I started having trouble catching Clay a few months ago. He thought it was a fun game to run around as fast as he could in the pasture, traumatizing his poor pasture-mate, whenever I would approach with halter in hand. It was not amusing AT ALL.
I thought about paying for him to be on indoor board, so that he would get into the routine of coming into the barn every day. But that would have been stressful for him because there are currently no other horses on indoor board at our barn, and we all know how horses feel about being the only one in the barn...
So I decided that I would start feeding him his nighttime meal every day, rather than relying on the barn owner to do it. Since I'm usually at the barn M-F to give lessons, it was fairly easy for me to execute this plan. I started out by just going into his paddock with the bucket of grain and standing there with it until he approached (veeeeery suspiciously at first).
I let him eat while I annoyed him by petting his neck. Once he tolerated that, I started bringing the halter in with me when I would feed him. He did not like that at all.
And once he stopped giving the halter the evil eye and flinching every time I would move my hands, I started putting the halter on him while he ate and would take it off once he was done. The first time I did this I actually had to put the nose band of the halter in the bucket so that when he went down in the bucket to eat, he put his nose into the halter. In one quick movement I pushed the halter up onto his face and had him.
After a week and a half of this song and dance, he is much easier to catch, thank god.
Here's the thing: I used to make sure to balance out our hard training rides with "fun" activities (trail rides, grooming, grazing, and liberty play) all the time, but since having a baby I just haven't had time to do that "extra" stuff. Whenever I get the opportunity to ride (not often enough), I feel the need to work our dressage stuff. Clay likes to work, but clearly he was expressing his opinion about the fact that lately our time together has been all work and no play. Sorry, Clay...I will be better about this going forward.
The not-so-unexpected perk of all this? I like being the one to feed my horse every day. I like that he waits at the gate for me now, and looks at me eagerly. Yes, I am aware I am buying his love, but love is love.
Moral of the story: Riding your horse isn't enough. A positive, trusting, balanced relationship between horse and human requires time, patience, food, play, rides, and time. I said time twice on purpose. ;)