I watched an episode of Dr. Phil once where a woman wanted to lose weight so she bought a horse. Dr. Phil said that owning a horse was great exercise for the horse, but what was it going to do for her?
Horseback riding is an excellent, full-body workout itself, but those of us who own a hard-to-catch horse burn double calories trying to get our horse haltered before we ever get to ride. Dr. Phil obviously hasn’t spent a lot of time around horses.
In 2008, I worked with Buddy Lemaster, a hunter/jumper trainer who has solved all sorts of issues with top-level horses. It turns out, the secret to catching the hard-to-catch horse is very easy but requires a lot of patience.
For many years I had to balance riding with working a full-time job and all my other life obligations, so most days I could only squeeze in a quick trip to the barn. It never failed, my horse would see me coming and immediately run to the other end of the pasture. We would go around and around, and some days I could not get her caught before I had to leave. On those days she won, and I enforced a bad habit. Now that I know better, I do better. All it took was one secret trick.
The secret to catching the hard-to-catch horse is to be non-reactive.
Sure, you want to holler at your horse, swing the lead rope and make them run until they are tired enough to catch, but this is enforcing the bad habit of moving away from you when they should allow you to move closer. In a large area, the horse runs and then stops before you have a chance to catch up to make him run again, so all he learns is that by expending a little effort he can avoid much harder work to come. You get frustrated and he wins.
By being non-reactive, you will catch your horse much faster.
Enter the paddock carrying your halter and walk at your relaxed normal pace towards your horse. I use a flat nylon halter because I can buckle it easier than I can tie a knot in a rope halter, but the choice is yours. I use and recommend Weaver brand halters, and you can buy it here.
Do not make eye contact but watch your horse’s reactions. It is tempting to say “whoa” (or sometimes something more colorful!) but do not talk to your horse just yet.
If your horse moves away from you, still avoid eye contact and walked relaxed towards your horse. You do not need to change your pace if your horse changes his. Keep your same relaxed gait moving towards your horse.
When your horse stops and turns towards you, continue moving forward. If he takes a step back, you take a step back to match his movement. Take a deep breath, exhale, and start walking forward again. Eventually he will let you walk all the way to him and put the lead rope over his neck. I use a cotton lead rope so that if the horse bolts the rope won't burn my hand. Again, I use and recommend Weaver brand, and you can buy a good cotton lead rope here.
Once you have your horse haltered, praise him and reward him with treats if he is food motivated. He needs to know that being caught was the objective and earns rewards so next time he will be easier to catch. My horses love Manna Pro Peppermint Nuggets. You can put them in your pocket or use a treat pouch like the Outward Hound Hands-Free Tote Treat Bag.
Budget Your Time
This is NOT a quick process. The first time I tried this, my horse was turned out on 160 acres with three other horses and it took FOUR HOURS to catch her using this method. I thought Buddy Lemaster was nuts. This was never going to work. I couldn’t take FOUR HOURS to catch my horse every time.
The next day, I caught her in 45 minutes.
The day after that, less than 10 minutes.
Now she takes three steps away from me and gives up. On the rare occasion she meets me at the gate.
Training Takes Time
Remember, teaching your horse to be caught takes time and patience, just like anything else you teach him. Choose a day to start when you have no other obligations because the first two days may require a significant time commitment. Once you break through though you will be happy that you spent the time walking down your horse.
How do you catch your hard-to-catch horses? Let me know in the comments below!
8/29/2018 04:12:43 am
Loved this - so me and made me laugh. Good, sensible advice.
8/29/2018 11:25:17 am
I'm so happy you enjoyed it! I've bought some good horses at amazing prices because the sellers couldn't catch them. It's time consuming but this works for me every time!
S A HEALY
9/7/2018 09:05:44 pm
FUNNY STORY. I ENJOYED IT. THANK YOU FOR THE ADVICE.
9/8/2018 11:59:08 am
Thank you! I hope my advice helps!
11/9/2018 06:00:18 pm
High Plains Arena,
12/14/2018 05:36:38 pm
This is exactly what I do and it’s the best
5/22/2020 09:16:10 pm
Sounds like its the Monty Robert's method.
4/22/2022 10:50:29 am
I love this Sharon. 100% agree with spending time with your horse. I have Fond memories of laying in green grass, cloud gazing and having my Gem munch all the grass around me! Magic display of trust and unity. . I believe that it's so important to allow for Gem to have a say in decision making regarding the day activities, Whether it be stay, play, hay, nay or gay lol. WAD =Walk Anywhere Days are very interesting. Gem had some favourite places to snoop up on. Like visiting friendly neighbours but her divine style.
