Problem catching after my pony slipped his head collar

Oct 10, 2018
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#1
My 4 yr old rescue gelding slipped his headcollar in early December and I'm getting increasingly concerned because I cannot catch him.

I've always kept a head collar on him as I suspected he might be difficult, though never had a problem on the odd time he lost one before — some days when it took a while for him to let me catch him over the 2.5 years we've had him, but never anything seriously naughty.

The first day after he lost it, he let me make an impromptu halter out of his lead rope but, stupidly, I pulled a little to hard on it and it slipped off over his ears. Ever since it's been a nightmare trying to get to this stage again. The last time I tried, he managed to rear up and 'take off' before I managed to finish making an impromptu halter. Getting near him isn't the problem. He's usually pleased to see me, he comes up to me and going through all of his 'tricks' — 'smiling', bowing, walking backwards/sideways etc, doing forehand turns, lifting his feet etc. it's just that the minute there's any sight of a halter or rope now, he bolts!

I've tried every trick I know I've even tried wearing him down by following him around from morning till dusk, making him 'walk on' if he wouldn't let me near. That almost worked the first day: he kept stopping and turning as if to ask me to stop and almost let me catch him with a rope, but I didn't want to frighten him so didn't force the issue. However, the following day he'd obviously learned something from his experience, and started hiding behind some of the other horses, winding them up by initiating play fighting then shunting them sideways right into me! My last hope was hoping for a prolonged cold snap to try tempting him into his stable by some hay/nuts by a turn in the weather but there's still plenty of grass out there.

I think part of the problem is that he stopped trusting us because he really didn't enjoy his experience at a small livery over the summer (I don't know what happened there, but the lady went from absolutely doting on him to suddenly refusing to see to him at all as had been previously agreed). I think he's probably worried we might make him go back there again now that he's back with his all old friends in the large area of shared grazing next to our home. He's a 12.2 Section A type that needs to have his grazing restricted, I'm worried what will happen if I can't catch him before the grass starts to grow. I had actually contacted a couple of people to help work on backing him just before this happened, I sure I'll have to call them into help me but I'm feeling hugely embarrassed about it all.
 
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Trewsers

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Oct 13, 2004
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#2
Wonder what happened at the livery yard? I don't suppose you will ever fully know. Don't be embarrased either, it doesn't sound easy teaching and dealng with a youngster. I don't have any advice but will be interested to see what other people would do.
 
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#3
Wonder what happened at the livery yard? I don't suppose you will ever fully know. Don't be embarrased either, it doesn't sound easy teaching and dealng with a youngster. I don't have any advice but will be interested to see what other people would do.
Initially he went over there as a companion to a bereaved mare. They got on ok, but then she was suddenly sold leaving him all alone there, probably for the first time in his life. Then the lady bought in a mini-shetland type gelding for her grand-daughter and put it in his paddock with him after only a couple of days. Later we found out it had only been gelded a few weeks before, and unsurprisingly, the pair had quite a fight, even though I'd warned her not to. After that she just labelled our boy as 'nasty'. By then, he'd escaped from her a few times because she refused to lead him to/from the stable the noseband attachment we use, but just held on to his headcollar and so he took the opportunity to really push the boundaries with her, rearing up and knocking her over (behaviour he had originally come with, but which I'd managed to stop). He'd also suddenly became really anxious about having his feet cleaned just after arriving there, kicking out if we touched them, something that only improved after she stopped handling him. She was someone with a lifetime's experience at handling horses recommended by the farrier, so I trusted her. We got very well socially for the first few months, we both thought we'd made a really good friend, then a few weeks after the fight incident she suddenly said a lot of very horrible things to me and gave us notice to leave. I think she might have been going through some sort of personal crisis at the time, her health wasn't very good either. She did apologise to me after but it soured the atmosphere and really knocked my confidence (both socially and in terms of handling my gelding).

I'd come to the conclusion that we'd have to go back to basics with him as he'd also started to get anxious about having his roller on (see my previous post). Ideally we'd have got back into our simple old routine again, so losing the head collar came at the worst possible time.
Also he lost his last incisor teeth just a week or so before this happened; he became unusually head shy one day, then I noticed both lower incisors had gone when I got him in to groom. I'm wondering if there might be some ongoing discomfort from tooth issues too, but until I catch him again I can't get the dentist in to have them checked.
 
