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Horse Runs From Owner

This article covers a topic that the "Horse Girl" and I have answered quite a few times. The question is asked in several variations, so it seems to be a fairly widespread problem. Here's the basic question that is asked:

My horse runs away from me when I go down to the paddock to get him. I go each day after work to train him/her so we can show and he always runs away. Sometimes, I can't even catch him and I need the barn owner's help. He doesn't run from the barn owner. What can I do to stop him from running every time I show up near his paddock?

What you need to do in this situation is to put yourself in your horse's place. For what primary reasons do you think the barn owner approaches your horse? At most barns, the horse DOESN'T run away from the barn owner for the following reasons:

  • He/she approaches your horse to bring them out to their paddocks for the day to graze, play, and be with their friends;
  • Later in the day, they approach them to bring them back to the barn so they can eat. And you likely know that food is appealing to horses.
What's not to like about these reasons from a horse's perspective? Now, for what reasons do many owners approach their horses?
  • To drill them in some new routine;
  • To ride them in the ring.
Does doing these things over and over again sound like fun to you? Aren't they more like boring work? And often, you'll probably ride alone in the ring and your horse won't even have his friends or any other horses around.

My horse doesn't run from me, he continues with what he was doing or he starts walking toward me. In fact, he'll often whinny when he sees me and start walking in circles as he gets excited. No, I'm not that exciting a person and I'm also not a horse whisperer nor a magician with horses or any other animals. The reason this happens is because my horse views me as his leader and my arrival also usually means he's going to have some fun, attention, or both.

Most days, he gets a brushing, hoof cleaning, and then I stand beside him for 30 minutes or more while he grazes outside his paddock. On weekends, it'll often mean we're going to ride. Yes, he will be doing some work, but it's work he likes, such as some cantering and galloping, and with other horses. Contrary to what some riders think, horses actually do like to run, not till they're exhausted, but to get some exercise. They like it even more if other horses come along and we've got an actual herd. I like that more, too, but sometimes it's just the two of us because other riders aren't available.

Another thing horses like are games. So, if you can make your training like a game, that training can be fun if it's not too long and not the same thing over and over again — drilling is no fun! And keep the learning easy; don't make it so hard that they remain confused. Horses like being praised after learning something within their abilities. That means doing so in small steps and not too many steps or too long a training session — 30 minutes to an hour is ok.

Actually Catching The Horse
Ok. You realize that you need to make life more fun for your horse when he's with you, but how do you catch him until you've had time to do that? Or how do you catch any horse that runs away? There are many approaches, but some always seem to work better with some horses than others. When overused on the same horse, they seem to begin failing if you've not improved the "fun" part discussed above. Here are some approaches:

  1. Bring food to attract the horse. Some people use grain while others use some treat (e.g. an apple, a carrot, an alfalfa cube, etc.) Some horses learn quickly, grab the treat, and then run after you've used this method a few times. But it can work initially.
  2. Come into the paddock with only the halter and chase the horse when it runs away. Obviously, the horse will run as you approach and can easily outrun you, but he'll keep looking back at you. After a few approaches like this, slow down and approach the horse in a non-threatening way. Usually, the horse now feels there's no reason to run, so he'll let you approach and you'll be able to halter him then. This is another approach that works initially, but the horse soon learns that he should just stay away from you or he'll be doing boring work again.

I've heard of other approaches, but they seem less effective, and the only surefire way to get this under control is to make your horse's activities interesting enough that he actually gets excited when you approach because fun will ensue. Therefore, training your horse so you can show together or do some other activity is fine, but mix it up with grooming, grazing while you keep him company, trail riding, some running, and learning different things. If you do that, I'll bet your horse will begin to look forward to your visits. He won't know what he's going to do when you arrive, but he will know it'll be a change from what he's currently doing in the paddock, that he can expect some praises, a little running, the massage of a brushing, perhaps some hugs (maybe even a kiss or two), and more. And you'll find that you'll be happier when you know that he is, too.

As for the importance of being your horse's leader, here are two articles you may want to read:

Before Training, You Need Respect.

Alpha? It MUST, be you! — IS IT?

Besides being an avid trail rider, Jerry Tardif is a technology consultant and a horse and nature photographer in SE Connecticut — see his work at: www.jerrytardif.com. He is also co-founder and President of QueryHorse.

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