Few things are as frustrating as chasing your horse around for hours because they won’t come to you. Getting your horse to come to you involves a variety of factors, so I put together this guide for anyone that might be experiencing the same issues I’ve experienced when it comes to catching my horse in the pasture.
So, how do you get your horse to come to you? You can teach your horse to come to you by building your relationship between you and your horse as well as mastering groundwork techniques that will teach them to come via body language and voice commands.
If your horse is difficult to catch, it may be tempting to simply take a bucket of food out to the pasture in order to lure them into your grasps. While this does work well, this only puts a band-aid on a much bigger problem. A horse shouldn’t just come to you because they expect food, but they should come because they have respect for you and your commands.
Teach Your Horse to Come to You In the Round Pen
One of the best ways to build a bond with your horse as well as teach them to come to you is by doing groundwork with your horse. Groundwork is considered the foundation of horse training, and it allows you to establish a relationship with your horse where you are viewed as the leader.
In order to get your horse to want to come to you, they are going to have to associate you with reward and relaxation. I communicate this to my horse by starting in the round pen. I let my horse off the halter and lunge them around me. I always make sure that my horse has a good working trot or canter, as these gaits will feel like work to the horse.
My goal is that when I step backward from the middle of the round pen, the horse will read my body language and turn and come into where I stand. In the beginning, the horse most likely won’t understand. To help them, I take my step back and give them the opportunity to come in. If they don’t, then I just keep them moving around the pen.
As long as the horse isn’t reacting to my body language to come into the middle, then I’m going to keep the horse working. I need them to associate me with relaxation and no work, so as soon as they come in, I’ll let them stand and relax.
This technique is known as “joining up,” and it was originally used to take wild mustangs. The concept is if you move towards your horse, they move out of your personal space. Likewise, if you move away, or step backward, then the horse should move towards you. It teaches the horse how to respond to pressure.
Notice how your body language is when you ask them to come in; this is how your body language should be when you go to catch your horse in the field. As you walk up to your horse in the field, it’ll probably raise its head to look at you. As soon as they do this, use your body language and take that step back, asking them to come to you.
If you’re interested in more groundwork exercises, check out our article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises for Your Horse.
Teach Your Horse to Associate Coming to You with a Sound
Once you have your horse to the point where they will immediately come to you in the round pen when you signal via body language, it’s time to start associating that with a sound. I like to use a whistle. Now, when I take my step backward and ask my horse to come to me, I’ll add the whistling noise.
It’s important to be very consistent with this in order for your horse to catch on. Once your horse seems to make the connection between the designated whistle you choose and coming to you, you can start testing your horse a bit further.
Now, see if your horse can react to just the sound. Stand at one end of the round pen and whistle. Does your horse come in? If so, praise them; if not, send your horse right back into a trot around you and go back to the basics. Remember, you have to communicate with your horse that you are the place.
When the horse will finally come to you just based on the whistle, take them to a larger area like an arena. Let them off their line and play around with the sound. Practice calling them from different areas and at different distances. Once you and your horse have this down pat, you can now attempt it when you go out to catch them in the field.
How to Catch My Horse If It Won’t Come to Me
Maybe you’re having trouble catching your horse in the first place in order to begin work with it in the round pen. If you’re out in the pasture and your horse won’t give you the time of day, it can be frustrating. You may feel like you should just stop trying to catch them in the first place.
My first tip to you would be don’t give up! If your horse isn’t letting you catch them and you just decide to leave and not attempt it anymore, the horse has learned that it can avoid getting caught by doing this. If you want to catch your horse, you’re going to have to stay in that field as long as it takes.
The best thing to do if your horse isn’t letting you catch it is simply to keep after it. If the horse trots away and lowers its head to start grazing again, you walk right up to it. In this instance, your job is to become the biggest nuisance to your horse until you can catch it.
What I mean by this is if your horse goes to graze, get a drink, or simply stand, walk up to it. Don’t let it do any of these things without you giving it the opportunity to be caught. Either the horse will stand and let you catch it, at which point you’ll reward it, or it will run away and not get to eat or drink.
Why Won’t My Horse Come to Me?
There can be a number of reasons your horse won’t come to you in the field or why they don’t want to be caught. This can include:
- they negatively associate you
- they don’t trust you
- they are herd bound
It’s important to first pinpoint why your horse doesn’t want to come to you in the first place before you start working with them.
The Horse Negatively Associates You
A horse negatively associating humans with work is probably the most common issue you will find in horses that don’t want to be caught. A horse will usually get this way if they aren’t used to being worked in the first place. The change of pace and exercise may make them sour for a few days.
Other times, horses may start to negatively associate you with work if you have particularly strenuous workouts, stressful and frustrating training sessions, or if they are just bored with the routine. In these cases, it’s important to be aware of your horse’s mental health just as you would be of their physical health.
If every time you work your horse the environment becomes tense and stressful, the horse is going to negatively associate that atmosphere with you. This can be the same for the same monotonous boring routine; a horse will see you and think, “not them again!”
The best way to help a horse see you in a better light is by simply having fun with them. Create a stress-free fun environment. This may look like trying something new in your workouts or simply brushing your horse and enjoying their presence. This will help your horse to see you and think of peace and relaxation.
The Horse Doesn’t Trust You
A horse that doesn’t trust people will usually be wary about them approaching in the pasture. Horses that have been abused or neglected in the past or simply haven’t had much human interaction may be like this. The best thing to do in this instance is to give the horse time to trust you.
This may look like simply standing out in the pasture while the horse grazes, allowing it to get used to our presence. you can go up to it with the intention of petting it or grooming it, not the intention of catching it.
Doing groundwork with the horse daily will help to build the relationship between you. With these horses, taking things slow and steady is the best approach. Let the horse know that you are trustworthy and that you won’t do anything to cause it harm.
The Horse is Herd Bound
If a horse is herd bound, it can be hard to catch. The horse wants to stay with its buddies and it knows that you are coming to take it away. There may be one specific horse that your horse has bonded with, and separating them can be a pain. They’ll gallop around the field together as you try to catch your horse.
If your horse is herd bound, you’ll notice other issues besides your horse being difficult in the field; your horse will whinny excessively and potentially want to take off back to the pasture. I like to correct herd bound issues right away in order to avoid further issues.
There are many different methods to cure a herd bound horse; however, I like to go back to the concept that the bad behavior will result in more work while good behavior will result in less work and relaxation.
If the horse wants to go back to the pasture, I’ll take the horse to the pasture and do hard groundwork that will make the horse work. Once the horse starts focusing on me and not its buddies, then I’ll call it a day.
Likewise, I can pull my horse out and the horse that it has bonded with. I’ll tie the buddy horse to the outside of the round pen and work my horse inside the round pen. If my horse stops at its buddy, I’ll work the horse more until it starts focusing on me.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Food to Catch Your Horse
I am strongly against using food or treats to catch a horse. The reason for this is because the horse will start to associate you with food instead of respect. That means that the horse can get really pushy and invade your personal space because it thinks you have food. In this instance, there is no respect or relationship built with the horse.
Feeding your horse every time you go to catch it can make your horse a problem for other people as well. There’s been more than one instance when I’ve been rushed by other boarders’ horses because their horses expected to eat every time someone walked into the field.
This can make a potentially dangerous situation. If there are multiple horses that expect food when someone walks into the pasture, that person can easily be stuck between two horses fighting for food. It’s best to avoid this situation altogether simply by not using food to catch your horse.
Are you having difficulty catching your horse in the pasture and want to know how to build a stronger bond with your horse? Check out our article, Bonding With Your Horse: 8 Simple Tips That Actually Work.