How to Catch a Horse on Pasture

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  1998 Cherry Hill

How To Think
Like A Horse
Trailering Your Horse
101 Longeing and
Long Lining Exercises
Longeing and Long Lining
the English and Western Horse
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill
How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hill
Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill
101 Longeing and Long Lining Exeercises
Longeing and Long Lining the Western Horse
Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry Hill


Dear Cherry Hill,

     I have recently been presented with two problems I am not sure how to handle. I do not own my own horse.  I am fortunate enough to be able to ride a friend's horse because she doesn't ride her much.

     The horse I ride is a 22 y.o. mare who was trained as a show horse and who was rescued by my friend from very inhumane conditions.  Mary Lou is a sensitive and Spunky horse who has also developed some bad manners over the years.  I am only able to ride her once a week which means I probably only spend 4 hours with her a week.  You can probably sense that this may be a problem in and of itself.  I am not a very experienced horseperson although it has been a passion all my life, if only in my daydreams and playtime!  I am realizing now with my new situation that going to camps and saving my allowance to rent horses every weekend as a child/pre-teen is not the same as owning and caring for and disciplining and training and riding your own horse!  There are many, many things you cannot learn unless you handle the details of owning a horse from beginning to end.

     Recently my friend put Mary Lou (and her other horse) out to pasture on a neighbor's property.  This neighbor has two horses that are also out in the pasture.  I recently embarked on my first trip to retrieve Mary Lou from the pasture.  The first thing that happened was that I found myself surrounded by the other three horses, who were nipping at each other and Mary Lou.  I remained calm and grounded and safely lead her out of the gate, but I realized that this was a potentially hazardous situation.  I am comfortable with Mary Lou's stablemate, but not with the other two horses, who are not exactly placid and dull.  (They are beautiful Appaloosas.)  My first question is: How do I safely retrieve her from the pasture under these circumstances?  (I may want to note here that I took carrots out to the pasture for the horses and perhaps that was not wise and not helpful in that situation.)

     After I got Mary Lou out the gate and heading toward her stable, she started screaming loud and hard and turning back toward the pasture.  She was jumpy and tense.  She usually does not like to be taken from her stablemate, but she has never acted as intensely as this time.  She continued this behavior the entire time I had her away from the pasture and her pals.  I was able to ride her and she behaved fairly well, but I am hoping there is a way to calm her down and discipline her appropriately so she will not think I condone this behavior.  So, my second question is: How do I appropriately discipline her throwing such a fit and how do I help her to calm down and trust that I am not going to ruin her life by taking her away from her friends for a few hours?

Thanks,   Deb

Hi Deb,

     Thanks for you well presented question.  

     First, there is no "safe" way for one person to get a horse out of a group on a pasture.  It is risky no matter which horses are in the group and no matter who goes to get them.  That's because the horses have been interacting via horse behavior modes for hours or days and all of a sudden a human comes into the picture.  Now, even if the horses are "well trained", they still are horses in a herd with a pecking order (dominance hierarchy) so depending which horse you take out (top or bottom on totem pole or somewhere in between) will dictate how the rest of the horses will interact.

     As you discovered, taking food out with you only intensifies competitive behavior so is not a good idea.

     Ideally, two or more people should go out so that while one halters the horse that is wanted, the others can "run interference" which might just mean standing in a certain position to keep you safe while you halter and then lead out and to help you get out the gate safely. As far as the herd bound behavior the horse exhibited once you started taking her away from the herd, once again, this is a very common problem because horses are social creatures with strong herd ties and once horses are turned out on pasture together, they really can form strong bonds.  Herd bound or buddy bound is very similar to barn sour (the attachment is to a horse, or herd or barn with horses in it) so be sure to read the 2 articles on my site about barn sour behavior.

     You probably already suspect that your 4 hours a week with this horse compared to the 164 hours a week she spends with the herd just isn't going to stack the deck in your favor.

     That's why, if at all possible, if you can spend more time regularly, such as taking her out at feeding time, bringing her up to the barn and feeding her (reward away from the group!), then grooming and riding, she will begin to form a bond with you.  As it is, she is anxious because her security and daily routines are more connected to the horses left on the pasture.

     I keep all of my horses in separate pastures or pens. They are fed individually and worked individually.  Occasionally they are turned out with mates for exercise and grazing but I usually change who goes out with who and when and in which pasture just to keep them from getting too attached to any horse or routine.

     I hope this gives you some insight.  I know that you are trying to work in your situation the best you can.  Good luck

  1998-2007 Cherry Hill 

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