Wednesday, March 21, 2018

When Your Training Comes to a Halt. Or, does it?!

I feel like there's always something to work on with baby horses. Always.
"Not me, I'm perfect." -- Bast, who is clearly not perfect
So, when Bast was laid up with his splint injury I knew I'd have time to maybe work on some of the little things that aren't the main focus when we're working in the ring. Mainly, relationship building. See, Bast has a bad habit I hate. No, it's not bolting (though that is still sometimes an issue, and one I've talked about a couple of times before). Nope. This issue is evading capture in the field.

I can't stand horses that are hard to catch. I don't expect my horses to run to me like some kind of weird Disney movie reenactment, but I don't like chasing them around screaming obscenities while the vet waits either.

While Bast isn't usually one to outright run from me, he typically spies someone walking up to him in the field and motors off casually to hide behind the other horses.
"Don't mind me, just sneaking off to hide my tiny body behind my behemoth pasture mate."
This drives me nuts. I know I have to be really careful not to startle the other horses at all (the one Bast usually hides behind is incredibly spooky and fearful of people doing people stuff).
"Pro tip: Always put a huge fearful horse between yourself an the human."
If I do startle them at all, Bast is the first to take advantage-- running off at full speed and snaking his head at the others if they stop running. It's impossible to lay hands on him unless you catch all of his pasture mates first, a feat nearly impossible when you're up there alone in the dark.
"KEEP AWAY FROM THE HUMAN!"
I'm not sure if the whole thing is a game, an attempt to avoid work, or something else. That said, it's really hard not to take this behavior as a personal slight (which, I know is totally irrational and not how horses think). Literally no one else ever catches and halters him, so I have no way of knowing if this issue is strictly related to me. My tendency is to think it's generalized, based on his skittishness with the barn staff if they try to handle him at all during feeding time.

I've tried help him associate people catching him with things he likes, like mints and shoulder scratches. With regular catching, he does begin to take the initiative and walk the last few steps up to me (this is rewarded with copious mints). However, his initial response to duck behind other horses or give me a leery stare has yet to abate.

Enter all this time off and my horse going full feral.
Pictured: full feral. Related: I guess that splint is feeling better.
I came out on Saturday to try to check the healing progress of his splint, only to find he had completely reverted to a wild horse. When I showed up he immediately ran over and ducked behind the spooky horse. Then, as I took a step towards them and crinkled a mint wrapper, he was off.
RUN!
For the next 20 minutes he ran full out in circles around the other horses. If I so much as looked his direction, he poured on more speed and snorted and squealed. After the first few minutes of these excessive shenanigans, I whipped out a full bag of carrots and started walking around feeding the other horses. In just a few minutes I had the rest of the herd gathered around me begging for more treats, leaving Bast to express himself without an audience.
Freaking ridiculous idiot right here.
Gradually he started to wonder what was going on in the huddle of horses and came over to investigate. He was still really skittish, though.
"IDK, man. Are the carrots worth being near the human tho?" -- Bast
I kept feeding all the other horses, ignoring him completely. Finally he caved and started shoving his nose in my hands begging for his share of the goods.

Good pony.

I didn't halter him at all that day (his skittishness is not tied to a halter at all, it's just a human thing), but eventually had him curiously following me around the pasture. I left for a bit, and came back to repeat the trick with only a few steps of skittishness from him.
No more of this though!
The next day, I showed up with a bag of apples and a lot of time. He walked right up to me, and got to enjoy two apples for his effort. I haltered him, curried his itchy bits, and we went for a walk to graze the good grass of the nearby hay field. On returning, I removed his halter and he followed me around curiously again.

I left for a bit, and returned during what was nap time for the herd. I jumped the fence near where they were sunning themselves, and Bast just looked at me as I walked up to him. He approached me, and I doled out more apples and a mint. After awhile, he walked off a few steps, stopping to itch at his leg. I realized he was trying to itch under his wraps, so I slowly walked up to him and wriggled my fingers under his wraps where he was trying to scratch.
Totally relaxed about my presence.
While I scratched, he made a bunch of faces. When I stopped, he investigated my work and sighed. I sat next to him (safety third, my friends), and we hung out like that for a few minutes. Finally he walked a few steps forward, putting himself directly in front of me, cocked a hind leg, and went to sleep. When I finally got up to leave he merely flicked an ear at my movement, completely relaxed and unworried.