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chunky monkey

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#4
Is there anyway to section him off in the field he's in. Or an area you have fenced off that you could open up and direct him into. Then just sit with some feed and let him start to rebond with you.
It sounds to me like he has too much space in the field which means he calls the shots.
Is there anyone else that has tried to get near him and put a head collar on at the yard. Bizarre as it may seem sometimes a horse will trust a complete stranger over there master. It sounds like your horse may have learned how to get the better of you.
 

Mary Poppins

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Oct 10, 2004
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#5
Can you take all the other horses out of the field and out of sight so that he is completely on his own? He might be easier to catch without them around?

I also agree with asking someone else to try and catch him. I know a pony that will only let kids catch him, adults have no chance at all.

And don't be embarrassed about asking for help. We all have problems with our horses from time to time. It's part of the 'journey' and one day you will look back on the difficult times with fond memories and stories on how you overcame the issues.
 
Likes: ~elizabeth~

newforest

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Mar 15, 2008
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#6
Our unhandled horses all follow a bucket into a stable.

My previously lad was the same initially, he strangely felt secure in the stable and I could put on the headcollar there no worries. I never left it on. I always turned him out and took it off. One day he let me just put it on.

By leaving it on for over two years. You haven't taught him to be haltered in the field.
 

Jessey

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Dec 20, 2004
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#7
I think he's probably worried we might make him go back there again
This is a human thought process, horses don't see things that way, he might be worried about something but not about if you catch him that you might take him to that yard, possibly just that he doesn't want to leave the current herd but taking him to that particular yard won't be playing on his mind.

I have to agree with @newforest, he has never been taught to halter in the field, and the rope slipping off incident probably taught him the wrong lesson. Set yourself up for success, try to work with him when he is most likely to be amenable perhaps when all the other horses have come in for the night, when things are calm and you have time to spend.

If you can get up to him no problem then perhaps advance and retreat with a halter (no point avoiding the one thing you want to do), the first few times don't try to put it on but have it over your arm and ask him to do one of his 'tricks' that he finds easy, routine is reassuring. Once he is not focusing on the halter perhaps move it from one arm to the other while next to him, eventually touch him with it but still don't try to put it on. Eventually he should be quite chilled about the halter being there and not be associating it with 'bad' things, when he's there and you can put it near his face without reaction, calmly and confidently pop it on, no messing or dithering, he needs to see you aren't worried. I rescued a colt a few years ago that was chased into a corner to be haltered, when into my field he wasn't keen for me to even get close to him, it took him maybe a week working like this and he was 100% to catch after that.
 

diplomaticandtactful

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Apr 25, 2003
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#8
I have one like that who was semi feral and hard to catch. we did a lot of NH training like you and he could do it all at liberty. he could trot in a circle change direction, back up, stand away then come, all without a head collar, so now If I can't catch him, I put him on a circle loose and he trots around until he shows he wants to come in, we do a bit of play i.e. I run backwards and he chases me and I will say lift and he will hold up front leg for me, I make a fuss of him and on goes the halter. We did it in a small area to begin with but now it works in a 4 acre field. The first time his trainer tried to do join up with him we worked for 3 hours and failed and next morning he did it instantly with me. His first lesson was can you catch your horse, because if you can't we start there. Leo was terrified of everything but he got the hang of it all very quickly and loves showing off his tricks.
 
Oct 10, 2018
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#10
Is there anyway to section him off in the field he's in. Or an area you have fenced off that you could open up and direct him into. Then just sit with some feed and let him start to rebond with you.
It sounds to me like he has too much space in the field which means he calls the shots.
Is there anyone else that has tried to get near him and put a head collar on at the yard. Bizarre as it may seem sometimes a horse will trust a complete stranger over there master. It sounds like your horse may have learned how to get the better of you.
It's not easy due to the size of the area, though it might now be possible to tempt him into a smaller fenced area now he's hungrier.
 
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#11
Progress report. He's been standing nicely to do his 'exercises', lifting his feet for me to handle. I've been teaching him to feed from a nose bag (my bobble hat), and he's confident now to rummage round in it with his eyes almost hidden by it and follow me for about 100 yards, which is something he wouldn't have risked doing a while back. I've been sitting on the ground beside him, he's been rubbing his head on me, and letting me rub him and taking polos off the lead rope in my hand. I know I'll have to trick him with a concealed rope eventually, it's balancing my desire to get him back on a restricted diet against the need to build up sufficient trust that is difficult as the next time I try, it has to succeed fully or he may learn even more bad habits in the process
 
