Reforming my Hard to Catch Horse

Last night I went out to ride around 6pm since the horses usually get turned out for the night somewhere around 7pm.  But, they don't have a set schedule, and the other boarder came out and apologized profusely when I got there because she had JUST turned out.

In the three acre pasture.  Never going to see him again.

She, and the BO, and the BO's dad all apologized and asked if they could help.  To each one I said don't apologize!  This is my horse and my problem to fix, not yours to accommodate!

I headed out into the pasture with a pile of Mrs. Pastures and my lead rope in my hoodie pocket - no halter.  I knew I probably wouldn't get to ride, but he'd get a hell of a workout running away from me on those steep hills (which I am SO excited to have for conditioning!), so I wasn't too sad about missing a ride, and I figured I'd start The ReEducation of Connor.


As expected, he ran circles around me and the other horses for about a half hour.  My usual tactic is to walk him down - keep him moving to where he can't eat a single mouthful of grass as long as he's being annoying.  Sometimes I change direction quickly on him to prove I'm in control of where his body goes, but for the most part, it's steady, non-threatening walking.

Thank goodness all the other horses seemed annoyed by him and didn't want to join in.  If he got close to 2/3 of them, they would pin their ears and send him off, which was great, because one of his favorite tactics to grab a bite of grass when I'm walking him down is to hide behind someone else.


I could tell he was getting tired after about a half hour of running up and down those hills, so I stopped trying to move him whenever he gave me so much as an ear of attention.  If he turned away from me, he got more walking down.  But after a long while, I was able to approach him/let him approach me exactly from the front (not the sides or back, says Connor) to give him a cookie.

As soon as he took the cookie from me, I turned around and walked away.  He seemed genuinely surprised by this (She's not going to catch me?!) and stared for several seconds with ears pricked as I retreated.  But again, I wanted to tell him that I'm in control of everything.  When you graze, when you take cookies, and when you're allowed to not be with me.

Barn owner's dad drove by about this time and said, "You really can't catch him?" "Yeah"  "But you're so close to him!"  "Weird, isn't it?"

I was not able to touch him.  I tried once on the third cookie and he got tense and moved away.  So, I need to take it slower than that.  Cookies, then touching, then grooming, then catching and releasing.  The good news is, I won't have to catch him in order to ride him until this fall, because they're on night turnout and he should be stalled until I get out there most of the time, so catching can be all about cookies and grooming for several months.
I gave him four cookies and then deep cleaned and conditioned all of my tack.

I've always wanted to solve this problem rather than band-aiding it by putting him in solo turnout, but when he was 45 minutes away it was totally impractical to think I could go out multiple times a day just to give him cookies and leave.  Now that he's close, and I have night turnout on my side for a while, I think we can finally fix this once and for all.

31 comments:

  1. Fingers crossed that he comes around quickly! You're a very patient pony-mom. If anything makes me lose my temper, it's watching a horse run away from me! Ugh.

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    1. Yeah, it's maddening if you let yourself think about it that way, and I'm a pretty Type A person, so it's hard for me to let it go. But I just have to take a deep breath and work on Connor time.

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  2. That's such a frustrating problem, but you have way more patience than me. I bet you'll see a difference soon!

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    1. I have to, lol. He's a damaged good until I can figure this out.

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  3. I've always said I wouldn't have a hard to catch horse and here I am. Good luck!

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    1. Sigh yeah. Me too. I didn't know he was hard to catch until the first time I went to catch him six years ago. Wouldn't have changed whether I took him or not, but still.

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  4. Ah yes, the catch-and-release program. Cash used to be as bad as Connor, but it does work. Eventually.

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    1. Glad to hear that. Send me your success stories. I find it somewhat hard to believe he can be reformed after all this time. But, I'm hoping the change of scenery will help.

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  5. So this is one way Connor and Fergie are totally different! Fergie is super easy to catch - will either come to me when called or will stand still when I walk up to her. I always treat her with a carrot or horse treat - but she came to me this way. Here's hoping your plan will fix Connor's hard to catch issue!

