In all aspects of horsemanship, horses know when we know, and they know when we don't know. Skills like catching a horse carry over to riding. If we have the confidence gained from skillfully catching a horse, and if we're already acting like "thinking horsemen," we're well on the way to becoming better riders.
These basic tasks will also give you a good reality check. If none of your horses want to be caught, that might be telling you something. Or if you can't saddle your horse while he's untied, you might not be ready to go round up cattle. You need to develop a solid foundation.
Let's say I have a horse in the pasture that I know I can't catch. I won't even go out there and try it, because that would just teach him to get away from me. I'll go get a saddle horse and bring the horses in to a smaller enclosure, or I might even use grain to make that horse want to be with me.
But with a horse that I have a chance with, I'll think about catching his front feet. I don't even think about the rest of the horse. I'm just trying to herd those two front feet to a stop. I position myself in front of the horse, and if he starts moving his head one way or another, or if he lightens up a front foot, I'll block his movement.
You can't play too close to the net, because it's easier for the horse to get ahead of you. If you're just a split second too late, he is gone, and that's when he learns he can escape.
I want to get him thinking about getting "heavy on his front feet," where he's not shifting the weight off either foot in preparation to step off. When that happens, I'll approach. If he starts to un-weight a foot, then I back up and block him.
Before long, he'll decide that I've got him figured out, and he'll let me approach.
Whether it's in the pasture or in the stall, horses are sizing us up as we approach. They're reading us, so we always have to be reading them to stay a step ahead.
I'm constantly reading my horse as I'm saddling him.
The important thing to remember is that any time we have contact with our horses, we are training them--even as we walk up to them in the pasture or approach them with a saddle.
So if all these simple interactions are so important, how do we know if we're making mistakes? After all, our habits are ingrained, and a lot of times we don't realize exactly what we're doing.
I think videos are the answer. Have someone videotape you catching your horse, saddling and getting on. You'll be able to catch your own mistakes.
Another good tool is to sit down and write about how to catch a horse. It will really make you break things down in your own mind and think it out.
And that's really what I'm encouraging folks to do: to be thinking horsemen.
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