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#12
I have one like that who was semi feral and hard to catch. we did a lot of NH training like you and he could do it all at liberty. he could trot in a circle change direction, back up, stand away then come, all without a head collar, so now If I can't catch him, I put him on a circle loose and he trots around until he shows he wants to come in, we do a bit of play i.e. I run backwards and he chases me and I will say lift and he will hold up front leg for me, I make a fuss of him and on goes the halter. We did it in a small area to begin with but now it works in a 4 acre field. The first time his trainer tried to do join up with him we worked for 3 hours and failed and next morning he did it instantly with me. His first lesson was can you catch your horse, because if you can't we start there. Leo was terrified of everything but he got the hang of it all very quickly and loves showing off his tricks.
Thanks, that give me some some hope. He is really semi-feral as from the tail cuts, I think he was probably mountain bred and dumped in an auction due to the blue eyes/white markings (after which he ended up starving in a field because the new owner died suddenly). What sort of trainer do you use as it sounds like those techniques might work well with ours too.
 

chunky monkey

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May 2, 2007
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#13
That sounds as though you are making progress. I would keep doing what you are doing for now. Don't try catching yet or you could undo the good work. How about introducing some clicker training. That is also good for introducing liberty work. I've been using it on my quirky horse. It has improved some of my horses issues and confidence.
There is some good youtube videos on clicker training. Look up Melanie S Watson.
 
Apr 25, 2003
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Thanks, that give me some some hope. He is really semi-feral as from the tail cuts, I think he was probably mountain bred and dumped in an auction due to the blue eyes/white markings (after which he ended up starving in a field because the new owner died suddenly). What sort of trainer do you use as it sounds like those techniques might work well with ours too.
He trained in france using a training programme called La Sensee, he does jousting, stunt riding and now training a version of NH. But it is much quieter, slower method, not at all the ra-ra of some of the parelli like stuff. Very subtle, gentle, teaching them how to respond to pressure release, body language, getting their attention. Main aim is less less less i.e. you may have to be more active till they get it, but eventually they are responding just to a tiny movement. I can move Suze comtois with one tiny twitch of the rope as she really listens. Leo the feral is so sharp in his responses, when we first got him, he couldn't even be caught in the stable. took half an hour. now I can just go up to him in the field and either he stands and lets me, or we go through the play/circles till he agrees. but never takes more than five minutes. Buddy the old boy thinks it is just new age crap and won't engage that much, he resists it, I only use it with him if he isn't listening i.e. if he won't load, I will just spend 2 minutes getting his attention and listening, then he will just walk in as he knows I mean it and he says oh whatever. Harder with the donkeys, they don't get it at all. Fleurette used to fight it, the others are all flight, but she is very reactive now, no longer bratty. so it seems to work well with the range of temperaments. He explained it to me, a bit like you have a filing cabinet, you want the cabinet with the things they are afraid of to be as tiny as possible, the things they are completely happy with and comfortable with as large as possible, and the work in progress moves between the two with the ideal getting the maximum into the happy and comfortable file. and the files change daily. and always go back to something enjoyable/relaxed if you hit a problem.
 

Jane&Ziggy

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Apr 30, 2010
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#19
There are people here with lots more experience than me, but my pony Ziggy was naughty to catch when I first got him. I caught him a couple of times by chasing him until he turned to me, then stopping, but that wouldn't work in your size of field. What I think worked better was that I got close to him (as you have managed to do) and would put the rope around his neck, put on his halter, give him a treat, and then let him go again. I only asked him to work one time in every 3 or 4 I caught him. Soon he was easy to catch!
 
Oct 10, 2018
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#20
There are people here with lots more experience than me, but my pony Ziggy was naughty to catch when I first got him. I caught him a couple of times by chasing him until he turned to me, then stopping, but that wouldn't work in your size of field. What I think worked better was that I got close to him (as you have managed to do) and would put the rope around his neck, put on his halter, give him a treat, and then let him go again. I only asked him to work one time in every 3 or 4 I caught him. Soon he was easy to catch!
Funnily enough it did almost work the first day I tried it (having used the technique once before when he was playing hard to get) -- he kept stopping to turn as you describe, and I could have tried to 'grab' him them, but I didn't want to risk upsetting him again. Anyway, the long, patient game seems to have worked - the photographs above were taken tonight after he followed his nosebag, then a bucket back. He was very good earlier today - let me touch him all over, even rub his eyes which he only allows when he's feeling very trusting; he even came and stood over me when lay flat out on the grass for half an hour. Sorry, I should have stated he was back in a bit more obviously, but I was just so relieved and pleased to have him back in. Tomorrow I find someone to help re-start his training seriously. Thanks for all your help and support.