The answer depends on the situation. Here are some scenarios and how to handle them:
At the stable. Nothing can disrupt the quiet atmosphere of a stable like a horse that has gotten away from his handler. The cry “loose horse!” makes humans come to attention.
For some reason, when a horse gets loose at a boarding stable, the other horses act like prisoners witnessing a jailbreak. No matter how small their stalls, they’ll buck, whinny and race around, almost like they are cheering on the fugitive. If you see a horse running free, yell “loose horse!” as loud as you can to warn everyone.
Assuming the culprit isn’t your horse, but you’re leading, riding or standing next to your own horse when the culprit gets loose, your horse is probably going to react with excitement when he discovers what’s happening. Stop and dismount, or untie your horse quickly. Hold on to your horse tightly and be prepared for some dancing around.
If the escaped horse is yours, resist the urge to chase him. Chasing a horse only makes him run away from you with increasing speed. This is when you find out that a horse can run faster than you.
Instead, walk slowly in the direction your horse ran to see where he’s gone. Most escaped horses in a familiar setting don’t go far — usually to the nearest food source. If you find the horse stopped somewhere to eat, speak softly and approach slowly toward his shoulder, placing a lead rope around his neck to secure him. Remember not to give off any vibes that you’re angry or anxious— if you do, the horse won’t let you get close.
If the loose horse is not eating but just milling around, get a handful of hay or a carrot and slowly walk in his direction. After the horse sees you, stand still and offer him the food in an outstretched hand as you speak softly to him. Most horses are more than happy to exchange their newfound freedom for a bite of something tasty. While the sellout is happily munching away, slowly place a lead rope around his neck.
If the escapee has stopped to eat, but takes off again when he sees you approaching, you need the help of one or two other people. Arm yourselves with halters and lead ropes, and walk in different directions with the idea of surrounding him by blocking all his exits. Most horses will realize their defeat and allow themselves to be caught.
On the trail. If you or a buddy comes off a horse while on a trail ride, hopefully the horse will just stop and eat so you can easily retrieve him. But sometimes horses take off like a bat out of hell, and you have no idea where they went. Finding a loose horse in this situation can be a real challenge. If your horse knows his way home, you may find him back at the barn. Or, he may seek out other horses and end up with another group of riders or at a stabling area near the trail. If you can’t find him in a reasonable amount of time, contact your local police and let them know your horse has gotten loose. Use social media to get the word out in the area that your horse has gone AWAL.
On the street. Not all trail rides take place in the woods. If you ride on bridle paths or along roadsides, you know how scary it can be to see a loose horse. Usually the result of a rider being unseated, these scenarios are particularly dangerous because the horse could end up in traffic.
Many horses who get loose in this situation will stop at the first nice piece of grass to eat, and can be quietly approached. Some horses are panicked because their rider came off, spooking them into running blindly down the street. These horses are in the most danger of colliding with a car, and are the hardest to catch. In this situation, it’s best to get in a vehicle and slowly follow the horse until he grows tired, slows down and eventually stops to eat.
No matter what the situation when a horse gets loose, be sure to stay calm and cool. Panic will make it harder for you to think, and won’t help you convince the wayward horse to give up his freedom.