3/23/2019 02:40:12 pm
I have tried this method and all the other horses come to me fighting over the treats they smell on me. My horse just keeps playing “catch me if ya can”! I think having a treat with me puts me in a bad situation. There has to be some other methods to catch your horse in a pasture with other horses. I have to fight off the other horses and end up ealking out because I’m afraid I will get hurt trying to catch my horse.
3/25/2019 07:00:58 am
I never take treats with me in a pasture of horses for the reasons you just named. It's not worth getting hurt. My horses are not treat aggressive, but that doesn't mean other horses in the pasture are as well behaved. If my horse is turned out with others and doesn't want to be caught, I'll walk out and start paying attention to the other horses, completely ignoring mine. Eventually they wander over to see what's going on. If my horse has a friend in the pasture, sometimes I'll catch that horse and lead them out, and my horse then wants to go to see where her friend is going. Your barn may have a policy against that, but it works well when both horses are yours and one is easy to catch. This is a LONG process, but it works. It requires a lot of persistence.
11/22/2020 01:38:13 pm
Please don’t try to catch your horse if there are three horses together. My husband got kicked and it broke his arm. Luckily that was all, could have been killed. As the old saying goes, three’s a crowd. 😊
3/24/2019 08:23:16 am
i was the only one who could catch our big chestnut thorough/quarter horse.
3/25/2019 07:02:27 am
Positive reinforcement training is very effective. Horses are very attuned to our energy, so it's important to stay calm and confident, just like you did. Good job!
8/22/2019 07:34:22 am
This is the most practical advice yet! I’ll definitely be trying it !
9/17/2018 12:01:12 pm
I done the turn my back on him when he stops and looks at me...didn't work.
10/11/2018 10:16:50 pm
This doesn't even begin to work with my horses. I can walk up to my horses anytime and pet them scratch them or love on them. But If I have any kind of halter or rope in my hand they take off as soon as I am within arms distance. If I can sneak a piece twine or even a piece of clothing around their neck they are caught, and I can then use that to walk them to where I have their halter waiting out of sight.
10/14/2018 11:17:07 am
I'm curious -- how long do you spend walking down your horses? The first time with my own horse it took four hours, and once with a friend we spent SEVEN HOURS walking down a horse that got loose on public land. It can take a really long time, and I understand not everyone has that kind of time to dedicate.
7/18/2020 05:41:49 pm
if your horse has learnt that being caught means work it is important to bring them in some days and just groom them give them a few treats and turn them out again so they can see that not every time you come to the barn they get worked and on saying this varying your riding schedule is also help full.
11/23/2018 07:27:18 pm
I turn my horses out and bring them in on a schedule every day. At first I went out with the coffee can with their supplement, now they know after they are caught they always get their supplement. They wait for me at the gate if I am late. I don’t always ride when I work with them sometimes groom them, sometimes just lunge them for 10 or 15 minutes. When I do ride sometimes it’s just 20-30 minutes of light relaxed ride. I handle them every day. Sometimes walk out in the pasture with the halter and don’t catch them, give a treat and a pat and walk away. They will learn to not associate you with work but a reward, sometimes immediately and sometimes when you get back to the tie-up or in their pen.
11/24/2018 08:05:01 am
You are right on -- it's important that our horses don't always associate being caught with having to work. When I raise foals, that's something I instill in them early on. It's the adult horses who already have the idea that being caught = work that require the most time to change their mindset.
12/14/2018 05:33:21 pm
I try to just spend quality time with each of my horses. I don’t just try to catch them, I try to make it a reward and a good thing when they see me. I won’t always train or ride. I go brush, clean love on them give them massages and end with a treat so we have positive results at the end. They see me and fuss each other to see who gets the halter first. Just stayed relaxed and take the time not to ride or train but be their good person to hang with...
12/15/2018 08:37:14 am
This is important too! So often horses associate the halter with work -- or, for broodmares, a visit from the vet and a rather uncomfortable procedure. It's important to take the time just to BE with your horses sometimes, no obligations, no goals.
2/21/2019 01:27:21 pm
I have used this trick since I was 8 yrs. old. I’m a lot older now and I have 4 horses, keep them at home. They see me and come running, they all want the halter on. I pick which horse I want, halter him, take him out of the field and then treat all of them. They know they get a treat when I walk out of the field, this way I’m not in any harm of them fighting over me while in the field. Sometimes I just walk out in the field and either pet them or groom them. When I’m done, they will walk with me to the gate. When I’m outside the gate they all get a treat.
