Catching a Horse on Pasture
We’ve been turning our horses out on grass for limited grazing for a few days now and they are certainly enjoying the green grass. It is not surprising that when we head out to bring them back in, they are in the farthest corner of the pasture. It is interesting to note the different personalities when it comes to catching on pasture. Some of my horses come running at a thundering gallop at a whistle, others will start moseying up to the gate once they see people headed that way, but most horses, and who can blame them especially when they are only out for 1/2 hour to 1 hour a day, just keep on grazing !
Now with the grazing type, there are those that graze their way toward you and then when you get close enough, stop eating and walk up to you. Others stop eating and let you walk up to them.
But the ones that pretend they don’t see you coming and kind turn away a little bit and start grazing AWAY from you OR, worse yet, those that choose the catching time as the opportunity to finally exercise a little and blast around the pasture……well those are the horses that need some review on catching.
A few readers have written about catching problems. Here are their questions and my answers.
My traveling horse is prone to need to be followed around for about 2-3 minutes to get caught. Any ideas how to correct the problem? My grandpa had a horse that would come to his whistle. That would be much nicer.
Thank You! – TJ
What happens if you don’t follow the horse around but just stand still – does he show interest in turning and looking at you or does he turn away? Maybe you are approaching him as if you are in a hurry to catch him and that tends to drive him forward.
The best method to use if the horse is moving away from you is the walk down method. You start in a small space such as a stall or a small pen and you walk toward the horse’s shoulder, not looking him in the eye. When he stops, go up, scratch him on the neck or withers, then walk away from him. Do this over until you can just walk up to him in a small space. He will learn that every time you approach him, you do not necessarily catch him and work him.
Gradually move to larger areas. Repeat the procedure.
This is really the oldest, time-tested way – it does take time and patience. If you discipline the horse when you finally catch him, it will teach him to not be caught in the future. So even if you are irritated that you had to walk for 3-5 minutes before he finally stopped, resist the temptation to give him a scolding or a jerk on the halter. Instead, give him a scratch and walk away.
If you have a round pen, you can free longe the horse until he’s got the edge off him and then tell him “whoa” and then walk up to him. If he moves away from you, you can exercise him some more.
Pretty soon the horse learns that being caught is his best alternative and nothing bad is going to happen once he is caught.
Reference: How To Think Like A Horse
Dear Cherry Hill,
I have recently been presented with two problems I am not sure how to handle. I do not own my own horse. I am fortunate enough to be able to ride a friend’s horse because she doesn’t ride her much.
The horse I ride is a 22 y.o. mare who was trained as a show horse and who was rescued by my friend from very inhumane conditions. Mary Lou is a sensitive and Spunky horse who has also developed some bad manners over the years. I am only able to ride her once a week which means I probably only spend 4 hours with her a week. You can probably sense that this may be a problem in and of itself. I am not a very experienced horseperson although it has been a passion all my life, if only in my daydreams and playtime! I am realizing now with my new situation that going to camps and saving my allowance to rent horses every weekend as a child/pre-teen is not the same as owning and caring for and disciplining and training and riding your own horse! There are many, many things you cannot learn unless you handle the details of owning a horse from beginning to end.
Recently my friend put Mary Lou (and her other horse) out to pasture on a neighbor’s property. This neighbor has two horses that are also out in the pasture. I recently embarked on my first trip to retrieve Mary Lou from the pasture. The first thing that happened was that I found myself surrounded by the other three horses, who were nipping at each other and Mary Lou. I remained calm and grounded and safely lead her out of the gate, but I realized that this was a potentially hazardous situation. I am comfortable with Mary Lou’s stablemate, but not with the other two horses, who are not exactly placid and dull. (They are beautiful Appaloosas.) My first question is: How do I safely retrieve her from the pasture under these circumstances? (I may want to note here that I took carrots out to the pasture for the horses and perhaps that was not wise and not helpful in that situation.)
After I got Mary Lou out the gate and heading toward her stable, she started screaming loud and hard and turning back toward the pasture. She was jumpy and tense. She usually does not like to be taken from her stablemate, but she has never acted as intensely as this time. She continued this behavior the entire time I had her away from the pasture and her pals. I was able to ride her and she behaved fairly well, but I am hoping there is a way to calm her down and discipline her appropriately so she will not think I condone this behavior. So, my second question is: How do I appropriately discipline her throwing such a fit and how do I help her to calm down and trust that I am not going to ruin her life by taking her away from her friends for a few hours?
Thanks for you well presented question.
First, there is no “safe” way for one person to get a horse out of a group on a pasture. It is risky no matter which horses are in the group and no matter who goes to get them. That’s because the horses have been interacting via horse behavior modes for hours or days and all of a sudden a human comes into the picture. Now, even if the horses are “well trained”, they still are horses in a herd with a pecking order (dominance hierarchy) so depending which horse you take out (top or bottom on totem pole or somewhere in between) will dictate how the rest of the horses will interact.
As you discovered, taking food out with you only intensifies competitive behavior so is not a good idea.
Ideally, two or more people should go out so that while one halters the horse that is wanted, the others can “run interference” which might just mean standing in a certain position to keep you safe while you halter and then lead out and to help you get out the gate safely. As far as the herd bound behavior the horse exhibited once you started taking her away from the herd, once again, this is a very common problem because horses are social creatures with strong herd ties and once horses are turned out on pasture together, they really can form strong bonds. Herd bound or buddy bound is very similar to barn sour (the attachment is to a horse, or herd or barn with horses in it) so be sure to read the 2 articles on my site about barn sour behavior.
You probably already suspect that your 4 hours a week with this horse compared to the 164 hours a week she spends with the herd just isn’t going to stack the deck in your favor.
That’s why, if at all possible, if you can spend more time regularly, such as taking her out at feeding time, bringing her up to the barn and feeding her (reward away from the group!), then grooming and riding, she will begin to form a bond with you. As it is, she is anxious because her security and daily routines are more connected to the horses left on the pasture.
I keep all of my horses in separate pastures or pens. They are fed individually and worked individually. Occasionally they are turned out with mates for exercise and grazing but I usually change who goes out with who and when and in which pasture just to keep them from getting too attached to any horse or routine.
I hope this gives you some insight. I know that you are trying to work in your situation the best you can. Good luck