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Solving My Difficult To Catch Horse With R+

My only regret is that I didn’t teach haltering this way sooner!

Fourteen years of always having to chase Jade with a halter in order to catch her, was solved in only a few months with R+…

Up until recently, Jade had been difficult to catch. She is very sensitive and was extremely reactive as a young horse. It didn’t take much for her to go over threshold into a flight reaction. Originally when she arrived fourteen years ago just seeing the halter, or any kind of rope was enough for her to go over threshold and high tail it away.  

I had worked with difficult to catch horses before and had always found that if you did something nice for them after catching them, they would change their tune and become easy to catch pretty quickly. Something nice being, scratching them where they were itchy, feeding them their daily concentrates, or sometimes just a small treat was enough.

Of course there is always someone who doesn’t fit into the mold… That someone was Jade…

Unfortunately, nothing I had done before worked for Jade. As soon as she saw the halter she was gone. I would always follow her around, and eventually she would give up. I would catch her, and then give her a reward to hopefully make it easier next time. It never really worked. The best I got was her only walking away from me for a distance before she would finally stop. It was a hard-won improvement, but still not great. I accomplished this by using the traditional method of desensitization to get her over her fear of ropes, and I made sure to never let her “get away”. If I went out with the halter, I always caught her.

Then we had the worst case scenario. It was absolutely terrifying, and once everyone was caught and safe, extremely embarrassing…

One occasion was particularly embarrassing, I had just moved to the place where I live now. We didn’t have any solid fencing in place to keep the horses in. I had set up a paddock with electric fence. The paddock was full of grass, and Jade had experienced electric fences before, so I figured she wouldn’t go through it. She isn’t the kind of horse that will pressure a fence anyways. Her companion at the time was a Welsh Pony named Enzo. The paddock was behind a half-finished garage at the base of a steep hill. The very first evening that I had the horses at my new place a Raven flew into the half-finished garage. My husband Joel ran at the Raven to try and get it to leave. Jade was on the other side of the Raven. She thought Joel was running at her, and immediately tensed up ready to run. Then the Raven swooped over her… It was too much for her and she bolted right through the electric fence, and disappeared up the hill into the forest. Enzo went with her. At this point I was panicked thinking she was lost forever.

Tracking Jade and Enzo through the forest trying to catch up with them was a challenge in itself!

We followed their tracks up the hill through the bush until they hit a hiking trail. They then followed that trail, and ended up on the highway. Once I got to the highway my phone was ringing. I guess they ran past the weight scales. The people working the scale immediately phoned everyone in town who had horses and let them know that there were horses on the highway. Jade and Enzo ran past the RCMP and right into town. So, then we had every horse person trying to catch them, along with the RCMP, a Fire Truck, and every person whose yard they had galloped through. There wasn’t a fence in sight!!  At one point Jade was in a yard that backed onto a lake. I was trying my hardest to get close enough to get a halter on her, but she was determined to not be caught. She eventually jumped into the lake and began swimming away… (She loves to swim).

At this point I’m wondering if I will need a boat to catch Jade…

Fortunately, Enzo was not interested in swimming, and by this point his fat pony self was thinking that he was done with running. He walked right up to my friend Emily who quickly put his halter on. Once he was caught Jade promptly swam back to shore, got out of the lake, and walked up to me, I put her halter on, and all three of us walked home in shame.  After thanking everyone for helping of course.   

It took a while to get the courage to train Jade to self-halter… but eventually I did!

After that day I got a proper fence built! Jade getting out has been a worry in the back of my mind ever since. Originally, I learned R+ in order to work with Fox better. Once I saw how amazing it was with Fox, I applied it to my other horses as well. With Jade I have been progressively switching her over from an R-/R+ mix to as pure R+ as possible. The behaviour I was most curious about, and most sure wouldn’t work was haltering. I avoided teaching her to self-halter for a long time. One day I got the courage to fail and decided that I should just go for it.

I began the process slowly, and took extremely small steps…

I started really easy. First just carrying Jade’s halter where she could see it whenever I was giving her, her vitamins. Then I brought it into our training sessions. I started far enough away from her that I could lift it and she wouldn’t move away. Then I would lift the halter and immediately throw food into her bucket (positioned right in front of her), eventually I was able to move the halter right next to her, and she wouldn’t get stressed or move away. Next, I taught her to target the halter. Then to lower her head and place her nose in the nose band. Pretty soon she was self-haltering. Then I would present the halter a few steps away so that she would have to walk up to me and self-halter, again she willingly did it. Then I got her used to the lead rope by teaching her to target it, and then placing it on her neck. Again, she accepted it. Then I put them together.

At first I started easy, then when that was going well I began increasing the difficulty, here she is targeting the halter while I hold it open…
Next step was to shape the behaviour until she would put her nose into the nose band…
Then I shaped her putting her nose further into the nose band, this is essential the self-haltering behaviour…

The final sequence looks similar to what I did before. The only difference is that it works way better…

Now the sequence is me entering her paddock with a halter and lead. I hold it up, she walks over, she targets the halter, I toss the lead around her neck, I present the halter (the cue for self-haltering), and she self-halters. I did this first in the arena, then I practiced it in many locations, she is happy and willing to self-halter every single time. Now when I go into the paddock with her halter she walks right up to me with confidence. I no longer have to follow her around, and hope that she will allow me to catch her.  Below is a couple of clips pulled off of a reel that I did for Instagram. You can see the entire sequence…

Next I practiced this in many different locations so that Jade would generalize the behaviour to anywhere. This way if she ever gets out again I shouldn’t be chasing her through the forest and all over town!

R+ Worked far better than anything I had tried before. Figuring this out has been a huge relief…

My only regret is not discovering this sooner!! It would have saved me a lot of stress. I used to worry not only about her getting out, but I would stress about not being able to catch her and missing appointments. We never did miss an appointment, but I would often go out and catch her way too early just in-case she decided to be especially elusive!  

Not only is R+ effective, it is the only thing that changed my difficult to catch horse into the kind of horse that walks up when she sees her halter. I tried a lot of things before. Absolutely nothing worked as well as R+. I am absolutely never going back to the traditional way of training.

If you’re also struggling with a difficult to catch horse and are interested in R+ but don’t know how to go about it, feel free to reach out to me! I would love to help you make a training plan!!!

Have A Lovely Day!

Courtney

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