Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Advice for New Riders: When Your Filly Doesn’t Want to Be Caught

You’ve been there, chasing a naughty filly around a pasture for what seems like hours. You trudge through the grass after her while she prances gaily to the other side, tail flagging. You finally make it over to where she is and she smirks at you, taking off full speed to the side you just came from.

You approach her again, at last, and she stands still this time. You hold your breath as you get close enough to touch her mane and . . . she spins around and takes off down the fenceline. You’re smart enough to duck any feeling-good kicks she might decide to toss your way; they’re not because she’s malicious, rather, she’s cocky. After all, she’s outsmarting a human so far. I’d be feeling pretty good, too.

So what do you do? Storm off to the barn like you want to? Decide to give her what she wants and let her race around while you chase her with a pool noodle and plastic bags? (Very bad idea if you want to keep her trust!) Or do you remain calm, cool, and follow the steps below? As someone who has done or nearly done all of the above, I recommend choice c.

First, even if it takes you your whole Sunday afternoon, do not let her get away with getting away. Horses are like elephants: they never forget.

Second, don’t break into a run after her. Nine times out of ten, this will just egg her on and allow her imagination to run off with the idea that you really are a scary cougar trying to eat her.

Third, as tempting as it may be, do not resort to bribery. This creates a give-me relationship between you and your horse, in which she will grow to expect treats for doing the things she should do regardless.

Fourth, use her inclination to take you on a wild goose chase as a tool. As long as she is moving away from you, you are relentlessly moving toward her. As soon as she stops moving away from you, you reward her by stopping your advance as well. Praise her, wait a few seconds, and take a step forward. If she remains still, you stop also and praise her again. If she moves away when you take a step, repeat your advance-until-she-stops tactic. Continue your baby steps toward her with praise when she stands still until you are close enough to touch her.

At this point you may be tempted to throw the lead rope around the neck of the feisty little monster, but resist. You want to teach her that you coming out to the pasture is not the horrible thing she likes to think it is. Allow her to get comfortable with praise and attention, and when you notice her relax, ease the halter onto her head. She should be comfortable enough at this point to not seem to care any more, a surprising contrast to her “you’ll never catch me” attitude of a few moments ago.

Now that you have her, do a non spook-inducing victory dance. Take her directly to do whatever it was you needed her for that day, being careful to not to work her too hard, as you want her to remember being caught today as a not-so-bad experience.

As you have the opportunity in the next few days, head out to the pasture to catch her, practicing the steps above as necessary, and NOT ride her. If being ridden is not her favorite event, she needs to realize that not every single time you come get her means she’ll have to work. When she is being caught more and more easily, reward her by going out to the pasture just to pet her and love on her, not to remove her.

The key to this is to take a halter with you every time for awhile, even if you don’t intend to take her out. This is to keep your mischievous mare from learning that halter means work and no halter means petting. You want her to think halter means possibility of work AND certain petting!

If you are consistent and your mare is not actually plagued by demons, your diabolical filly will soon be quite angelic when it comes time to catch her. Understand her propensity to play, and don’t think the world has ended if a few months later she runs off again when she sees you. She thinks it’s a game, and you’re still ahead as long as you don’t let her get away with it. In fact, she will see you even more as her leader for asserting yourself and accomplishing what you set out to do.

The video below is courtesy of horseandponylove and her horse Freckles via youtube.


  1. Really, no bribery?! haha, I agree with you, but if I fail in any of these steps, its that I resort to carrying a cookie with me (or even at certain times, shaking the cookie tin before I even enter the paddock!). Great post :)

  2. Thank you!!!! And I'm definitely guilty of the cookie trick as well!

  3. They are all different! I can't keep Gabe away from me if I'm in the pasture...he loves people.

    I had one mare who refused to be caught...unless I turned my back on her and completely ignored her. As soon as my attention wasn't on HER she was very, very interested in what I was doing over there, all by my lonesome. Sometimes I only had to wait a few minutes...other times 1/2 hour or more, but if I was patient, she'd approach and could be caught and treated.

    My daughter's old appy is a complete pain in the butt. When he decides he WON'T be caught he won't be unless you make it harder for him to not be caught than to be caught. When he's decided to be a crab ass and not be caught, I keep him moving away from me...he only gets to stop moving if I say "whoa!" If I approach after I tell him to stop and he moves away again, I send him off and keep him moving until I decide he gets to stop. He is only allowed to stop moving his feet and take a breather if I tell him too...otherwise, he keeps moving. I do this until he figures out: Stopping and getting caught=EASY, staying out of reach and not getting caught=HARD.

    Horses ultimately want things to be easy and comfortable!

    He's getting better, slowly, but he's a crab, will always be a crab and sometimes, he just decides he doesn't want to be caught.

    Of course, this would never work in a big pasture...only in a smaller area like a largish paddock.

  4. You are so right- they are all so different! I love their personalities that pop out in the cutest (and sometimes most aggravating!) ways!