How many times have you heard someone say, “He’s a great horse¦ ..once you catch him,” or “Sure, he’s a good horse; he’s just a little tough to catch.” Many people try to catch a loose horse at pasture by cornering him and hiding the halter and lead rope behind their back. Some owners rely on a bucket of grain or some kind of snack to capture their horse.
Horseman and clinician Chris Cox doesn’t believe in sneaking up on a horse or in bribing him. “Instead of catching my horses, I prefer to teach them to be caught,” he says. “Once the horse learns you’re not out to “get him,” he will become easy to catch, whether he’s in a stall, a paddock or a huge pasture.”
Making a horse easier to catch has nothing to do with leaving a halter on him. It’s potentially dangerous to leave a halter on a loose horse, as it can hang up on something and cause the horse to get injured, sometimes badly. Horses have killed themselves or had to be put down because of severe injuries from getting their halter caught, so for safety’s sake, don’t leave a halter on your horse when you turn him out.
A lot of horses try to avoid being caught because they don’t want to have to work, so don’t just catch your horse when you want to ride or need him for a specific reason, such as a blacksmith or vet appointment. Make it a point to occasionally walk out to his paddock, field, corral or stall just to “visit” a few minutes and leave without even putting a halter on. If you just “visit” him from time to time, he’ll realize that every time he sees you it doesn’t mean work.
When you do want to catch your horse, never just walk right up to him. Remember, you want to teach him to be caught, not just catch him. Don’t hide the halter and lead rope behind your back; just carry it as you usually would and let it hang over your arm. Instead of walking up to your horse, walk into the area where he is and step in front of him to capture his attention when you are some distance away. As soon as the horse notices you and puts his focus directly on you with both his eyes and ears, stop and turn away from him. “The secret is to release the “˜pressure’ caused by your presence in coordination with the horse’s response to you,” explains Cox. “Horses are by nature curious animals. You will automatically build his confidence and his desire to approach if you can show him that you won’t get in his space without his permission.”
Now that the horse’s attention is focused on you, you want to invite him to come towards you by keeping that attention and controlling his body movements. You can cause the horse to move his hindquarters, which effectively controls his entire body, simply by using your body language. When you are still standing a ways off from the horse, make him move his hindquarters to both the left and right. Do this by keeping your visual focus on his hip, and by stepping in the opposite direction that you want him to swing his hind end. For example, when you step to the right, if the horse is facing you he’s going to swivel to keep facing you, which means he will move his hindquarters to his right. When you step to the left and the horse is facing you, he will swivel his hind end to his left. This way you are controlling his movement even though you aren’t close enough to touch him.
“Don’t look the horse in the eye at this point,” says Cox. “That can be intimidating to him. Your visual focus should be on his hindquarters as you make him move, and his attention should be totally focused on you even though you still haven’t gotten close enough to touch him or put a halter on him.”
If a horse is difficult to catch, you may have to spend more time in the beginning gaining his confidence and attention. It won’t take long for him to realize you’re giving him time to respond and not rushing to catch him. After you’re controlling the horse’s body movements as described above, turn away from him again and begin walking to the gate. The horse will start following you. Don’t put the halter on him until he comes up to you.
Use this method every time and your horse will soon start coming to be caught instead of you going to catch him.
Up Close with Chris Cox
Ranch-raised in Australia, Chris came to the United States in 1986 to make a career of working with horses. Years of working horseback on the ranch near Queensland gave Chris a healthy respect for the horse’s ability and intelligence, and helped him develop his own methods of individualized training. Active in the cutting horse world as both a trainer and competitor, Chris has trained a variety of breeds for different disciplines. He travels the United States, Canada, South America and Australia appearing at expos, conducting clinics and horsemanship demonstrations. His “Come Ride the Journey’ tour takes him to cities across the U.S. each year. Chris offers week-long intensive horsemanship clinics at his Outback Ranch in Mineral Wells, Texas. Western Horseman recently released Ride the Journey, by Chris Cox with Cynthia McFarland, a 225-page, full color book that details Chris’ practical methods and training techniques. Packed with step-by-step exercises and color photos, the book will help you improve your horsemanship skills, no matter what discipline or breed you ride. Visit www.chris-cox.com or call Chris Cox Horsemanship Company at 1-888-81-HORSE for information about the Ride the Journey book, upcoming course dates and appearances, equipment and training DVDs.