2/21/2019 01:56:15 pm
Positive Reinforcement like you are using is a GREAT way to teach your horse that being caught is a pleasant experience. I use that with weanlings when they are first learning the basics, and it usually sticks with them for life. The horses I have to walk down in the pasture are usually ones that don't belong to me or ones that don't have a positive association with being caught. You can absolutely combine positive reinforcement with walking them down, especially if you will have to catch them again in the future.
3/23/2019 07:46:59 am
I will definitely try your method with my horse! One of our problems is once I get him haltered he will walk a few steps and then stop! And some days we play that game all the way in from the pasture! It is very irritating!! Any suggestions?
3/25/2019 06:52:11 am
How frustrating! I have a horse that does that occassionally. Once I have her haltered I carry my lunge whip with me, and any time she wants to stop, I make her work in a circle around me. Pretty soon she figures out that it's easier to walk forward than to stop and be made to work. Good luck!
5/16/2019 07:09:43 pm
I used Rick Gore's method. You can find his youtube videos under ThinkLikeAHorse. I've used it on several different horses and the only time it didn't work was when I didn't do it properly. Another method I tried and used on my mothers horse to completely bust his bad habits of being hard to catch was simply following him until he stopped and then stopping myself. If he looked id back up. If not I'd wait a minute and then slowly approach his shoulder, not sneaking, but not rushing. At first I could only touch his muzzle or his bum. He was less finicky when I petted his bum so I started there and slowly worked up. It took two hours start to finish and I had to pet him until he was falling asleep but I managed to catch him. Not a preferred way of catching him but he was on a 25 acre pasture with 10 other geldings who he'd herd up with and take off galloping everyrime you even looked at him. I put him in a smaller pasture by himself(also not preferable as he already had a hard time adjusting to the new herd and I didnt like him being in isolation but I needed to get him where I could work with him for a few days. Who ever started him rushed and he has a lot of anxiety problems from it despite always acting drugged(hes not)). Since the pasture was about the size of your average arena I simply followed Rich Gore's instructions and managed to permanently fix his problems. I never use treats when greeting my or my mums horse and they both come to me slowly and respectfully when I enter the pasture, not because of seperation anxiety, not because they want to dominate me because they think I'm lower, and not because they expect food, but because I am their herd leader and to ignore me would be disrespectful and against their nature. The only time my horse gets treats(my mum hands them out willy nilly so I can't speak for her gelding) is when he does tricks with me or a steanger is giving them to him as I don't mind a fellow horse lover giving him an apple or such other. Your method sounds a lot better than others but I have problems with training your horse to just come for food but I guess thats my own issue. If it works it works and its not an abusive way to do it so I shouldn't complain.
5/18/2019 12:07:25 pm
I originally use the "join up" method with a horse but then I also reenforce it with teaching them to yeild the hindquarters at liberty when I ask them to....thus keeping them facing me. I also will take the halter and lead out with me when I go to visit and give scratches and treats. I'll rub them with the halter but never put it on them as a way of showing them that the halter is a good thing and doesn't always mean work. Having to be sneaky with a twine or some other small rope or belt is a pet peeve of mine and only teaches the horse that you're dishonest.....which in turn makes them dishonest towards you.
12/28/2019 01:15:56 pm
Yes!! This is the best way to be with a horse, make them WANT to be with you.
8/21/2019 10:59:46 pm
oooh, loved that story,made me laugh :) I don't have a problem with my own horses,but the girl that rents space in our stable does. So thank you for the advice, now we'll try that out on her mare
8/30/2019 12:47:40 pm
I will definitely try this on my mare. I have tried everything else! It's a rare occasion if I can catch her. She is not food motivated, and is not much for affection either so it makes it twice as hard. Hoping this will do the trick! Thanks for sharing!
9/10/2019 01:13:35 pm
I currently have a mustang yearling who isn't food or attention motivated, so he has been a challenge too! The best advice I've gotten is to make being with you "peace" NOT rest. You'll still ask them to do things that might make them uncomfortable, but the choice to be with you brings them peace. It's a different mindset, but so far it's helping. Good luck!
8/20/2020 03:21:29 pm
Could you explain a little more? Not sure how to teach peace. My time eith then is most akways peaceful and happy.
10/20/2020 11:15:39 am
Jessica, I have a mare that sounds just like this! Have you came up with a way to catch yours?? My horse is not food driven and really doesn't like affection either.
