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Not Catching Your Horse

Published: 7/24/2009
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By Maddy Butcher

As any decent horse trainer will tell you, there shouldn’t be much " catch" in catching a horse. You catch fish and you catch fireflies. You are the predator, no doubt about it.

But with horses, you are the lead horse, as they say. It's a matter of convincing him that things are better when he’s with you. Life is harder, more work, and less fun if he’s not with you or at least on your side.

That notion was put in motion when I worked with Ashley Hutchinson and Patty, a challenging pony.
The owner’s issues were many:
- Patty pinned her ears back when being ridden.
- She would either bolt, buck, or get stuck under saddle and was clearly not having fun.
- She had a serious pony attitude on the ground as well.
- And, of course, she never wanted to be “caught”

We both really like Patty.
She’s a typical pony with all those clever pony tricks and you have to work really hard to get her to  soften up muscularly and attitude-inally.

Ashley enjoyed working with Patty even before she had a line on her.
When she first walked up to Patty, the pony took off. Ashley responded by trying again. Patty kept moving.
So if that was going to be Patty's choice, Ashley made her move.
Ashley kept her moving, kept her working until the other option was appearing more pleasant to Patty.

At various points, Patty would stop and turn to her. Ashley would approach in an indirect manner, not straight on, with her head down and in a very relaxed manner.
It was as if approaching Patty was NOT her first priority but something she’d get around to.
Whenever Patty turned her haunches in, she’d have to move and move and move. Ashley showed her that that move was not the easiest choice.

Eventually, the racing circles got smaller.
Even when Ashley finally got close enough to “catch” her, she delayed throwing a rope over her neck.
Instead, Patty just got lots of rubs. Then Ashley walked a few steps away.
By then Patty was hooked. Not so hooked that she’d follow - maybe next time for that.
But hooked enough to stand and follow her with her eyes. For this tough girl, we call it progress.

See if you can tell from the photos where they are in the process.

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7/24/2009 Cheryl Sullivan
This is how I gradually trained my horse to enter a 2 horse trailer after her accident. We couldn't even walk by the trailer at first. When she wanted to flee I would let her, I had her on a longe line. I would make her work. She was rewarded with rest and praise each time she got closer to the trailer. I was amazed at how well and how quickly it worked.

"An owner of a Tennessee Walking Horse once said that his horse reminded him of a lightning rod, for, as he rode, all the sorrows of his heart flowed down through the splendid muscles of his horse and were grounded in the earth." - Marguerite Henry