There is nothing more frustrating than preparing for a nice, long ride, only to discover that you are unable to catch your horse in the pasture. Since your horse probably knows what you want—to make him work—he’s not going to come willingly. And since he’s bigger and faster than you are, he can successfully elude your attempts to capture him.
There are several different methods to catch a horse in the pasture, all of which will work some of the time.
First of all, you must apply common sense to this problem. If you put your horse in a large pasture, he’ll automatically be harder to catch because you won’t be able to corner him nearly as easily. He’ll also feel as though he has a better chance of getting to stay out in the field, munching on grass. If you know that your horse is hard to catch, you’re better off putting him in a small pasture until he learns to come when you ask.
Once you’ve found a smaller pasture, you’ll need to practice catching your horse in the pasture. This doesn’t mean dedicating an entire day to turning your horse loose and then catching him again—the lesson is unlikely to stick—but you can do it a couple of times each day, never varying your routine. For example, if you decide you want to use treats to catch your horse, you’d better have a carrot or cookie in your pocket each time you head out to the pasture.
Some trainers caution against using treats to catch a horse because they say that it’s rewarding them for something they should have done anyway. I disagree, partly because I find it to be a trivial issue that works much better if I have treats in my pocket, but you can try other methods if treats don’t work for you. Just remember that the carrots or cookies must be plainly visible if you want your horse to respond.
I mentioned earlier that horses often become hard to catch in the pasture because they don’t want to come into the barn to work. They know you’re going to put that saddle on their back and lead them out to the arena for work. If you decide that treats aren’t for you, it’s time to get creative. Instead, try catching your horse every once in a while without riding him. This says that you aren’t always going to catch him to work; sometimes he’ll get a grooming and then you’ll graze him.
You can also try catching your horse in the pasture around mealtimes. Horses will automatically wait at the gate if they think that food is on the way, and this takes the hassle out of the whole situation. Beware, however, because some horses will get testy when they aren’t allowed to eat at dinnertime. In this case, it’s best to bypass his stall entirely and head to the cross-ties or the fence to tack him up.
You also have to remember that horses who are turned out with their buddies are going to be more difficult to catch in the pasture. If your stable has a group turn-out system, you might want to pay a few extra dollars for a private paddock that gives your horse some autonomy. If he thinks that he’s going to be taken away from his friends, he’ll be even harder to catch.
Everyone has trouble catching a horse at one time or another, so don’t be discouraged. If it takes you half an hour to get a halter on your horse, just chalk it up to experience and work him extra hard. Even horses who are easy to bring in have off-days every now and again.