Prey and Predator, or It's Been Two Years and Connor is Still Hard to Catch, Sigh

Connor sorta scared me yesterday.  For basically as long as I've had him, in order to catch him I have to first bring his buddy in to a stall, then catch Connor, then turn the buddy back out.  But that stopped working after Rolex, when someone else did stalls and tried to catch him and failed.  Since then it's been touch-and-go whether we can catch him or whether he has to be run into his stall to be caught.

So he was playing hard to catch before my lesson yesterday, and I knew I needed to win and halter him if I was ever going to get this behavior to stop, so I calmly walked him down.  He gleefully trotted/cantered/galloped around me for a few minutes, til I got him cornered by cutting him like a cow horse, and haltered him.  This is normal.

But even though it had just been a few minutes, it was the hottest day of the year so far, and when he does this, my trainer thinks he works himself up into this panicked "flight" state of mind and freaks himself out.  He's always super reactive and trembling when we catch him after he's run.

This time, his flanks were heaving, his respiration rate was through the roof, and he was blowing.  The most scary part was that his lips were parted and his eyes were glassy with a "shut down" look to them.  He looked like an overheated prey animal caught by the predator.  Which I guess in his weird mind might be what happens when I halter him.

Distressed Connor.
Rinse, scrape, rinse, scrape, rinse, scrape with a bucket of water in front of him until his heart and respiration rates came down.  We're eventers, right, we should be good at cooling down overheated horses quickly?

After the first couple rinses, he started to come back to life, and by the time I got on his back for our lesson twenty minutes later (which started with loads of walking), he was bright-eyed and his normal joyfully sensitive self.  But you can bet I kept a close eye on his vitals.

Stupid pony, just let me halter you!  I am not a predator!

34 comments:

  1. I had to blow a week of riding on catching feral Annie. Walk out to field, chase down horse, give horse delicious treats, leave. Repeat until horse comes to you. I have to refresh every few capture and ride sessions but it works out well. Can you leave a breakaway halter on him?

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    1. Been there, done that. It's like I can't desensitize him enough. I can do that, and have done that, but it depends on my ability to grab hold and then not let my arm get jerked out of the socket.

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  2. I feel your pain. It takes two people to catch Polly every single time. One to herd her to the gate and one to stand by the gate with a cookie. She has us trained well, and knows one person can't catch her alone.

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    1. Wow! Yeah, they learn. This is a learned game for him at this point, I think, except then the fear doesn't make sense.

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  3. When I first bought O she lived in 40 acres and was impossible to catch. It took us moving her to a much smaller pen, and excessive amounts of me just walking out to feed her (not ride) to finally get her to where she is today. Even now, though, she gets spiteful and will be difficult to be caught. Good luck, I'd be really interested if you find a trick for this!

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    1. Yeah, he is no longer allowed to be turned out in pastures. In paddocks, he's great, but anything bigger than a half acre and we have problems.

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    1. Pity always welcome. :) Kidding.

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  5. A lady at my barn had similar problems with her OTTB. She started to do a lot of clicker training with him and now she can catch him. He won't come walking up to her, but he doesn't run away anymore. I'm not sure exactly what she did with the clicker training, but it seems to have worked. This is a sucky problem, I feel for ya.

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    1. That's funny that you say that, do you read Tales from a Bad Eventer? She did the same thing with Baby Seabiscuit when all the desensitization in the world didn't work and it worked. I am seriously considering giving it a try. If you ever find out any more information, let me know, I am curious.

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  6. A hard to catch horse is so frustrating! Shy used to be so hard to catch. . .up to 2 hours when I first got her. A little grain worked, then I graduated to a peppermint, and now I just bring a treat out once in a while. Strange that he works himself up so much though!

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    1. It is strange. Food is almost wholly unmotivating too. Glad it worked for Shy!

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  7. Ginger can be very much like that. I have to sometimes play the game where I pretend I am not interested in her at all - I'm only in the pasture to feed the other horses treats. Lucky for me she can't stand feeling like I'm the one rejecting HER ;) Good luck with Connor - I know how frustrating it can be :(

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    1. Haha, I wish that worked. He is a loner! Thanks.

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  8. Ugh. That's frustrating for you and sounds sad for Connor too.

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    1. Yeah, I feel bad for the little guy. You just wish sometimes that you could reason with them!

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  9. Oh man, I figured he was better. I second the clicker training and cookies. We have had good luck with both. I would also try some of the Clinton Anderson exercises. They build respect and will show him that you moving him and controlling his direction it is not scary. That way when you have to move him in the turnout it won't be new and scary. I use that on a horse at our barn. Ah good luck

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    1. I do think I am going to try the clicker training. I don't think it's the movement, it's the cornering, which is understandable for a prey animal, but still. I wouldn't have to do it if I could catch him!

