How to Catch a Horse



There’s a mare at Little Brook who has become hard to catch. At night, her two pasture buddies come right up to the barn manager, let her put on their halters, and take them back to the stable where hay and grain is waiting. The mare dances off. The barn manager has a lot to do, and in winter the evening chores take longer. She leaves the mare, attends to other animals and comes back. But the mare dances off. To the human it is annoying, time consuming, and rude behavior. But, the mare is enjoying herself. The winter days are long and boring. Despite the food waiting for her in the barn, she’d much rather see the person stumble through the snow and try to catch her.

I’ve been watching this drama unfold over the last few weeks. I’ve seen the mare frustrate a number of good horse people, already red in the face from cold, go even redder. I was at the stable yesterday afternoon and offered to go get her. The mare has no history with me, although she has watched me come and go. The geldings were already in the barn. The horses who live out were eating their hay. The mare was at attention, waiting for the person to make a fuss and try to get her. This, more than grain, has become the highlight of her day. I walked into the field and said hello to her. She raised her head. Hah! She said, Catch me if you can! I said, Oh, I’m not interested in you, and I headed across the pasture towards the fence line where another mare lives, a mare that also likes to get the geldings’ attention. Hello Tallulah, I said. I ignored the mare. The mare is very beautiful and arrogant. This is not a bad thing in a horse. In the show ring she would have presence. A horse that shows off is fun to ride, as there’s energy and flash underneath you. But, in this case, that arrogance was her undoing. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the mare take a step towards me. I stopped, turned to her and called her name. She stood quietly. I walked up to her, put on her halter, and walked her calmly out of the field. Good Girl, I said. I am, she said.


  1. teri, i just read your account of catching (for lack of a better word) the flighty mare.
    all i can say to that is . . . . horses are strange people!
    why did she let you put her halter on then?
    why didn’t she get a treat then?
    how did you know she’d do that?
    was it horse pride?
    i’m completely in the dark and want to know what’s going on here!
    please help your clueless reader

    • You’re not clueless. It was horse pride. I did give her a tiny yummy treat, but she didn’t know that I had it, so she didn’t come for the food. She let me halter her because she knew by my body language that I wouldn’t pay attention to her unless she came to me, and what she wants is not to stand out in the field by herself, but to have engagement. I told her it’d be on my terms, not hers, and she agreed.

  2. Smart move Terry! I REFUSE to chase my mare! She LOVES to go out but running all over the pasture is really fun too! I catch everyone else and there she stands….alone…everyone is being groomed and tied to the trailer…something is going on! I might miss it! Ok! I am ready! Come and get me! She makes her whinny noise…Ok..not sure who won here, but person and horse are happy!

    • That’s just it, Donna, it’s not about “winning,” it’s about getting to the endpoint in a way that satisfies all concerned.

  3. I am so in awe! With animals or humans! When I see someone able to do that, it’s magic! I remember a kindergarten teacher who could do that with the wildest of kids. Thank you for explaining and sharing but doing it is still a beautiful, magical talent. I aspire to be able to say and do the right thing at the right time but I am often tongue tied. Like now :-)

    • A lot of times what looks like magic is simply paying attention to quite small movements and body language, and responding immediately to that. Also, calm consistency is key. I have to add that although it’s not magic, having that moment of understanding does feel magical. It’s one reason to have that sort of relationship with the animals around you.

  4. As I was reading I had a suspicion as to what your solution was. I’m surprised the manager didn’t know this “trick”.
    My Lulu (Boston Terrier) loves for me to “chase” her. When I adopted her she was a year old and when it was time to come in she took this opportunity for me to play with her. Well I soon realized I was the smarter one. ;-). So I ignored her and within a minute or two she was at the back door wanting in. We play chase on my terms now.
    thanks Terry as always for great insight and stories.

    • She knows it, but when it’s getting dark and you have another dozen other horses to care for, it’s hard to get that body language right. Also, the curiosity factor isn’t there.
      Glad you’re smarter than Lulu :)

  5. I love this post! I’m still smiling about the horse thinking, I am!
    I saw a video at my church about a cowboy in NE who breaks horses. He actually has a ministry as a Horse Whisperer, so to speak. He gathers a group of cowboys, brings out a horse that hasn’t been ridden, usually they are familiar with the horse, so it is not a trick. As he talks to them about trusting in God, he gently works with the horse. Long story short, at one point he lays his body across the horse, trusting the horse, but not sitting on top, as to get bucked off. Most times he is able to ride the horse, in front of these cowboys, who now also trust him! It is a real cool thing to watch!

  6. Beautiful, I would have loved to have been there to hear what the wranglers in the barn had to say.

  7. As a puppy, my Australian Shepard was a bit of an escape artist. She loved for me to give chase the couple of times she escaped the fenced yard and was quickly down the road before I could catch her. It was a game for her. Then one day, I reversed the situation. Instead of chasing her, I got into my car and slowly drove in the opposite direction. You have never seen a dog turn around so quickly and come running after my car. That, plus several obedience classes, solved the problem.

  8. You have a most wonderful gift to be able to “talk” to all your animals and other people’s too.

  9. Glad to know horses are more like cats than I thought. I know Terry if you go over to someone’s house and if you really don’t want a cat to get in your lap, act attentive to and interested in the cat. If you ignore the cat, the cat thinks you are safe and will want to be in your lap. That’s why people who really don’t like cats always end up with them in their laps :)
    With the mare, what would have happened if ignored and left over night in the field would that also have been an option if she can’t get the mare in at night ? Because we had a an escape artist cat who also loved to play this and be chased around the neighborhood. Though one night my mother just left her and at 11:00 pm that night, guess who was meowing her head off at the back door to be let in.

    • You’re right about cats selecting people who don’t fuss. As to the mare, whether she would connect being left out at night to her avoidance of haltering, I don’t know. Cause and effect should happen immediately to be effective. But, with temps around zero, and no shelter out there for her, and she being used to sleeping indoors, it’s not an option. There are better ways to train her.

      • Yes that would be too harsh a lesson in that kind of weather and I have seen what kind of trouble horses can get into be it weather, trees or ditches. I am sure for any horses who are moved up north from the south, have a shock to get over once it becomes winter and they have all this icky white stuff to deal with.

  10. Terry, I just loved this story. What I think has made you so aware of subtle body movements, your own and that of animals, is that because of your hearing issues, you’ve had to use your keen sense of sight, your feeling “gut” and other senses. This has been a blessing for you, and can help to account for your special way that you relate to animals. They sense many more things than we humans make the time to sense, or just won’t take the time to sense. You are patient and kind, and calmly assertive. These are qualities of yours that have been purposefully developed, and endear your (and others’) animals to you. They know they can trust you. It is truly a gift.

    • I had the right mindset before my hearing loss (I lost it gradually over the years, I wasn’t born deaf). However, I’d say that I learned how to be comfortable with long stretches of quiet time, and that being in-the-moment calm is something that animals respond to. I also needed to tune into body language (with people, too) and notice the small gestures well before they become big.

  11. We trained the horses to come by ringing a bell.
    Start by ringing a bell and feeding grain.
    Soon just the sound of the bell and the horses will come running.

    • That’s a great solution for bringing the horses in for feeding time. But, when you need to catch an individual horse, and don’t want all to come running, then you have to have other training going on as well. I’m teaching Tonka to “come,” just like I’d train a dog to do a recall. When I go to the pasture, I want just Tonka to come, and not his paddock-mate. Besides, if I ever fall off on the trail, this is going to be very useful – I’d rather not walk home!