Catch Me if You Can

Be a “thinking horseman” when you pick up the halter.

Be a “thinking horseman” when you pick up the halter.

Curt Pate says we should remember that every time we touch our horse, we're training him. Journal photo.

By AQHA Professional Horseman Curt Pate in America’s Horse

Before working with a young horse, learn how to correctly catch and saddle him.

In all aspects of horsemanship, horses know when we know, and they know when we don’t know. Skills like catching a horse carry over to riding. If we have the confidence gained from skillfully catching a horse, and if we’re already acting like “thinking horsemen,” we’re well on the way to becoming better riders.

These basic tasks will also give you a good reality check. If none of your horses want to be caught, that might be telling you something. Or if you can’t saddle your horse while he’s untied, you might not be ready to go round up cattle. You need to develop a solid foundation.

Let’s say I have a horse in the pasture that I know I can’t catch. I won’t even go out there and try it, because that would just teach him to get away from me. I’ll go get a saddle horse and bring the horses in to a smaller enclosure, or I might even use grain to make that horse want to be with me.

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But with a horse that I have a chance with, I’ll think about catching his front feet. I don’t even think about the rest of the horse. I’m just trying to herd those two front feet to a stop. I position myself in front of the horse, and if he starts moving his head one way or another, or if he lightens up a front foot, I’ll block his movement.

You can’t play too close to the net, because it’s easier for the horse to get ahead of you. If you’re just a split second too late, he is gone, and that’s when he learns he can escape.

I want to get him thinking about getting “heavy on his front feet,” where he’s not shifting the weight off either foot in preparation to step off. When that happens, I’ll approach. If he starts to unweight a foot, then I back up and block him.

Before long, he’ll decide that I’ve got him figured out, and he’ll let me approach.

Whether it’s in the pasture or in the stall, horses are sizing us up as we approach. They’re reading us, so we always have to be reading them to stay a step ahead.

I’m constantly reading my horse as I’m saddling him.

The important thing to remember is that any time we have contact with our horses, we are training them – even as we walk up to them in the pasture or approach them with a saddle.

So if all these simple interactions are so important, how do we know if we’re making mistakes? After all, our habits are ingrained, and a lot of times, we don’t realize exactly what we’re doing.

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I think videos are the answer. Have someone videotape you catching your horse, saddling, getting on. You’ll be able to catch your own mistakes.

Another good tool is to sit down and write an article on how to catch a horse. It will really make you break things down in your own mind and think it out.

And that’s really what I’m encouraging folks to do: to be thinking horsemen.

8 thoughts on “Catch Me if You Can”

  1. Great article~I worked for trainers and it was important to “pay attention” to the horses when you were handling them~for any reason. I enjoyed reading your article~ Thank you so much~I don’t ride anymore but I handle my horses and it is important to me to keep them handle ready for their safety and others safety as well.

  2. I have a young filly that didn’t have the greatest start at life. But for the past year I have been working on getting her to trust me and realize that I will not her. We have come along ways and she trust me now more then thing. The problem is that now she wants to constantly be by m side whenever and where ever I am. How do I teach her to respect my space with out reverting her back into thinking I am going to treat badly like her previous owners.

  3. Great article. It really makes use realize how important such a simple thing to riding is. Having control before you even get in the saddle is the most important thing. Horses are a lot smarter than we think.

  4. Great advice! Anytime we interact with our horses, we need to be thinking ahead. As you said, it’s easy for them to get ahead of us!

  5. To Emilee,

    Good for you for building your horses trust in you. Be careful not to focus too much on your filly’s previous treatment. Just because she was abused is no excuse for her to walk all over you. If you allow her to get away with being pushy of disrespectful b/c you “feel sorry for her,” she’ll see that as weakness on your part and try to take advantage. Don’t be afraid to be firm with her and stand your ground. You can be firm without being mean, but do whatever you have to to get her to respect your space. She can learn to be comfortable and safe when she’s with you without being right on top of you. Right now, she needs a strong leader, not sympathy for what happened to her before you got her. If she was out in a herd with a strong leader and started misbehaving and getting pushy and disrespectful, she would be corrected in a hurry, with no regard to her past and there would be no hurt feelings afterwards. Sounds like your filly found a good home. Best of luck to you.

  6. Good advice! My gelding Tiv used to have fun playing ‘catch me’ as well. And he always seemed to know when it was saddle-up time as opposed to anything else. I didn’t know about controlling his front feet. then I did know that Tiv preferred to sleep in the grass to running, so I would get all 4 feet moving if he didn’t come to be haltered. After a few seconds of trotting he would give up, but it never seemed the best way to go about it. And I still couldn’t figure out how he knew when we were going for a ride. One day I came out without my cowboy hat – Tiv came right up to be haltered just like a big Labrador. It was the hat! That was his cue. Yet another reminder that Tiv was still smarter than me when it came to horses.

  7. I have five horses all of them will come up to me on their own except one. He’s the one that i have worked with for the last two years. In the round pen he will follow me all over the place but once he is outside it’s like okay i can do what i want i don’t want to be touch are you bothering me. What am i doing wrong?

  8. My Quarter Horse Mare, April Isa Savage, taught me more about catching a horse then all 7 of the rest of the ramuda. She could read me like a book. I tried the pushing and keep her moving and she could fly and I can’t. So, I slowed things down. First thing I did was check my motives. I would check my intent. If I kept my intent to “I’m going to take care of you Hazel, I’m going to feed you and care for you. I’m going to train you to be a happier horse. I’m going to give you every reason in the world to want to be with me.” I just would repeat this mantra as I left the house, and headed for the pasture. When I picked up her halter and so on. If I changed my intent to anything slightly negative she was gone. She had nearly starved to death and wasn’t treated well by some of her past owners. Then, I slowed down like Curt says, and just followed her front feet. I made absolutely sure every muscle in my body was relaxed, especially the arm and hand holding the halter. If any tension showed up in my body she was gone like the wind. Slow it down some more I did, and just followed those front feet. I learned to be one step ahead, slowly, relaxed, with loving intent in my heart. I would whisper softly my positive loving kind intentions towards her. One jerky move, or even if I stumble on a rock, she was gone. This took many months. Sometimes I had to use grain to get the ball rolling. In a small pasture I can catch her pretty easily, now. I have yet to turn her out in the big wide open. I’ll just keep having good intentions towards her and she’ll come around.

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