Catching Horses Made Easy



Martin Black explains a simple method to ensure your horse looks forward to being caught

The way we catch our horses can reflect a lot about our understanding of them and their outlook toward us. If we could only see through their eyes at how they look at us and how they interpret our actions, we might be a lot more considerate of their reactions.

Based on previous experience, genetics and environment, different horses may react differently. They all have their own level of self-preservation. Part of their self-preservation instinct is to be suspicious of man and other predators. This is why when a horse’s head comes up and his eye is higher than his withers he is on the alert for a predator. We may need to identify his action for what it is, offer the horse a more non- threatening approach and not trigger his suspicion or fear.

I don’t like to use treats to chum a horse into being caught. Equally I don’t intimidate them with threatening gestures or hit them over the rump to convince them there is a greater evil. This teaches a horse to accept or tolerate us because we have made the other options more painful or fearful. Although I may initially need some restrictions or a treat in order to get close to a horse, I would prefer to be able to convince them that they can get a good feeling from my presence by rubbing and scratching them.

Almost any horse will have dead hair or itchy skin that will feel good when we scratch it. Light, gentle petting will not accomplish this on a suspicious horse. A light touch might tickle, scare or annoy the horse whereas a firm rubbing or scratching in the right place will be well received. Like when we want our back scratched and need someone else to help us out. If that is what they associate our approach with, next time they will welcome us and we won’t need a treat or have to intimidate them.

Regardless of how we get our hands on a horse, we can accommodate them by rubbing where flies pick on them and where they have a hard time defending themselves, like their bellies, under their jaw, their chest and other hard-to-reach places like their mane, withers, windpipe and around their face. All of this can help us to become a useful friend to our horses without the need of a treat or confinement.

 Cathing a horse

Cathing a horse

OFFERING COMFORT Comfort is a large part of why one horse will bond with another. There is no relation to any nutritional, hormonal, or protection need, only the good feeling the other horse can offer by scratching itchy spots. We can offer our horses this same comfort anytime, anywhere, and we don’t need any special equipment to do it.

If the horse learns to relate our presence with getting rubbed, and not any discomfort that may go along with getting caught, he can have good thoughts relating to our presence. But if the experience of fumbling a halter around his sensitive muzzle, eyes or ears makes a more lasting impression, he may not look forward to the next time.

When we rub them with our hands and they lean into us it is a good time to stop. If we step back and leave them when they are wanting more, they will be left with a better impression than if we rub them until they have had enough and move away. We want to leave them with their idea being that they want more of us.

For more on Martin and his UK clinics visit

Article first published in Eclectic Horseman, Issue No. 33

Tie Up Training

 Tie Up

Tie Up

Standing patiently when tied up is a fundamental part of any horse’s training. Here Jason Webb explains how to do it safelyPatience is an important thing to teach a horse. It is obviously very helpful if you are planning to take them out and about a lot but it is also important for day to day activities such as grooming, standing for the farrier etc. I tie my horses for long periods of time during their foundation training. I use a suitable tying device, halter and rope, and make sure their environment is safe. Then I leave them.

Initially they scream, shout and paw the ground, pace about and try to escape but I just ignore all that and carry on my day at the yard. The more activity the better. I lead horse’s past, I ride, I bring horses in and out of the fields etc. I only let the horse down when it is standing quietly. I repeat the process every day until when I tie them up they know there is no point in creating a fuss as it won’t change anything.

Too many times I see owners rush to attend to a tied horse that is showing signs of impatience, even if it is to chastise them. The attention becomes a game and encourages more fussing. In reality patience should be one of the easiest things to teach your horse. So long as you can block out the noise and explain to any other people at your yard what you are trying to achieve, your horse will be standing quietly before you know it. When your horse can stand patiently at home try it in a strange but safe environment and then at a show.

You will be the envy of the show ground if your horse stands quietly at the trailer while others are trying to escape, pawing, calling and causing a merry hell!

The Process

When starting to teach your horse to tie up I use a resistance tie. This works by allowing the horse to pull back but creates enough resistance that they feel pressure on their head collar. This is the safest and easiest way to teach your horse to tie up. It makes the act of pulling back for a horse uncomfortable but when they stop and take a step forward there is an instant release. A horse quickly learns the best place to be. Tying using a resistance device is preferable to any other method. Tying to a solid object can injure your horse as he struggles to get away, and tying to breakable string will only teach a horse pulling hard enough will result in release.

Apart from the resistance tie you will also need a karabiner (or double ended clip) and a 20 foot rope. The rope needs to be this long to allow the horse to try the option of pulling back for as far as it wants. If you follow this process then the rope will not need to be any longer. Once your horse learns, you can return to a normal length rope. Make sure the surface is soft and not slippery.

