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Spinal Research



Hard to catch

In June I moved my cob, Belle, to a field with 3 other ponies.  She settled down very quickly and is very happy there.  She has been a bit tricky to catch from time to time but never too bad (usually just a couple of minutes then she would stand still and let me approach her), and she was actually improving.  However last week a new horse joined the herd and she has now decided that she prefers this new horse from her previous best friend, and she hates being separated from her.  It started off with her being very reluctant to leave the area where the others were grazing and me almost having to drag her out of the field.  She has also been rushing home on hacks (a habit which I was just beginning to stamp out before).  She has now decided that the best way to avoid being separated from her new friend is not to let me catch her in the first place.  Yesterday it took me about 10 minutes to catch her, today it took me 45 minutes in the pouring rain.  Once I have started trying to catch her I will not give up, she is very strong willed and to give up once I am sure would mean she is twice as determined next time.  If she moves away I follow her (only at a walk) and when she stops I approach her, she then moves away again, sometimes at a walk, sometimes flat out.  I don't give in or let her stop near her new best friend, or stop and put her head down to graze.  She is in a big field (currently about 4 or 5 acres) so it is a long way to walk.  Cutting their grazing down is not an option, and separating her from the others would not solve the problem properly.  I take a treat into the field with me to catch her but never a bucket (I would get mugged by the others!).  She doesn't get a feed at the moment, but is not ridden every time she is caught.

Tonight I have left a headcollar on her (which I do not want to have to do too often or for too long) and tomorrow I intend to go down there in riding clothes (she is not thick - she knows the difference between jodhs and jeans!),  I aim to catch her, feed her a treat, let her go, then after doing this a few times I want to catch her, lead her away from the others, give her a treat, let her go.  Then I aim to get her out of the gate, and give her a few apples in a bucket (out of sight of the others to avoid jealousy!) then let her go back, but not actually ride.

Has anyone got any suggestions or advice to improve on this plan and hints to make my horse decide I am a nice person to be with again and realise that she will be returned to her equine friends every time I take her out without needing to hurry?  I don't have the time to spend 45 mins trying to catch her every time I want to ride her, and quite frankly I don't have the patience either!  Even if it wasn't raining tonight I wouldn't have ridden her after spending that long catching her as I was getting to the end of my tether!

I am a big believer in 'walking em down' and, as you say, once you start you MUST finish!

However, try a slightly different approach (literally) - the first couple of times you approach her and she moves off, stop. She will move around in a circle and then stop herself. Once you have established here 'mental circle' you then need to use what is now called 'join up'. Basically, as she moves round her circle, you move on an inner on, keeping your eye fixed on her. Try to get her to change the rein a couple of times by stepping towards the outer 'track' in front of her. Yes, you are actually sending her round this area, away from you, working her. Eventually (!!!) you should see the response aimed for during 'join up' - dropping the nose, licking and chewing etc. When this happens, break the eye contact and turn your body away from her slightly. Then, VERY SLOWLY, approach her, without making eye contact. If she steps away from you, send her away again and repeat the whole procedure.

Yes, this can be tedious but it does work. I am now the only one on the yard who can catch my grandson's shetland - and all I have to do now is walk into the field and wait for her to come to me - irrespective of what horses are out there.

Once she has let you catch her, make a big fuss, give her your titbits and then walk away. 'Sending her away' is an equine punishment. When she has responded to this, don't ask her too much at once. Go back the next day, work her in the same way and maybe see if she will go to the next stage - to follow you towards the gate.

Another method that often works is 'jealousy'. Walk into the field and feed a treat to the first horse you come to - ignore yours. Go to each horse in turn and wait until yours comes and asks before casually slipping a treat into her mouth and then ignoring her again. However, a lot of horses 'suss it out' fairly quickly so it's not always successful.

Catching her pal first is a further option.

You need to in effect perform join-up over - it's just that it's over a wider area so much more walking.

Once started, don't stop until you achieve your aim.

One thing I would say, is don't always bring her in. Try just walking her away from her friend and make a big fuss of her when she willing goes with you then release her.

You could also try doing this and then encouraging her to mutually groom with you. I find this works really well as once you achieve this the horse will often then follow and ask for more, or you are in the field and ignore them, they will come and subtly ask to be groomed.

I have one youngster that loves a bum scratch. He comes over and asks by presenting me with his back end once chewing to shows his friendly intentions.

Watch her with her new friend and try to see where she loves to be groomed or scratched and use this as her reward rather than food.

When you do bring her out of the field, again encourage her to see you as a partner to groom with and have some fun with.

Try changing your routine around to include some new things to do from the ground such as Parelli games, groundwork, line-driving, long-reining etc. rather than just ridden or lunge work.  With time she should settle .

Belle hasn't read any of my books on problem horses, I really should teach her to read, it will save us a lot of hassle

I went down to see her this morning and caught her without too much bother.  However she is now getting wound up if she is away from the others.  I can lead her out of the field but unless the others follow she gets upset.  I tried tying her up to the rail near the gate where we always tie up and groom, but as soon as the others wandered out of sight she got in a flap.  I spent about an hour and a half this morning catching her, leading her out of the field, then letting her back in again.  Every time I let her back in she headed towards the others flat out (jumping patches of nettles on the way!).  She has never been like this before, she used to just amble back to see the others in her own time.  I fed her lots of apples when out of sight of the others, but I can't persuade her that it is OK to be away from the others and it can be fun.  I am getting concerned that her behaviour may lead to something like napping, she does have a nappy streak in her and I have had the odd battle of wills in the past.

Have you spoken the the other horse's owner ?

It sounds as though your mare is being insecure and has found a new friend that is outgoing and confident so is clinging to him as a comfort zone.

What does she do when he's removed from the field ?

If she is frantic, you could try working with her then so that she sees you as her alternative safety net.

If you can, try getting together with the other owner and try working on a similar basis to that of a foal that is being weaned from mum with your mare being "foal".

You could also work this into your ridden work too. Treat her as a youngster that needs to learn confidence in making her own decisions.

Start by hacking out with another (or this gelding), then proceed onto alternating leads and then build this up to moving further and further apart.

Once you have achieved this, try taking her on her own and meeting up with another to give her the incentive to go out and not rush home.

Then start to reverse the above and then mix and match so that she cannot predict what you are doing .

Once happy with this, get some help and long-rein out so that she looks to you and the helper for guidance before then starting to hack her out on her own.
It is very frustrating.  The owner of the new horse realises I am having problems but doesn't seem to see the scale of them.  If I wait for her before I can do anything with Belle then to be perfectly honest Belle will be a pensioner by the time we are going out again.

Belle is 14 years old and has hacked out alone countless times with no huge problems.  She used to rush towards home a bit when I first moved her to the field she lives in now, but we had got that under control and up until the new horse moved in she was only reverting to rushing when fresh, or when it was windy.  Now I can hack her out, but she will rush home.  She is not napping yet but I am concerned that it will turn into napping.  She is also happy to hack out with any of the other horses and will go in front or behind with no problems (though occasionally she gets a bit mischievous when asked to go behind and invents monsters ).  We are very much on our own when it comes to hacking as I am the only person there who hacks out much so I could be waiting months for someone to come with me.

I have only been around when the new horse was removed from the field once.  Belle did get a bit concerned at first but then returned to the others to graze quite quickly.

I am just hoping that she will realise soon that the new horse is here to stay and that she doesn't have to panic, at the moment I don't feel that I can do anything with her alone as I can't even tie her up to groom her.  It is a huge disappointment when I thought I had got so far with her.

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