I'm hoping all the time spent randomly catching and walking up to him in the pasture without work to back it up helps resolve this issue. We'll see how my methods shake out, but for now I'm hopeful.

Anyone else struggle with a horse that can be skittish or hard to catch? How about one that gallops around like an idiot for minutes at a time?

22 comments:

  1. I luckily own one of those Disney horses - if she is out in the field and I clap my hands, she comes RUNNING. #livesfortheapplause

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    1. Haha. That must come in so handy in bad weather!

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  2. My Iberian mares are the kinds of horses who have never met a stranger, and will be alllll up in the business of anyone entering their field (which is endearing, unless you're trying to catch other horses and they won't get out of the way πŸ˜†). My husband's QH has gone through phases where he is difficult to catch. He's crafty enough to know being caught at a non-feeding time means work, and he doesn't like work. He got better with repetition -- his last owner and would give up and just not catch him, so I spent a few years overcoming that. Now that he knows I will always catch him eventually, no matter how long it takes, he mostly just offers a token resistance and then gives up. But I much prefer my overly friendly mares πŸ˜‚

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    1. I am weird in that I don't enjoy overly friendly creatures (my aloof dogs are the best, haha). That said, this is so frustrating and I would totally take the opposite at this point! I wish I could clearly pinpoint Bast disliking work as the reasoning, but he's funny about being caught even when it's just for feeding time! Wtf horse.

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    2. Haha and my dog choices (velco dachshunds who are perpetually attached to me) seems to mirror my horse preferences πŸ˜‚

      But yeah, that's gotta be frustrating with Bast. Hopefully the low-key hanging out while he recovers from the splint will help! ☺️

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  3. My mare goes through difficult to catch phases - especially her first heat of the season (thrilled to realize the other day that unless she starts her heat in the next 10, the TRAINER gets to deal with that this year! lol). I am generally of the mind that I will trudge after her until I catch her, because I am stubborn, but you'd better believe that if she goes near the things she really wants to do (the hay bale, the fence nearest the stallions...), I'm gonna be right behind her to chase her away. You wanna be a pain, you don't get to do fun stuff. :) She's usually easily caught with some grain or treats even during the difficult periods, but I really, really hate bringing food into a pasture full of loose horses, so she just is gonna have to cope with being caught the food-free way.

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  4. My baby is hard to catch, and LIVES to get the herd going. Unfortunately the herd is made up in part by my very silly pogo stick other riding horse who looooves to run around and snort and be wild. I can't wait until it's nice enough to go outside without a broadway production in putting on allll of the clothes so I can go hang out with my kids and work on their catching skills more.

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  5. Ugh what an infuriating behavior.

    Grif rarely exhibits this behavior. When he does, he gets his ass pursued with the ATV (because fuck pursuing his ass around 28 acres on my own two feet!) until moving his feet really isn't fun anymore and he turns and comes to me.

    Q used to casually walk away for a minute or four until she was laid up 2016-2017. Walking out daily for a solid month to give her her meds and mints cured her for good. Now she either plants her feet waiting for me or meets me halfway.

    Stan can be a dick. He is inherently lazy and loves his girlfriends and NOT work. However, he knows I have treats always now and the mere crinkle of a peppermint wrapper halts him in his tracks and has him snuffling me for the reward.

    Griffin loves me for me, but I have no qualms bribing the others with food. I'd be a food loving horse, too, so I can't blame them. #feedmeandiwillbehappy

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  6. I own a very nosey, food motivated Disney horse. Hampton will come running if I have food. And if not, he will still saunter up to me. BUT when he was two, and I had to throw him out in a new herd for the first time I did exactly what you are doing - treats treats treats for approaching me. I think this is probably why he is no obnoxiously friendly now?

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  7. There was a lesson horse that was hard to catch when I was a kid, I could only get him out if I brought a bucket down to the pasture. lol

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  8. Benny could be hard to catch and it was horrible. Fun fact: the person who bought him actually got to see me take 20 minutes to catch him. It was so embarrassing.

