Just a fun little cartoon today – but hidden in it is a very valuable truth! If you want your horse to want to do something that’s challenging – whether physically or mentally – you can’t expect cooperation when there’s nothing in it for them. Horses don’t understand about money and that we are paying for their upkeep. They don’t feel indebted to us for all that we do to care for them. As far as they are concerned, we just appear – and either we do something the horse likes or something the horse doesn’t like.
If you struggle to catch your horse, consider why that is. Sometimes the reason your horse doesn’t like coming in will be obvious. For instance, if every time you bring your horse in you then go for a ride, your horse may well start to avoid coming in. Even if you are a soft rider and do your best to keep your horse’s tack well-fitted and your riding low-impact, it’s still hard work! Most horses would rather mooch about with their pals and graze than have a workout!
But sometimes the reason might be less easy to pinpoint. For example, you might use a pressure halter and your horse is put off enough by how this feels when you’re leading them that they’d rather avoid getting caught at all. Or maybe when you bring your horse in for a groom, you tie them up without a haynet and they find this unpleasant. It might seem like a minor thing to ask from your perspective as a caring owner who provides so much for your horse – but from your horse’s perspective, you have no special right to them and what you’re doing is a major disruption to their day!
So while I would not suggest ‘bribing’ or ‘luring’ your horse with food to catch them, a well-timed food reward, straight after you have caught your horse, can go a long way… Similarly, mixing up what happens when your horse is brought in can make a huge difference. If you build up a bank of mostly positive or neutral experiences, your horse will forgive you the odd time you want more from them (or the vet is paying a visit). And that doesn’t mean you can’t ride every day if you want to – it just means you have to balance things out by giving your horse plenty of reasons to want to be caught. This can be a reward for coming in, a few minutes of positive reinforcement training, or anything else your horse enjoys more than hanging out with their buddies in the field. Try doing some of these activities straight after bringing in and just before turning out again and see if you notice the difference!