really recommend doing this on a lunge line as you don’t want to teach the horse that it’s ok to come to the middle while they’re working. Catching them, however, is different. Turn your horse out in the round pen and let them do what they want while you stand in the middle. Once they seem like they’re done whatever they’ve been doing, ask them to move forward at a walk. After a few laps, ask them to change direction. Do this a few times, until you feel that your horse is paying attention. If they walk towards you, great, but if they don’t and they are standing quietly, just approach them and clip the lead on. If the horse insists on continuing its shenanigans, repeat the process. Ask them to move forward and change directions after a few laps.
The buddy. If your horse has a buddy, you can take the buddy in first so your horse will feel more inclined to come in. In situations where this works, you can eventually just pretend you’re taking their buddy in so that they come to the gate!
Food. I hate to recommend this one because it kind of feels like cheating or rewarding bad behavior, but if you’re in a hurry or nothing else works, try their favorite food. Most horses have some food or treat that they’ll do anything for, so use it to your advantage.
If your horse still isn’t cooperating, talk to your trainer and work out a plan. It’s important to come up with long-term solutions and not just short-term solutions, although you should take the time to work out both. Long-term solutions are how you’re actually going to solve the problem; short-term solutions are for when you’re in a pinch and need to catch your horse in a hurry.