Horses: Baby Come Back - The Horse Project
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Horses: Baby Come Back

Getting horses from field to you.

Horses: Baby Come Back

If you’ve been around horses at all, you know the “joy” of trying to catch horses that don’t want to be caught. What’s the best approach? At The Horse Project we believe in taking it slow and being consistent. If you aren’t – then you likely only have yourself to blame when your baby won’t come back. When it comes to training horses, we have the chance to practice patience on a daily basis. We don’t believe in shortcuts because they don’t work. And guess what? Catching a horse is a fundamental training opportunity. 

What not to do…

Let’s start with rethinking what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s really less about catching the horse and more about inspiring the horse to come back to you. Yes, semantics. But work with us here. Think about the horse’s frame of mind. Horses don’t typically see us as the respected friend we want to be – especially if horse and human are new to each other. A horse sees you as the predator and they see themselves as the prey.

When a horse is at this stage their choices are simple…fight or flight. It’s the whole law of nature thing. The good news is – you’re smarter than the average horse. The bad news is – that most people’s first instinct when they try to catch a horse is to attempt various forms of bribery. It’s a bad idea to bribe a child and it’s just as bad of an idea to bribe your horse. That carrot or grain in your hand isn’t going to help you achieve the respect of your horse in the long run.

Begging is also a bad idea and it doesn’t work, although it’s rather entertaining to watch this method. It’s also not a good idea, and even dangerous, to try to back your horse into a corner to “catch ‘em.” The horse will get around you one way or another. Or, you’ll end up getting run over.

What you should do…

So, we’ve covered what not to do. Let’s cover what you should do. It’s pretty simple really. Tell that horse to run. Yep. Motivate your horse to move around the paddock, pasture, or round pen. And keep it going. Bring a lunge whip if you have to, but keep that horse moving.

When it does come time for your horse to stop, it will be because you’re in control – not them. The idea is to make everything happening in this training session your idea. Frankly, it’s fun. You’re not scaring or hitting the horse, you’re encouraging it to move out. It’s a good idea to start in a fairly contained area, like a smaller paddock or round pen. You’ll have more, or less, of a work out yourself depending on the size of the area your horse is running in for this training exercise.

Horses know who’s alpha…

At first, just keeping your horse moving is great, but eventually you also need their attention. Keep your horse moving in the direction you want it to go in. Remember, horses by nature move in a herd. There’s a pecking order to every herd. You’re establishing yourself as the dominant animal and you’re going to make your horse move left, right, forward, and backward. Just as a dominant herd horse would. It’s okay to step in your horse’s path to make them turn, stop, and roll in a different direction. They’ll get the hang of it and they’re going to start to get tired.

As you’re working with your horse, you are controlling where they’re going and how they’re moving away from you. You’re also gaining your horse’s respect which is your ultimate goal.

You want the horse looking to you for guidance on which way to turn. Most pros will tell you not to turn your horse into the fence at this stage, because that’s giving them a chance to avoid you. If your horse turns into you, they are really listening and engaged. If you’re closer to the fence when asking it to turn, it’s more likely to move toward the open area. Again though, it’s your idea – not your horse’s. As long as they’re turning into you, looking to you for guidance, keep them feeling good about their decision. The idea is not to intimidate your horse, but to have them do what you’re asking because you’re in control.

Your horse is going to start to tire. Watch for it. Is your horse relaxing? Is the head lowered? If so, they may be willing to come to you on your terms. Eventually, they will definitely think about a way to stop running.

The money shot…

Now, you’re ready to go for the money shot. Position yourself as if you’re asking your horse to turn, you should stop and walk toward the center of the ring. What you’re hoping for here is that your horse stops. Turn and face them. The goal is that your horse is figuring out they’re tired and that standing still really feels pretty darn good. Just keep standing there. Let a couple of minutes pass and then walk toward your horse. If they bolt, and you have a better than even chance they will, drive your horse around the pen another five minutes or so, and try again.

In a perfect world, your horse will approach you and stop. And, in the almost perfect world, you will be able to approach your horse without them bolting. Regardless, in either scenario you want your horse next to you so you can start loving on it. Start at the shoulder and move toward their head. Let your horse know it’s a good thing to be with you, next to you. And guess what? It’s on your terms.

You’ve shown the horse it’s a lot less effort to be with you, next to you, than being driven around the pen by you. Take a couple steps. If your horse follows, stop and love on them again. Keep doing this. Not only will you be able to put a halter on your horse, they’ll follow you wherever you go. After a few successful sessions, your horse will welcome you every time you come to catch them and actually come to you – maybe even meet you at the gate.

Be realistic…

Keeping it real…more than likely you’re not going to get the money shot in one session. Training takes time, repetition, and consistency. In every session, the goal is to get your horse to listen to you. Stop when you ask. Turn when you ask. You’re the alpha horse, but always a humane alpha horse. Your horse should be looking to you for cues regarding what they do or don’t do next. You’re establishing trust and respect at this stage.

One more thought…

When you’re working your horse in this manner, watch how they move. Most horses favor one side or the other. Notice it. Remember it. Because it will come into play when you’re working them under saddle. Whichever side your horse favors, work them, turn them, run them, in the opposite direction. Help your horse build their flexibility and strength to their weaker side. Ground work is important at this stage in correlation to how your horse will work under saddle. On that note – check out our blog about how to stay in the saddle and what to do when you inevitably fall off!

Good luck. Give this a shot and let us know if your baby comes back to you!