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  9. I've started bringing mints with me to catch Penn. At some point over this winter, he became extremely fearful of things in your hands. Fly masks (at the end of fly mask season), halters, lead ropes. I had to ask the barn owner if someone had been throwing halters and lead ropes at him (he's a giant dick in the field, so I get it). There were two distinct days where I walked up to him, brought the halter around, something turned off in his brain and he was positively terrified of the halter, and by extension me. I started bringing two mints with me, he'd get one when I got up to his face and the other when the halter got on his face. He's back to coming to me now, albeit with some lazy reluctance, lol.

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  10. Gina used to be SUPER hard to catch when she lived with three geldings in a 10 acre pasture. She would gallop around like an idiot FOREVER until she was too exhausted to keep going. Since moving her away from that facility, she has very rarely been difficult to catch.

    Candy can be hard to catch when she's out with Moe and Gina. She'll continue to trot and canter away from me even when I've caught and removed the other two horses. After spending two hours trying to catch her about a month ago, I just stopped turning her out with them. She's much friendlier and more interested in me now that she has a small, one acre paddock to herself. (She has horse neighbors on the other side of the fence, so she's not totally alone.) Added bonus: she no longer screams for Moe and Gina when she's brought into the barn!

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  11. My husband's horse only likes my husband. Everyone else is probably out to kill him. Including me. And I feed and blanket him daily. Like WTF. Sometimes I have to give up go home and make my husband go back in the dark after work to blanket his own damned horse. The mule comes running if she seems me. Levi will usually come meet me at the gate as well. Treats and repetition help, but they started off friendly. No amount of feeding Eugene not every doing anything to him (I don't take him out for rides/work/vets/anything) has convinced him that I (and all humans who are not my husband) am not the devil.

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  12. Make sure you mix this with riding, too much catching and riding and not enough catch snack n release and he will be feral again. I can almost put it on a calendar. My mare is suspiciously harder to catch when she sees me hitching up the trailer.

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  13. After having had a horse like that (Except several orders of magnitude worse), I now have a certified Disney horse who whinnies at me and canters up to me in the field. 10/10 recommend.

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  14. Fiction used to be absurdly bad. In fact, the only way I could catch him was to bring the other horses in first and wait for him to realize he was alone. However, some solid work in the field with body language fixed this. Driving him away (calmly) from me and other horses until he got frustrated at being unable to chill and eat food. When he would stop & allow me to approach him, I would then do halterless ground work so he knew that I was boss and I was in charge of where he went & when. It used to take up to 2 hours to catch him and now he either comes to me when he sees me or just watches until I get to him. When spring hits he does get a little sassy and sometimes doesn't want to come to me, but it usually only takes 5 minutes of driving him away to remind him who is boss :)

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    1. This - this is what I had to do with RedMare - I had her on field board for a year and did this every time I went to get her and FINALLY she got the point. Now she rarely if ever does it and all I have to do is square up and push her around with body language for a couple seconds and she stops and either comes or waits for me. I do carry mints every now and then because I'm weak in the soul and she nickers at me when she thinks I have treats.

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  15. Really good work! I had one horse that was difficult to catch when she first came to my place. I decided if she moved off, I would quietly but dominantly push her off further and spend time with the other horses. Nothing worse than being ostracized from the herd apparently! I would eventually allow her back in the group and after a few months she was running up to me instead of away (except when she saw the trailer being hooked up right before hand which involved much running around being a shit). :)

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  16. Spud has times where he refuses to be caught. It's so frustrating, but he's so food motivated it's easy to change his mind lol.

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  17. This is one of the reasons I'm giving my resident OTTB away. She makes it her JOB to keep me from catching her and her boyfriend, Copper. Now if only her new human would come and get her... All my horses (including Copper when Highness wasn't here) either stand and wait or come to the gate. I have one horse (Robin) who never gets ridden, so 9 times out of 10 she's just getting scratches (sometimes cookies) when I enter the field. So basically her role in my life is that she's herd boss and brings all the rest of the horses to the top of the hill for me. hahaha I previously had an App gelding that took HOURS to catch, even with a four wheeler chasing him until he thought he was dying. He was the cutest pony/horse ever, but was diabolical.

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  18. I went through a phase with Gem like this last fall. I had gotten into the bad habit of only going out when I wanted to work her and he didn’t approve so she made my life hell. One day it took 40 minutes to catch her. Not fun. After that I did what you did and made a big show of just saying hello and eventually she came around. Now that she comes inside for grain she always meets me half way.

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