10/10/2019 06:52:56 pm
I teach mine a "come" command, like doing recall with a dog. I start in the halter or just holding the halter in the pasture /round pen/arena.With dogs you flood a command to teach it at first, so I start near the horses head, whistle, and then reward her for lifting her head and looking at me. Once she does that consistently, I take a small step to the side and get her to turn her hard towards me when I whistle (no feet moving yet). After a few minutes I can usually work up to getting a step or two in my direction (I like to stand in line with the shoulder and make them step over to me, but work up toward standing anywhere and having them turn and walk towards you) once they are coming consistently to you while you hold the halter (maybe a few weeks to get a solid, reliable recall but one session will get you farther than you might think) mix it up with putting halter on and rewarding for that as well AFTER you have a reliable recall. Do this AND THEN TAKE THE HALTER OFF AND WALK AWAY! Even if it just for 10 minutes before you come back to get them. This reinforces that the halter doesn't always mean work, but also helps the "come" command not always mean a halter. Also do the come command before feeding them. This will reinforce it. We all know the horses that come running when they know it's dinner time, so use that to your advantage and put a cue to it. :)
11/23/2019 09:21:52 am
I know this as advance and retreat....it work really well! Thanks for sharing!
2/28/2020 07:50:45 am
look so easy but in real, that's not lol
What I do to catch my horse is trap him in the arena then I make sure he runs into the barn. After that I have my friend (we share the horse) help me back him into a stall, now she shuts me in with him while I put a halter and lead rope on him. That's I my horse, Tramp.
7/12/2020 02:48:11 pm
I had two young horses I was training. I would turn them into a 20 acre pasture with plus grass. They soon decided not to come in and there was no way I could get them in. One day I noticed they had come to the creek by the barn for water. I got a five gallon bucket and put a scoop of Oats in the bucket. I walked into the corral and shook the bucket ant loudly poured the grain into a feed trough. They watched me closely. I left and checked back later they had eaten the grain. The next day I did the same thing. They came to the corral before I left. The third day they came in with me and had to stand by me to get the grain. I rubbed on them while they ate. After that day I’ve showed them a bucket they came running. Soon I didn’t need anything in the bucket. I started working them again and they always came just in case there was grain. I soon had six other houses to work. They would come running if they saw me by the barn. Once in a while they got grain. Most times not. They always came in. Beats the heck out of going after horses in a pasture.
8/20/2020 03:27:06 pm
Lily, wouldn’t you like your horse to come by trusting you and wanting to spend time with you? I’ll bet you can do a join up or this way and it could get to where your horse sees you a runs to you. Anyway..... I just thought you and your horsey would like that so much better
6/3/2020 07:13:52 pm
I have been successful in a large pasture with the indirect walk down as well. Just keep plodding toward their shoulder looking down. The retreat trick is a neat thing to try next time to shorten the game. Sort of like “drawing” the horse.
7/11/2020 12:51:08 am
Why don’t people teach their horses their names? I call my horses by name and they come. However none of them knew their names when I first got them. Just saying it’s pretty basic, teach the horse it’s name.
RaLynda J. Dudley
4/29/2021 05:52:00 am
When I have a horse which is hard to catch I carry the halter and lead in my left hand ( I am right handed) I place my left hand with the halter and lead on my hip slightly towards my back so he/she does not see it. I walk not directly at them but off to one side or the other with my eyes down. I never look directly at them. I crisscross from one side to the other still with the halter and lead behind my back. At this point they are wondering what I am up to. I have in occasion turned my back to them and walked backwards a bit but have my head turned to the side eyes down and keep them in my vision. Do not walk up to them backwards as this could put you in danger if they decide to turn and buck in your direction, Now they are really wondering what is this woman doing. I am able to catch them every time in minutes. I have also placed the halter on the ground and just carried the lead behind my back and once I have the lead around their neck I walk him back to the halter and place it on them. I never carry treats into the field. This is unsafe if their are other horses.
1/1/2022 03:45:11 pm
I have a 25 year old Spanish gelding who just enjoys a joke! He is in occasional light work and loves going out. Some days I can walk up and put a head collar on him no problem, others he just trots/canters away or even round me. I don’t chase after him, I try approaching without eye contact, ignoring him, insisting he stays in trot/canter until I say he stops (not all at the same time btw). Then after 5 minutes of controlling me he submits and I can put his head collar on, give him his treat and we’re in business! The only sure fire way of catching him when he’s in joking mood is to take his 30 year old Criollo girlfriend out then he’s eager to be caught!! I’ve had him for 7 years and he’s always been like this, I think he just enjoys having a laugh …….
11/29/2022 12:45:56 am
Thanks for these helpful tips! Add to the list an <a href="https://centerlinedistribution.net">equine calmer</a>. It helps promote calmness and focus in horses experiencing stress related to training, showing, racing, or travel.
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Welcome! I've been a freelance writer since 2002 and have numerous horse-related articles published in print and online publications. I have a Bachelor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain College with a major in Equestrian Studies and a minor in Business Management. My current business ventures include High Plains Arena and real estate investing.