So, how do we catch those hard to catch buggars? I prefer to start with the ignoring method, which works on the very curious nature of most horses. Going into the horse's pen or stall, you essentially ignore the horse until he or she becomes curious and starts approaching you. Some other methods which have value are -- if you want to catch the horse at feeding time, keeping the horse away from where he or she is used to being fed until the horse submits to being caught; making the horse work when they evade being caught (not recommended, for obvious reasons, when you have a horse that's fear motivated); using another horse as cover to show that hard to catch beast it's safe (yes, I am being facetious...don't shoot me) or using the catch-pen method. I'm not a fan of using treats for this purpose, or using a bucket of grain, though in the past I have done both.
Any of the above methods will work, but keep in mind as I mentioned above, patience is key and waiting for the horse to relax, become receptive and submit is the only way to teach him or her everything is okay. You also want to continue stressing a firm (albeit quiet) 'Whoa' command whenever the horse stops and stands still during this type of training, followed immediately by a great deal of praise. Once the horse has stood still, you'll approach. If the horse tries to evade, you must make a split second decision whether to back away, work the horse by blocking or utilize another tactic. Timing is essential. And so much depends on the horse's state of mind.
After you've caught the horse and established trust, been able to halter the horse and begin instilling the 'Whoa' command, comes another of the most difficult parts of dealing with hard to catch horses and most significant aspects of good ground manners -- unhaltering. One of my biggest pet peeves is the horse that will pull away as you are taking off the halter. Not only is this dangerous to the person who has to handle the horse, it can also be dangerous to the horse if, for instance, they run off before the halter is completely unbuckled or untied. This, again, is where 'Whoa' command training becomes essential. I insist the horse stand completely still during the entire time I am unbuckling or untying the halter. If that horse pulls away, he or she is immediately re-caught and we repeat the entire process until the horse acquiesces. This is an example of the importance of 'Whoa', which I cannot stress enough.
I always want to be the first to disengage, or walk away, after taking off the halter. This is another vital part of foundational ground manners training. Once a horse has gotten away with leaving first, they tend to push that envelope until you have a horse who resorts to that pulling away I brought up above. Too many people have been trampled or dragged by a horse with poor ground manners. All of this is the gateway to creating a willing and responsive partner under saddle. These exercises and this type of training is even more important with a horse you're intending to train for driving (pulling a cart or buggy).
We'll revisit this topic again at another time, where I'll continue to discuss the mechanics of how to train your horses so they are well mannered and easy to handle on the ground. If you take just one thing away from this article, it should be that a horse with impeccable ground manners is a safe horse and one that will have a useful life as a partner.