Do you need to chase your horse to catch him when he’s out there, in the field? Do you wish he would stand when you came with a halter in hand? Or better, that he would come to you, as soon as he sees you or his halter?
Teach your horse to come to you
Did you know that you can simply teach your horse to come to you? You’ll never have to plough through mud. That’s for sure. Very convenient I might say. How many times did I have the wrong shoes (or boots that are too low for the mud), to get my horse out of the field clean.
Imagine that you can stand at the gate and call your horse. And he’s coming to you! Maybe you’re also even greeted with a nicker. Maybe he will even trot or come in a canter towards you. He can’t wait to be haltered and spending time with you. Isn’t this how we most of us would like to greeted at the barn? I know I enjoy this so much.
Here is a video of my first pony Sholto, back in 2004.
Why horses don’t come in the field
The first of 6 HippoLogic Key Lessons for Trainers is Principles of Learning & Motivation. When you know the motivation (internal or external) that drives the behaviour, it’s easier to influence it. Let’s see what is going on in his mind.
Two kinds of Motivation
Two main motivations drive behaviour:
- A Moving Away From– motivation: something aversive the horse wants to avoid.
- A Moving towards– motivation: something wonderful the horse wants to have/get. An appetitive.
The most common reason horses are hard to catch in the field, is that they want to avoid something. They’ve learned to anticipate on what’s coming. If a halter equals ‘getting groomed, saddled and ridden’ and the ridden part is very aversive to him, he won’t come. And he might even walk away from you.
We all know those horses: without a halter or if you don’t need to catch them, they will come and interact with you. But as soon as they see a halter, they don’t let you come near them! This is a clear sign, and thi is no coincidence.
Solution for horses that are hard to catch
Horses walk away because they anticipate on what comes next. So if you have a horse that doesn’t come you have to start investigating. Ask yourself (and be honest!) Why?
Most riders know that that horse doesn’t want to be saddled, ridden, or he hates the bit. If you know what is most aversive to the horse, you can change that by taking the cause away (the negative association) and by changing the negative associating he has.
If his reason is to avoid you, because he associates you with pain (of the bit, saddle, or something else) you have to take action if you want to have a relationship with your horse.
The horse can also be motivated by something he wants. That can be a very strong motivation too! We tend to believe that the horse wants to come with us and don’t even think what it’s like for him, to leave his friends or lush Spring grass behind.
Sometimes horses rather stay in the field because they are hungry, they finally have all the grass they want. Remember Spring? Often horses are hard to catch after months of stabling or limited or no grass.
Another reason can be, that he enjoys the freedom and friends he has in the field. If horses are cooped up for a while, they don’t want to give up their freedom. Their motivation is to stay in the field because they love the field! They love it just a little bit more than what you have to offer…
Solution for when the field is too enticing to leave
If the horse wants to stay with his friends because he’s very herd bound, you can teach him that it’s not bad, scary or dangerous to leave them. Even though his instinct tells him it is bad! You ‘simply’ have to offer him the same amount of safety and build his confidence and trust. That’s easier said than done of course, but it can be done. I’ve done it.
My current horse Kyra was born in a nature reserve and totally wild. She was very herd bound, and didn’t even want to move away from the herd to walk towards the gate in the field. After lots of training she happily leaves her heard, comes to me when I have a halter and greets me with a nicker. She’s also learned to be by herself and stay calm. All horses need to be able to be (short periods) by themselves, like when we need to transport them in a trailer or just get something that is out of sight.
Another reason is that they (finally) have lush, green, sweet grass and that’s the reason they don’t want to leave. In my Grass Training course, I teach people how they can train their horse willingly leave the grass for them, because they become more appetitive than grass. You can also teach your horse (with positive reinforcement) that grazing, munching on leaves and snacking green under saddle isn’t what we want.
Another reason for a horse to stay in the field is the freedom they have. They know that if they are coming they will be stabled. I’ve seen horses that rather be left alone in the field and choose freedom than go with the other to be locked up for the night. Even when there is food in their stalls.
Training your horse to come to you
The approach you take in teaching your horse to come to you in the field depends on his reason not to come. For every challenge there is a solution. Usually giving the horse a voice and a choice in training will help you get what you want.
I know this sounds very contra productive to some of you: how can you get your horse out of the field when he chooses not to? That’s where positive reinforcement comes in. If you can offer your horse something he wants, he will give you something you want.
Training takes time
Maybe you think you don’t have time to train him! Well, think of all minutes and hours spent up until now chasing your horse. Some days are better, but he never comes to you: you always have to come to him, right? How much frustration have you had over that?
Imagine how much time you’d already save if he would just stand and wait for you to come, so at least you won’t have to chase him…. That would be a great time saver, wouldn’t it?
Imagine if you would spent 5 -15 minutes a day to train your horse to come in the field, instead of chasing him and making matters worse. How would that make you feel? You never have to chase your horse again and you don’t have to go into the mud if you don’t want to. You can do this!
Learn more about how positive reinforcement can help you bond with your horse and get the results you want.
Join my free course “Click with Your Horse in Training”
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Happy Horse training!
Sandra Poppema, BSc
Teaching horse people to connect with their horse in training so they get the relationship and the results they want.