While being quite a common issue, having a horse that is difficult to catch can be very frustrating for the owner and anyone who has to handle the horse on a regular basis.
While this is not an abnormal behaviour, given the horses nature to flee when feeling threatened or uncomfortable, it is an undesirable behaviour for owners, and can be problematic. So what do you do? Its not abnormal, but its a problem for you?
You identify the cause first. There is always a cause or a reason for every action or reaction. The reason can be anything, but from my experiences its generally associated with a few key issues:
(1) Lack of leadership between horse and owner and the horse prefers its current activity to spending time with you. This could be that the horse doesn’t trust the owner enough to feel safe, or there is a lack of respect and companionship so the motivation to be with the owner is poor. This speaks strongly to how you communicate with your horse and how you present yourself.
(2) The experience the horse has once caught is unpleasant. Either there is a pain / fear association from poor riding, ill-fitting tack, mishandling etc. or some discomfort from incorrect management – either your horse isn’t fit enough to perform what you’re asking it to do, or its overworked. Correct training methods and level of training is an important consideration.
(3) The current activity is providing a greater motivation than what you are offering. If your horse is about to be fed and already knows this routine, asking him to come out and train will most likely result in an unwilling horse and a struggle. If your horse is currently playing and socialising with other horses, if your relationship is not strong, your horse may be unwilling to leave his friends behind. Timing is also important as horse have specific times of the day where they prefer passive activities such as sleeping and resting. By asking your horse to do intensive training during a period where they would normally rest, you create negative experiences and associations and an unwilling partner.
Many factors influence the reasons behind a behaviour – always consider the behaviour in context of the animals environment (facilities, time of day, weather etc.) as well as its individual characteristics and traits.
Once you have a specific cause, determine whether the behaviour is an unexpected or an expected response to that cause. If you’ve discovered that the cause behind the behaviour is your pain due to an ill-fitting saddle, this could easily have led to a pain and fear association with riding in the arena. The horse’s normal behaviour of fleeing and avoidance is an expected response to pain.
The obvious solution is to get your saddle properly fitted, have your horse examined by a Veterinarian to eliminate any other issues that may have been caused by the poor-fitting saddle, and train your horse to once again trust you, the saddle, and the experience of riding again.
Managing and displacing a behaviour that has become associated with negative experiences can be difficult. However with patience, compassion, correct training and care, it can usually be overcome. Knowing your horse well and understanding his nature as a species will help you to better identify and evaluate his behaviour. This enables you to make the correct choices for your horse and helps him regain his balance once again.
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