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    1. You are SO lucky! And thanks for pointing out it's not a breed thing. :)

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  6. I know this is small consolation, but as I was catching Bridget last week, this random british sounding lady who was at the barn shouted across the pasture to me "What a GOOD welsh cob! I was thinking there's no way that girl's going to walk into the pasture with a halter visible and catch a welshie!" So...at least in this lady's mind they have a rep for being smart and difficult to catch? :) In all seriousness, you'll get there, both my girls were impossible when they were younger.

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    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement! Shhhh we don't want this to be a breed thing, hahaha.

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  7. Good luck! That's a super frustrating issue and one I did not have any success fixing with Benny.

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    1. Thanks! It's very frustrating.

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  8. I also lost quite a few opportunities to ride teaching Stella and Annie before her to be caught. Some sort of treat that comes in a wrapper really helps, as does your catch and release program. It was great fun to stand in the middle of the field as my horse galloped in circles around me while screaming.

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    1. Oh yeah. That's why I'm really hoping we can fix it over the summer before they go back to day turnout and he's out when I get there to ride. I am SO grateful this barn is set up in such a way that the BO's don't have to catch him ever though.

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  9. I had a cob. Same colour. He was a nightmare, until clicker teaining. The secret was touch me then food. I find this concept super helpful with my patients at work too. The crux of it is if food comes first food predicts catching/other thing they don't want. If food only comes after then thing they dont like it predicts food and eventuslly thing they dont like becomes thing they do like. I started with teaching target the halter then halter yourself. That cob i had was seriously the worst and became easy to catch for the five years i had him.

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    1. I would love to hear more about this. I tried clicker training him for catching a few years ago and I wasn't able to take it as far as I wanted to. Maybe I moved from step to step too quickly?

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  10. That sounds like such an annoying thing to have to deal with. So much better though now that you have a much shorter drive :)

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    1. Yes! Grateful for that at least.

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  11. My husband's horse goes through phases of "you can't catch me" and it drives me BATTY. I am glad Connor is close enough to you now that you can devote some time to this! It's not a fun habit. Although, at least your horse is hard to steal if no one can catch him ;) mine would walk on any stranger's trainer for a peppermint... haha.

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    1. *trailer, not trainer. Although they'd probably walk on a trainer for a peppermint as well... lol.

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    2. Lol, oh my gosh, if Connor ever got stolen someone would return him after they found out how hard to catch he is. They'd never say it to me, but I'm willing to bet part of the reason he flunked out of the CDE barn was that he became hard to catch there.

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  12. You have the patience of a saint. This would make me so crazy, but reading it only reaffirms that I am going to have to take it slow with my new baby and need to stay flexible with any "plans" I make with her for that day

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    1. Yeah, definitely. I am super Type A, so it's natural for me to get upset when my plans get changed, but I really have just had to take a deep breath and work on "Horse Time" with this one.

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  13. Little Turd! Acts like he's been beaten. We know that has never happened! Regalia is the same way. MOST of the Castleberry Cobs are like Ffergie, and are in your pocket. Once in awhile we get one that is born, "suspicious". I thank God that you are patient and perfect for Connor. You know they work their heart out for you when you've earned their trust. Thank you for being such a good Cob mom, and other daughter. ;)

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    1. He does act like he's been beaten when you finally catch him, he acts like our mustangs did in college when cornered, and I think that's the weirdest part for me. I can't figure that out, we know he hasn't been! Thank you, that means so much to me. :) I'm so happy to have both of you in my life.

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  14. (Hard to catch) horses are the cure for type A issues lol. Clicker training has been a great resource for us. This book is a good introduction. Good luck!

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  15. Ugh, I have so much sympathy. Having worked with rent-string I've seen the gambit of cooperation on catching. We never had the time to do it right, it was corner and catch. Awesome that you have him closer so you can work with him more. and we get more blogposts :)

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