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How to Catch the Herd Sour Horse

Updated on June 21, 2018

If you have free-range horses, there's a good chance you've had many an occasion where they didn't want to be caught. Some times, this problem is a minor inconvenience and all you have to do is hide the lead rope or get a bucket full of grain, but here are some tips for if it develops into your horses' worst habit.

Recognizing the Problem

First and foremost, you need to recognize if catching your horses is becoming a problem. When my family first got horses, it was routine to have to chase them around the pasture trying to corner them or just until they got tired. We didn't know any better and my parents probably thought it was good for me to get some energy out.

Eventually, I joined 4-H and we started going to horse practice once a night every week to prepare for the county show. That meant going out and catching the horses in time for when we had to leave. I rode an older mare, who we thought was old at the time but really wasn't, and she was the head of the whole herd. It was rare if I could catch her without all five horses racing from one corner of the pasture to another.

To us, it was just something you had to deal with. Again, we were very novice horse people. If it got too ridiculous, we would bring out the buckets of feed and lure them in, but it rarely did. Even then, with all the effort it took, it still wasn't enough to actively try to change it. Unfortunately, that didn't come until my final years in 4-H.

New Additions to the Herd

Then we got more experienced, got more horses. We started riding more often, going to more shows, more practices. I started using more than one horse for 4-H like most of the other kids. So imagine eight horses galloping back and forth and I need three of them. Two of the three were fairly easy to catch, but my barrel horse, Sunny, and extremely temperamental paint...she's what finally made it unbearable.

Now in her defense, she didn't come from a very good background. When we first got her we couldn't even touch her mouth and had to use molasses to get a bit in. She has a notch in one year, which might be the reason why we can't touch those either. To this day, though I am finally able to use a browband headstall, I still can't put it over her ears. And with everything else, it's really not astonishing she has issues with being caught as well.

Right away, I realized I had to catch her first, or I wouldn't be able to catch her at all. I would go out there all innocent-like, the rope halter under my shirt, and walk around petting everyone until she didn't suspect a thing.

That didn't work for very long. She stopped letting me approach her at all and I would give up and catch the others before she riled them up, then have to try to corner her somewhere. I would spend hours jogging around in the heat, hoping she would get bored and every time we would both end up tired and frustrated for practice.

I don't even quite remember when or how it started, but it got to the point where I couldn't even put the lead rope over her neck because she would spin away. Sometimes even when I already had her head in the halter and was tying it at the top. Then when my parents would finally come out and help me, all of us would get her pinned in a corner, be trying to get the lead rope on her, and she'd whirl around and run right through us.

Trial and Error Fun

The first thing I tried was, as mentioned above, was hiding the lead rope. Under my shirt--they don't fall for the behind the back, it has to be out of sight. It worked for a while, generally always works for all of the horses except for her. She just stopped letting me come up to her whenever I went out into the pasture.

Then what is always the last ditch solution: a bucket with feed. Again, it worked for everyone but her. She wouldn't have any of it.

Next, I tried keeping a halter on her, which we didn't like to do because they tend to rub spots raw. It worked maybe once. I walked out there and simply grabbed the halter and led her out. After that, I couldn't get a hand on it without her spinning away and nearly ripping my fingers off in the process.

One of our friends suggested putting the problem one, Sunny the paint, in the other pasture alone until she would let me catch her. This is when I finally realized how crazy she was. She still wouldn't let me catch her, would just try to run out the gate when I went in, then go back to ignoring me by staring over at the other horses. In one night, she made a trail pacing along the fence, an actual dirt trail. She even had a scrape on her neck because she was craning it over the fence and she wouldn't always lift her neck to avoid the posts.

Needless to say, riding lost its enjoyment really quick.

One day I went out into the pasture to water the horses, and it was so nice, I decided to go for a ride. I didn't change clothes like I usually would, just stayed in my sweat pants and sneakers, shoved the rope halter under my shirt, and went out to grab a horse. I grabbed the horse. Without a single issue.

I thought it was because I hadn't ridden for a while, summer was just starting if I remember. But the next time I went out, I got my jeans and boots on as usual, and the chase began. I couldn't believe it at first, my parents sure didn't believe me, but it makes sense. Those are the clothes I wear every day when I go out to water or feed them and I am never wearing them when I go to catch them. So I started going out to catch them with sweat pants. Of course, as everything else, with Sunny, it wore off quickly.


  • Hide the lead rope under your shirt--be sneaky!
  • Get a bucket of grain, horses love to eat!
  • Leave a halter on at all times, but be careful of your fingers.
  • Wear different clothes...they can apparently tell the difference.
  • Treats!

Magic Horse Treats

I should have started getting all dressed up and bringing a lead rope out with me every time I went into the pasture, or just a lead rope at least, but I didn't. I didn't have that kind of patience then.

Instead, I clutched at a final straw: sugar cubes. In every book and movie, the one cliche thing horses loved besides apples, were sugar cubes. Of course, those aren't very healthy. So I found some horse treats that had a similar effect.

For Sunny, it worked at first as everything else had, then she got wise to the trick and started her whirling away habit again. Still, she liked them and definitely wanted a taste. This is where I finally acquired some diligence. I started bringing a bag of treats out with me every day--it was easier than changing clothes and more effective than a lead rope. Would just go about my business and hand them out to whoever approached me and the few that wouldn't push their way to the front. If she kept her distance, even when I would try to give her one, I'd just leave.

When she started accepting them, I'd stand like I was going to take a halter out of my shirt, and then when I finally did take an actual one out, I would make sure she put her nose in before she could have the treat.

After the years of frustration, it seemed so simple. It really didn't take long at all, barely took any effort, not even a third of what had been required to catch them, catch her, before. It was easy and fast.

Now I can just go out there with a bag of treats. Often times, they'll even come when I whistle. I still don't go out with the lead rope visible--I'm still lazy in that regard--but I can wear my jeans and boots if I want. In the spring, she forgets and tries to run, but a day or two of bringing treats out, and everything's smooth sailing. I just wish I had come up with the idea several years earlier.

Have you had to deal with a difficult horse? Tell me in the comments below!


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