By Pat Parelli
Catching a horse, for a lot of horse owners, is a point of frustration. But before we go into methods, I would first suggest that we get rid of the word “catch” and we replace it with “connect and halter”. The real secret is to have your horse want to connect with you.
Remember: horses are like computers. They may never do what you want, but they always do what you tell them or eventually program them to do. Most people apply very direct-line thinking to this process, and only go out and halter their horse when it's time to ride. It doesn't take long for a horse to figure out when to use avoidance behavior.
What I would suggest, instead, is to develop a routine with your horse, where if they’re in a pasture, have the horses come in for food and/or water. Have them come in on a regular basis in a routine, whether it's in the morning, the afternoon, or both. That’s exactly what I do with my horses. The geldings come in from the pasture with a whistle to their feeding pen or a corral. We open the gate and only at that time give them permission to come in. At the same time, we do little rituals with them. For example, they cannot come in any way they want. We take a carrot stick with us and ask them to stay out until we let them come in as individuals, nice and polite—not as a big, rushing herd that stampedes in.
If your horse is in a stall or corral instead of a pasture, then I suggest making ritual of opening the gate, standing back with a halter and leadrope, and either a treat or their water outside of the stall. That way, they are always looking forward to you to showing up. Whether you walk up or drive up, you can open that gate and say, “Stick your head in the halter, and I'll give you something you want.”
Now let's back up for a second: we want to make sure that we don't ever use treats for a bribe. What I’m talking about here is a routine friendship game, like what we do with our friends. Whenever we get invited over to somebody's house, we bring over a bottle of wine or some nice little gift for just being friendly. Many people think that you can run a horse around round corral and teach them to turn and face you and that for the rest of their lives, they're going turn and face you and just come over and put their head in the halter.
No matter what you do with horses, the dynamic will always be somewhere between “get to” and “got to”. It's a good idea to play what I call the Boomerang Game, where you ask your horse to go out on a circle in a round corral, then turn and face and come back over to you. But I also do whatever I can to get my horses to want to connect with me, to want to stick their head in the halter.
One of my favorite techniques to do so is to ask my horse to bring his head towards me to the left when I put the halter on. Then, I’ll use the halter as a bit of a scratching tool. As I'm pulling it on, I rub it back and forth on their nose as I put it on. Then I’ll rub their eyes. Soon they’ll realize that “Oh boy, he's going to use that scratching tool on my head,” and then, “Oh, now we get to go to the water or somewhere fun”.
When it comes to any sticking point in your routine, if you walk a mile in your horse's horseshoe, you'll receive all the answers that you could ever need to turn it into a positive in your partnership.