Catching the Horse
Have you ever walked into a pasture with a horse that has never been handled before? Try walking straight up to him to put a halter on him. Sounds easy, but you can bet that the horse will do anything in its power to get away from you. To the horse you are a predator walking straight towards him. You know you are not going to hurt him, but the horse thinks he needs to run away from you in order to stay alive. What you have to do is create an environment, mentally and physically, that he can communicate with and understand.
When I walk into a pasture or stable to catch a horse, if he runs into a corner and pins his ears back or turns his hindquarters to me, this is an immediate negative reaction. He is either frightened of me or being disrespectful, and in some cases, both. I want respect without fear. Instead of trying to catch, beg or rope the horse, I want the horse to catch me. This shows the horse enjoys being around me. It is so much easier to teach him because he has already opened his mind to me and will allow me to lead him where I want to go. Not because I am forcing him or intimidating him, but because he wants to be with me.
Now we are going to put all these “games” into practice with the horse who doesn’t want to be caught. I say games because when things aren’t going right, we just keep on playing the game until the horse starts to try. Then we reward him, so we both win. He gets his relief and rest and we get him to do what we want him to do. In this scenario, we will use a horse that is reasonably quiet but lacks any desire to please or to be worked with, or may be a little disrespectful and doesn’t care what our interests are.
The first thing people do when they approach the horse and he walks away is to try and stop him and pin him in the corner, or bribe him with food. What I do is when he walks away, I start to chase him or drive him around the yard. I like to use a 50 foot round pen, but any yard will do; just keep in mind the bigger the yard the more work you have to do.
We’re going to make it hard for him to be away from us and easy for him when he is with us. You can use a lunge whip or a halter and lead rope to encourage him to move forward. You do what you have to do to get the job done. Do it as easily as possible but as firmly as necessary. Make him really step out and go somewhere. You don’t want him to just flop around and stop when he wants to; you want his entire attention and focus on you. Establish a direction first and don’t let him change directions. If he does, simply step back into his path and drive him back in the original direction. We want to let the horse know that we are the ones that “call the shots.” We can’t teach him anything unless we gain his respect. We do this by making him move forward, backwards, left and right, just like the dominant horse in the pecking order would.
Now that we have gained control of one direction, we are going to change directions. I never want my horse to turn into the fence, because to me he is escaping me rather than looking to me for security and guidance. So when you are ready you will slowly start walking toward the fence to cut an imaginary line across his path. As soon as he sees you cutting off his path, he could do a number of things. He could turn into the fence and go the other way, try to run faster in order to beat you so he doesn’t have to change directions, or slow down, stop and look to you for guidance (which we want him to do.) When he does this, start to walk backwards trying to encourage him to draw near to you.
For starters, he will probably just stop and look at you; when he does, try to position yourself on his opposite side (the side which was to the outside is now on the inside) close to the fence so it’s easier for him to turn into the open space towards the middle of the yard rather than the tight space you have created. Then encourage him to move off in the new direction. Remember do not hassle or hurt him during the time when he is turning into you or thinking what he should do. We want him to make the turn into you nice and easy, and running around the outside hard. Once he has made the turn, start to drive him forward around the yard again.
Take notice which side he feels more comfortable on and work two thirds on the side he doesn’t want you on until he is equally comfortable on both sides. Keep an eye on his attitude and note when he begins to get a little tired, looks out of the yard, lowers his head, and starts to relax. All of these things will help you in telling whether or not he is starting to submit. Repeat the changes of direction until you feel your horse is paying attention and looking for this easier way out.
When this happens, step out in his path as if you want him to change direction, but instead of driving him off in the other direction, walk backwards and encourage him to come towards the middle of the yard. To start with, you might want to get him to stop and face you. When he does, just stand and wait. Just stand there and let him think about the situation. He might start to lick his lips, which is another sign that he is starting to submit or thinks that standing still is easier than running around.
Now walk up to him and pat and rub him all over his face and show him how nice it is to be with you. If he goes away, then start the procedure of driving him again until he wants to stop and let you walk up to him. It is very important to let him know how easy it is to be with you. You can also slowly walk away and see if he follows. If he takes a couple of steps, stop and rub him again and continue. Eventually he will follow you all over the yard.
Keep in mind all horses have their own unique personalities; some will be easy to get through to and some will be a little harder. For every horse I work with, this is the first lesson I teach.
When dealing with a horse that has never been handled, you are going to have to break these steps down so he can better understand you. For example, when you have him turning into you correctly both ways and you want him to stop, step into his path. When he stops and looks at you, walk backwards across the yard trying to draw him to you. The main thing is that he stops, looks at you and waits. Let him rest, catch his breath and feel secure. After you let him rest, walk forward a few paces and just before he runs away walk backwards again. Continue in this manner until you can get close to him. If he does run away, start again by making him run around the yard until you get to the stop situation and try again. If he won’t stand still then he clearly will not cope with you touching him, so if you are having problems, you need to go back to something he understands. Then try to build up to these steps again. So good luck with your training and remember to have fun, because if it isn’t fun it’s not worth doing.
About the author:
Clinton Anderson was one of Australia’s best-kept secrets until his natural ability to communicate with horses became evident. Word quickly spread throughout Australia and so did Clinton’s ability to teach horses and humans to produce extraordinary performance from a simple step-by-step system. Clinton uses the horse’s natural ‘blueprint’ to his advantage rather than disadvantage. “Feel the Difference” is the nucleus of Clinton’s program because you will feel the difference it makes to your horse with your own hands and legs. Interestingly, his philosophies follow the classic dressage masters of the 18th and 19th centuries in developing a supple, light, collected horse. Clinton and his wife Beth are now permanent residents of America and are working with people and horses all over the country. Clinton is the only Australian to ever be invited to perform at two of the largest horse expos in the country, Equine Affaire and Equitana USA in 1998; in 1999 he performed at Equitana USA, Ride With the Stars, Northern Illinois Horse Fest, Western States Horse Expo and Greater Northwestern Horse Expo (2000) and The Carolina Classic Horse Expo. (2000). He has also produced three new videos with books to accompany each video called Video Mates, and he is soon to be the featured trainer and author for Horse Illustrated.
For more information, contact:
Downunder Horsemanship with Clinton Anderson
985 Eastman Lane
Petaluma, CA 94952
Email: email@example.com or visit