WALKING A HORSE DOWN
QUESTION: I have a 7-year-old mare that I have owned for 3 years. I work her a lot in the round pen. She is perfect in the round pen and bonded with me. I work her on obeying my voice, body language and lunge whip "all the time" in the round pen. She is then easy to ride. But turn her loose in the pasture and forget it, I cannot catch her or even get very close to her. I use my voice, body language and lunge whip in the pasture to make her obey me but she just stays away from me. Sometimes I use a bucket of grain or treats in my hand and can touch her but still not catch her. This is hard to do though with the other horses there. Should I keep her separate from the other horses in a different pasture? I have tried everything told to me by other people and what I have read. Nothing works with her. I am desperate and will try anything you suggest to catch and train her to be caught out in the pasture?
ANSWER: Well, she is an intelligent horse and knows that you cannot catch her out on pasture but knows in a small area or round pen that she is basically caught no matter what she does. Thus the reason she responds in close quarters where she cannot in fact put distance between you and her. She doesn't want to be caught so perhaps she is not as bonded (trusting of you) as you thought. Again in close quarters or the round pen she knows she has to submit. Horses are not stupid. She also may be burnt out from all the continual round pen training. Too much of a good thing.
I would keep this mare in a separate pasture where she has to buddy up to you for companionship. Horses are herd animals so remove the rest of the herd and they quickly bond with whatever (other animals) or whoever is available.
Also once she is kept alone you can do what many horsemen have done for centuries before the ever popular Round Penning" came along. And something I have done with semi wild horses and several "Hard To Catch" horses. And that is: WALK THE HORSE DOWN.
Just you and her. You simply follow her at a walk. She stops, you stop, then advance slowly in a pleasant, non-threatening way. She moves off, you follow. At no time do you try to dominate the horse with speech or your own body language. Or show her that she is supposed to bond (submit) to you. Slowly you will find you can approach closer and closer before she moves off. Then almost touch her before she moves off. Then finally touch her for a second before she moves off. Then finally, catch her with the halter and lead which you have been carrying in plain sight (not hidden).
Then you do something really intelligent. You have her caught, your voice remains pleasant, you rub her neck, shoulder, forehead, all over her. THEN YOU TURN HER LOOSE and go back home. No dragging her to the corrals or round pen for unwanted work. No riding, nothing. Her reward for being caught in other than an inescapable, enclosed area is being turned loose and not dominated.
Next day (try to be consistent in doing it as many times a week as possible to prevent short term memory loss on the horses part about finally getting caught, then rubbed and turned loose with nothing else involved).
Then about every third time you "Walk Her Down", you can ride her. Keep your forcing her to submit and like submission in the round pen to a Minimum.
Eventually you will be able to catch this horse anywhere, at any time, even in with other horses. And yes, during the initial "Walking Them Down", I have used a small hidden, plastic, bag of grain which I pour on the ground as an incentive. BUT only giving it to the horse when already haltered, touched and after turning it loose. Never before. Hand held treats are up to the owner, but I, personally prefer not to end up with a horse that nips at my clothing or hands, looking for a treat and then moves off anyway.
Plus side of this, is an easy to catch horse. Down side of this, is I have walked for up to 8+ hours with a semi wild horse (320 acre holding pasture, the smallest by far on that ranch). If pastured alone, it works better than with other horses getting in the way. Very annoying to say the least, trying to catch a horse hiding on the other side of another horse.
Us humans tend to want to dominate an animal in a small area so we don't really have to do any work doing it. That particular horse, I spoke of eventually could be caught anywhere at anytime. Each time I "Walked Her Down", the time became less and less. Other horses in smaller pastures took shorter daily time and fewer amounts of episodes to become easy to catch on pasture.
If hot weather, don't forget to take a bottle of water for yourself. Comfortable walking boots/shoes, a hat, etc. BECAUSE if you start and then quit before catching the horse, you have not only defeated the purpose BUT the horse will be even harder to catch the next time. Never start this if you cannot finish it.