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    2. But, cornering is still controlling his movement. My guys have days when they don't want to be caught so I do some of his method. In the end I turn my back and they walk up to me. We use clicker training combined the Clinton stuff with good results.

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  10. Yuck, sorry to hear that. :(

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  11. I have that issue sometimes with Rory too. I try to go out to his pasture everyday and just groom him out there or bring him an apple. Then leave. Sometimes I hook up the lead rope, walk him to the gate and then unhook him and let him stay out. Or- take him in, and then right back out. It's kind of like crate training a dog:) The join up techniques can work too, but you have to practice that outside of regular turn out time so that you build that relationship separately. Also- LOTS of leadership exercises in hand and ground work. I do that with Rory a couple of times a week for sure!

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    1. Thanks. I wish I could be out there every day, but that drive is bad! I am going to try catch and release, thanks for the tip.

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  12. His reaction sounds very severe.

    I think that a lot of the suggestions are good ones, and I bet you have already tried most of them. We have a horse who is very hard to catch and was mistreated in his early riding life (used as a game horse). He has had loads of ground training with experienced people but he remains aloof and turns fearful quickly. I can sympathize with your situation.

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    1. You are correct, most of them have been tried, though after reading Karen's comment and the Bad Eventer blog recently, I think clicker training is next on the list, as skeptical as I am. I do think this is just Connor, like the horse you mentioned.

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  13. Mexi has taken up this behaviour recently too. The most annoying part is that I ALWAYS bring her treats when I go out, so she is happy to approach me, be scratched, have treats... but when I try to put a rope around her neck, she's gone. On several hundred acres and with a literal herd (~15) of horses, walking her down is just not possible.

    A few weeks ago, I had to chase her for a while even with grain before she finally gave up and let me catch her. Last week, catching was simple, but I had grain on the first attempt. And then the other day, I tried with treats first but had to get grain as she was having none of it.

    I've gotten similar suggestions to what people have said here, but right now I simply don't have the time to spend doing them. When I drive an hour to the barn and have limited sunlight in the evenings, I just can't justify bringing her in simply to put her back out without being ridden.

    I'm reaaaally hoping this is just a phase. If you discover any tricks with Connor, please share!

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    1. I am with you on the drive and the timing! Whew, I don't know how you do it in a big pasture. He's on probably 2 acres right now and that's hard enough, but I can still exert control over his movements. I will definitely share, I'm going to do more experimenting.

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  14. Oh, Fancy Pony can be like this... I'm not sure what flips in her mind, but I try to address is in situations that set us up for success without too much distress... Needless to say, it can be an all-afternoon affair... :(

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    1. Yep, because if you're like me, you never let them win. It just gets worse from there.

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  15. Cash used to be impossible to catch when I first got him. Like others, I spent hours walking him down. I eventually resorted to grain in a bucket. Eventually I got to where i could snap a carrot in half, but i'm not going to lie - he has never in his life come up to me, and I've had him for 18 years. Even now, he has moments where he doesn't want to be caught. Fortunately these days he's slower and i can grab him, but sometimes we spin in circles for a moment.

    I'm all for bribery. Whatever works to keep him calm. Good luck!

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    1. Great, I will wait patiently for Connor's old age. ;) It's good to know that some of them just don't fully get over something like this and that it's not for my lack of trying that he's still quirky.

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  16. Poor boy. When I have worked with horses that are hard to catch I have found that the best way is for them to realize that you are the release. Horses seek the release of pressure whether it be mental or physical, directly applied or percieved.

    When yoi go to get him remember that your physical presence constitutes pressure. Part of the reason chasing him into a corner or a stall is such a terrible experience for him is because it involves unrelenting pressure. He gets no release, feels trapped, and the end of the world is coming and the pressure continues to mount as you approach and physically touch him. To avoid this unpleasantness he has to discover that when he looks at you there is a release. When he looks away there is pressure. It won't be a one-time miracle cure, but it should get better each time. Each time he turns away apply more pressure (swing rope, cluck, whatever), once he's moving angle yourself to get in front of him, if he turns away apply pressure, if he looks at you stop, maybe even back up, this releases the pressure. If he stops stay standing for a moment to let him think about it and then approach again (preferably aimed at his shoulder as this is "neutral") turns away? Apply pressure. Stands still? Keep going. Focuses more intensely on you (turning his head more or even turning his whole body to face you) pause, verbal praise. Rinse and repeat.

    I hope you are able to work through this with him. I had/have a mare that is nervous about "wild people" and with the wrong approach can be VERY difficult to catch (flying backwards as you approach, spinning and bolting, etc.). This technique worked really well for her. I never thought she would ever really "latch on" (i.e. voluntarily follow without a physical attachment), but she does now, if a bit tenuously.

    Good luck, catching difficulties are definitely some of the most annoying issues to deal with.

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