It is very important to teach your horse to lead before you tie them up. Once they know how to step forward from pressure on their head collar, tie them up and stand at a safe distance (two to five metres should be enough) holding the end of the rope and do something that may cause flight such as waving your arm or flapping something. If your horse starts to pull back, keep doing what you are doing until the moment they come off the pressure and take a step forward. Then walk away, pulling the rope back in to shorten it, and repeat. If they stop and don’t step off the pressure but continue to ‘lean’ back, just walk around behind them until they take a step forward. While you are doing this you can shorten the rope.

You can continue this work by introducing different objects to test their ability to yield to the pressure of the head collar and tie up safely in all scenarios. Getting them used to contact by different people and different objects is also important. I like to start with a bag on a stick. You can wrap the bag tightly to start with and as the horse gets more used to it, unwrap it so it flaps more. Allow them to sniff the object first then retreat. Next allow them to sniff and then rub the object up over their eye and down their neck. Use different objects and allow time between each for them to settle and reflect, this could be five minutes or two hours.

Make sure you work down both sides until you can’t make your horse pull any rope out. Next tie them somewhere else and repeat the lesson. Before your horse will be reliable tied up they need to follow this process and stand patiently in three different places.

The tying device used by Jason is available for £10.95 from

Best Foot Forward

Stop your horse from stumbling by keeping him focused and interested, writes Clinton Anderson. It’s normal for a horse to trip or stumble every once in a while. Just like us, sometimes they take a misstep, especially if the ground is rough or uneven. But if stumbling in the arena or on the trail is becoming a regular occurrence, your horse is in need of help. First, rule out any physical problems that could be making your horse trip such as poorly trimmed feet, soreness and lameness issues or EPM (Equine Protozoal Myeleoncephalitis is a neurological disease that often causes horses to lose coordination and stumble).

Once you’ve done that, then the culprit of the problem usually lies in a lazy horse not paying attention. And like everything we do with our horses, the more you let them trip the better they get at it, and soon it becomes an ingrained habit.

Who’s Responsible? No matter what you’re doing with your horse, he’s responsible for his feet – where he places them and how fast he moves them. Stumbling is a sure sign that your horse is letting his mind wander and not concentrating on the task at hand. If he’s not paying attention, you need to give him a reason to. When he stumbles, immediately pick up on one rein, bump his belly with the heel of your boot or apply your spur and bend him around in a circle, hustling his feet. Make it clear that he needs to wake up and pay attention.

If he ignores your leg, use your reins or a stick on his hindquarters. When he’s moving with energy, is alert and focused on you, put him on a loose rein and go back to what you were doing. It’s important to put your horse on a loose rein so that you dare him to make a mistake. Get out of the habit of babysitting him and trying to micromanage his every step. Put him on a loose rein and let him commit to the mistake. If he trips again, repeat the same steps. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. As long as he’s paying attention to where he’s placing his feet, you’ll leave him alone. But if he chooses to get lazy and let his mind wander, you’ll wake him up and make him feel uncomfortable by hustling his feet.



Keep Him Interested When a horse constantly stumbles, he’s basically telling you that he’s bored to death. Keep things interesting and challenge him by incorporating more variety into your lessons. You’ve heard me say time and again that consistency and repetition are keys to teaching your horse, and that’s certainly true. You can’t expect your horse to learn anything if you’re only working with him once a week. But you also have to be sure to add variety and keep things interesting for your horse. Remember that if you include too much variety the horse will never learn anything because he never gets to practise a lesson long enough to get good at it. But if you have too much consistency (you practise the same thing every single day) the horse will get bored and resentful.

Set poles on the ground and ride your horse over them so that he has to think about where he’s placing his feet. Get out of the arena and ride him outside. Lope him down the road or around the pasture to free up his mind and get energy in his feet. Ride him over uneven terrain so that he really has to concentrate on where he’s placing his feet. I love working my horses over the obstacle course on my ranch because it allows me to work on exercises but offers a new challenge to the horses and keeps them on their toes. The more you can keep your horse guessing, the more attention he’ll pay to you, the more interested he’ll be in his work and the more fun you’ll both have.

Don’t be Part of the Problem Stay balanced in the saddle. Constantly leaning from side to side or back and forth can throw your horse off balance and make it harder for him to keep a steady pace without tripping.

Don’t put your horse on autopilot and just forget about him. Give him a reason to pay attention to where he’s placing his feet – practice serpentines, side passing or two-tracking. Not only will you keep your horse engaged, but you’ll be suppling his five body parts as well. You can never get a horse too soft or supple.

If you’re on a trail and going through rocky or rough terrain, give your horse his head and let him pick his way through. Horses use their necks to balance themselves, so having a free rein will allow him to raise and lower his head and neck as he needs.

For great ideas on how to train your horse on the trail and keep him interested in his work, refer to my Correcting Problems on the Trail DVD series. Visit to learn more.