Some horses, particularly those you have formed a bond with over time, will be easy to catch in a field. They might even walk up to you, aware that your pockets contain treats, and bow their head helpfully as you put on their headcollar. Others, though, can resent the fact that they need to leave their field, their companions and their tasty grass and at the first sign of a human entering their paddock they will move off in the opposite direction.
So how should you catch your horse, and what do you need to be aware of to stay safe during the process?
The golden rule of catching any horse is never to look it in the eye. Bow your head, all the time keeping the horse in your sights, but don’t ‘eyeball’ him. In the wild, a horse would regard a human as a predator, so do everything gently and in an un-pressured way.
Never march up to a horse aggressively but walk in a confident and relaxed manner. If he turns in the opposite direction as you get closer, slow your walk considerably. Approach him on the side he is used to being handled from.
Offer a titbit with an outstretched hand, but again without looking your horse in the eye.
If he is tricky to catch it might be a good idea to leave on a headcollar. If so, very gently get hold of the back of the noseband and attach the leadrope before you let him have the titbit. Never make sudden movements which could startle the horse and cause him to rear or gallop off. If you are dealing with a particularly volatile horse, don’t clip the rope, but slide it over the back of the noseband and lead him with both ends — that way if he does pull away and you can’t hold on, the rope will slip off safely.
If the horse isn’t wearing a halter, to catch him carefully slide the rope around his neck, hold both ends securely under his neck and gently put on the headcollar — then give him the titbit. Stand on his left side, never in front, as you put on the halter.
If your horse 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.
You could take this approach further and try the Parelli method of rubbing the end of the lead rope over the horse’s body for enjoyment, before tossing it over his body so that he loses fear of it. See www.parelli.com for further stages of the process.
Also try turning away from your horse when he turns from you. If you have food in your hand, especially something that he can see, he will probably relent and come looking for it. It may sound unlikely but it really does work.
If you’re really struggling to catch your horse, go away for half an hour and return again, employing the same method explained above. He may now be in a more cooperative frame of mind.
Never chase a horse you are trying to catch, use aggressive behaviour, corner him or hit out at him — you will only make a bad situation even worse. If nothing seems to work, consult your trainer.
Remember, always wear a safety helmet when catching a horse. Accidents can and do happen in the field.