The other day, I was invited to see my friend’s new horse. He had her for about a month before I got to see her. When I arrived at his house, he met me outside and said, “C’mon…let’s go see her. ” We stood at the fence and marveled at how beautiful she was. Excited, he asked, “You wanna pet her?” “Sure!” I said. So my friend grabbed the halter and went after her.
As I watched him chase her I was reminded of those silent movies where everyone is moving comically fast with the music in the background. As I chuckled to myself I heard him ask aloud, “Why does she keep running from me?”
That was a good question. Lots of people have that trouble. There are lots of reasons horses run from their owners. One reason is fear. Horses are the epitome of fear. If they sense their life is in danger they’ll run.
If a horse is comfortable with their herd, even if its one or two other horses, it can be uncomfortable for him. His entire DNA speaks loud and clear to him that the herd is the safest place to be. Therefore, if he leaves the herd it could mean his life is threatened – at least…that’s his thinking.
One of the biggest mistakes I see are new horse owners that make their horse work almost every time they go to see them. Picture it. You’re a horse standing there with your buddies. It’s ninety-four degrees out side, the flies won’t leave you alone, and you were doing fine just standing there doing nothing – thank you very much. And because you are enormously alert due to your innate fear, you quickly spot your owner coming to you holding that weird looking, not-so-good-fitting rope thing that goes on your head.
The last 400 gazillion times your owner walked toward you with it in his hand, he accidentally jabbed your cheek while clumsily jerking it on your head. Then he made you leave your friends and go run in circles for thirty minutes. Boring!
Rather, the horse owner should alternate working and pleasure for his horse. In other words, one day walk to your horse with the halter in your hand and pet him. Talk to him. Tell him how beautiful he is. Take your halter and rub it on his body as if it were a brush. Get him thinking that the halter will give him pleasure so when he sees it he’ll feel good about it.
The next day, with halter in hand, go see your horse and pet him. Talk nice. Then put his halter on. Pet him again. Keep talking nice. After a few minutes, take the halter off and rub his body with it. Then walk away.
Now your horse is starting to think, “Great! That’s all he wanted. ” For a while, alternate when you ask your horse to work versus not work and take your halter with you each time to keep him guessing, “Is he gonna pet me and tell me I’m purty, or are we going to work a little? I’m guessing he’ll pet me so I’ll stay put. ”
Other reasons horses run from their owners is they may lack good training. Another reason is maybe the horse is getting positive reinforcement at the wrong time. How can that be? A horse could learn to run from his owner - and if he does he gets a carrot or some kind of temptation AFTER he runs.
So how do you stop the running and catch your horse?
It depends why the horse runs. If your horse is fearful then you need to get his trust back. You do that by doing positive things with your horse. When you catch him, don’t ask him to work. Get out your brush and groom him. He’ll like that. You want him to think of being with you as a pleasant experience – one that he wants when he sees you. This is especially crucial if you’re going to take him away from his buddies in the herd.
Because the horse feels safe being with his buddies in the herd, you must make him feel safe being taken out of the herd. Thus, when you catch him you can groom him and give a good experience to make him feel safe.
A good practice is to put your horse in a small pen and go up to him. Teach him that it’s good to be with you. This will give you a good foundation to catch him later when he’s in an open field.
Another nifty trick you can do is use lunging to teach your horse to come you. Don’t simply run him in boring circles. Have him change directions, go over and through obstacles, etc. Make sure to praise him when he does well and give him rest. Don’t run him into the ground. If you do, he’ll go back to thinking you’re going to make him work real hard.
As you’re lunging him, use commands to get him to do what you want him to do. As you and he get good at this, he’ll respond much better to you in the open field.
A mistake many people make is chasing the horse to try and catch him. You simply can’t do it. They’re too fast and agile. Not only that, it tends to reinforce a horse’s instinct of being preyed upon and they need to get to safety…which means…get away from you.
Sometimes you can use another horse to help you catch a horse by being buddies with the horse you don’t want to catch. If you go to pet a horse it can sometimes draw the horse you want to catch. He may want petted too.
Be sure to never punish a horse once you catch him. First, he won’t know why he got in trouble. And second, it’s a great way to get him to NOT want to be with you. If he doesn’t want to be with you, he will evade you often.
About The Author
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several best selling horse training and horse care books. For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com . He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training methods which can be seen at www.horsetrainingandtips.com/Jesse_Beerya.htm .