Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: Why is my mare suddenly hard to catch?

Please help. I have a mare that I’ve had for six years and for the past couple of months, she won’t let anyone catch her in the field. She acts scared, like she doesn’t want you to touch her head and ears. Once she is caught, she is fine and you can do anything with her.

The Answer


It is so irritating when you have a horse who decides she doesn't want to be caught! I can sympathize with your frustration.

In order to make her easier to catch again, you need to figure out why she doesn’t want to be caught. Some horses decide they don’t want to be caught because something painful happens when they are caught. You mentioned that she acts scared of having her head and ears handled, so I would start by checking out her ears. Make sure she doesn’t have ticks in her ears, growths in her ears or anything else that may be causing her pain. If she does, get with your vet to treat the issue.

If you don’t find any problems with her ears, schedule an appointment with your vet for an overall health examination. Have the veterinarian check her teeth to make sure she doesn’t have an infected or broken tooth or long, sharp points that cut into her cheeks. Have him check her legs to make sure she’s not harboring a subtle lameness and check her back to make sure she’s not sure.

Then examine the tack you use. Make sure it fits well and that there are no sharp points or rough areas that may be rubbing her poking her.

If you can rule out any kind of pain issue, then you need to look at how you handle your horse. A lot of horses are only caught when their owner wants to ride them, have the vet treat the or have the farrier trim their feet. Horses who don’t want to work or don’t like the farrier or veterinarian learn that being caught is no fun, and they start avoiding their owner. So, you have to change how you interact with your horse.

To begin, change your routine. Go out and catch her, pet her and let her go again. Or go out and catch her, give her a treat, and let her go. Catch her, take her in and groom her and let her go. Mix up your routine so she doesn’t know if she’s going to get a treat or go to work – show her that sometimes being caught is good and fun.

If she doesn’t improve, then catch her every day before you feed her. Make that a requirement – if she wants to eat her dinner, she must be caught and come in with you. If she refuses to be caught, then don’t feed her. Go back in a little while and try again, and if she still refuses to get caught, then skip dinner that night. Most horses aren’t going to miss more than one meal before they decide that they’ll let you catch them. And once you are regularly catching her to eat, then catch her, groom her and let her go or catch her, give her a treat and let her go. Only ride her sometimes when she’s caught so that she doesn’t know which days are riding days and which days are fun days.

Good luck with your horse. If her catching problem continues even after you’ve ruled out physical problems, checked over your tack and mixed up your tine, then seek professional assistance in retraining your horse.

The Equine Behaviorist

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