Sue Rawding, breeder and show producer on the art to catching.
“Some people are good at it and some people aren’t – you’ve got to be a bit of a psychologist.
“You need to go into the field with a relaxed, confident attitude. It’s important to be calm about it; sometimes, we have students who march in with ropes and headcollars, push the feed scoop out in front of them and wonder why the horses take off as soon as they see them.
“Walk in casually and don’t look the horse in the eye. Stop every now and again, pick a bit of grass, then go a bit farther and pick a bit more. The horse will become curious, and once he’s interested, you’re halfway there.”
Sue and her husband, John, run Church Farm Stud at Leighton Buzzard, Beds. Two of their show horses, the former Cob of the Year, Kilkenny Marble, and the hunter Reassurance can test unwary catchers.
“One wet September, Marble was in a field that had flooded,” she recalls. “A lad working here at the time went to catch him, but every time he got near him, Marble went into deeper water and splashed him. John was watching this and when he’d stopped laughing, called Marble, who trotted straight up to him – he has a sense of humour and knows when he can get away with things.
“Reassurance will play games and walk away, but if I don’t look at him and pick up and drop the nuts in the scoop, he always decides to have a look.”
Difficult horses are turned out in headcollars with 4ins loops on the back so that the rope can be quietly clipped on. “Never get hold of the headcollar quickly,” advises Sue, “because some horses will go up and take you with them.”
Horses are always rewarded with food so that they associate being caught with something pleasant. If a horse is difficult, Sue says it is worth spending time catching it, rewarding it and then walking away so that being caught does not automatically mean work.
“If a horse is really difficult, you might have to catch everything else in the field so that it doesn’t want to be left alone. If we get a difficult mare who has a special friend, we often find that if we catch the friend, we can catch her.”
Catching your horse can sometimes solve only part of the problem.
“There are some horses you can’t safely bring in on a headcollar,” says Sue. “You need to lead them in a bridle to have control and I always wear gloves. And if a horse is likely to try to charge off as soon as you reach the field, it’s safer to slip the rope through the headcollar rather than clip it on.”