Steven M. Jones, Extension Horse Specialist, University of Arkansas
Catching a horse safely and correctly is not so simple. Horses have keen sight and hearing and are sensitive to human touch.
Catching a horse calls for approaching the animal and properly placing the halter on the its head, following these stages:
Catching begins by getting the halter and lead rope ready prior to entering the stall, pasture or paddock where the horse is located. Get ready by:
This is the most important part of catching. If the horse is not approached calmly and confidently, it will be hard to catch. Approach the horse safely to avoid getting hurt. The horse can’t see an object closer than 4 feet in front of its face or an object directly behind the hindquarters, commonly known as the blind spot. The horse is especially sensitive to touch around the ears, eyes and nose. Care should be taken in approaching these areas. The approach is divided into five steps:
Approach Safety Precautions
Speaking to the horse is reassuring to the animal and ensures that it sees the person approaching.
The halter is in the left hand. The right hand is at the poll holding the lead rope to keep control of the horse. Move the halter under the horse’s neck so the right hand can grab the crownpiece and place it over the poll. Then slide the noseband up and over the horse’s nose. Finish by fastening the crownpiece to the buckle on the halter. Be sure the noseband of the halter is about 1 1/2 inches from the cheekbone.
It is important to lead a horse correctly to keep control of it and avoid being run over or stepped on. To lead a horse, take a position on its left side, between the head and shoulder. Have the right hand on the lead rope about 8 to 10 inches below the snap. Keep some slack in the lead rope so the horse can carry its head in a natural position. The left hand holds the extra lead rope folded in a figure eight.
To move the horse forward, give a slight pull on the lead rope in a forward direction. At the same time, give a low clucking sound, then stop pulling as the horse steps forward. Using light pressure, continue pulling and releasing until the horse is moving steadily. Think of releasing as a reward for the horse complying with your request. The horse should walk or trot alongside the person, not behind. It should not lead the person. To stop the horse, pull with the right hand and lead rope back toward the horse’s chest, stop walking and say “whoa.” Do not pull down on the lead rope because this pulls the horse’s head down and out of position.
Once the horse is caught, tie the horse to something that is safe, secure and solid. Use the quick-release knot, and tie it so the knot is at least as high as the horse’s withers. In all cases, the safety of the horse will depend on its willingness to stand when tied. The first lessons in tying horses should be provided by a 4-H leader, trainer another experienced handler.
Cues are the signals by which the rider tells the horse what to do. They are signals which the horse must be taught to understand and obey. These are natural cues — hands, legs, seat or weight and voice. No special equipment like whips or spurs is required.
The hands communicate the rider’s commands to a well-trained horse by applying pressure or contact to the horse’s mouth. The horse can respond in several different ways, depending on the kind of pressure or contact. The hands can ask the horse to stop, help control the horse’s speed or ask the horse to turn.
Riders may have heavy hands, passive hands or controlled hands.
The rider’s legs communicate motion to the horse. Squeezing with both lower legs will make the horse go forward. If the horse is properly trained, leg pressure, combined with proper contact on the horse’s mouth, will produce the following types of movements:
Slight shifts in the rider’s weight help the horse in going forward, backing or sidepassing. When the rider’s weight shifts slightly forward, this helps the horse in moving forward. If the rider’s weight shifts slightly back, this helps the horse in backing. It is important to learn how to sit naturally and softly and to use body movements in harmony with the movements of the horse. Remember to use only slight shifts in body movement, not exaggerated weight shifts that may throw the horse off balance.
The horse will also learn to respond to voice cues such as “walk,” “jog” (trot), “lope” (canter) and “whoa.” It is important to use the voice quietly but firmly. The horse has a very good sense of hearing, so never yell or scream. The noise may frighten it.
Always apply the lightest possible cue that will get the horse to respond. Do not jerk the horse’s mouth or kick the horse’s sides. The cues applied on a trained horse should be almost invisible to the observer but clear and definite to the horse. Each cue should include the complete harmony of the rider’s hands, legs, seat and voice. For the best performance from the horse, all cues are properly timed together, not each one by itself.
To get the horse to walk:
Once the horse is walking:
To get the horse to jog or trot:
Once the horse is jogging or trotting:
To get the horse to lope or canter in the balance, it must be on the correct lead. A horse that is circling to the left (counterclockwise) must be on the left lead. A horse circling to the right (clockwise) must be on the right lead.
To get the horse to lope or canter on the left lead:
To get the horse to lope or canter on the right lead:
Once the horse is loping or cantering: