Dealing with a Barn Sour Horse

Horses are very, very social animals. They bond quickly to a horse that represents an alpha horse -- the one they would let direct their existence. The barn sour horse is the one that is reluctant to leave the barn or be separated from the horse they have bonded with, he usually constantly tries to turn back.

barn-sour-horseWhen returning from a ride a barn sour horse gets excited to the point that it is difficult to hold them. The term “barn sour” is not the term of preference when it comes to this kind of behavior. Trainer Pat Parelli says “It is more barn ‘sweet’. The horse in question loves the barn. The stable means company, comfort, food, water, and rest. Saddling up means work.”

You can’t blame the horse, given reverse roles you would probably prefer the great life that exists in the barn as well. While riding, if he starts exhibiting this kind of behavior, whipping, spurring and jerking him around will just confirm his opinion that being home is preferable to being ridden. As Tom Dorrance says, “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.”

With that in mind, let’s get down to curing and eventually preventing this irritating preference of his. In other words, “let’s play his game and beat him at it.”

Start with making the ride pleasurable and different everytime you go out. Vary the places you ride and surprise him with allowing him to graze or give him treats when you temporarily stop for a rest, but don’t do this in the same spot or at the same approximate time during the ride. Stagger it to avoid him anticipating when these rewards will come. You can even use this strategy with regards to giving him water. All of this serves to convince him that “all good things aren’t always at home.”

We as owners and riders are too often the blame for a lot of ill-mannered ways. After a ride, we almost always immediately unsaddle, water, feed, groom and finally provide companionship which reinforces their desire to stay ‘home’. Why not keep him tacked up for about a half hour or longer? Tie him and let him stand for a bit. After a ride, go to the round pen (if you have one) and put him through a workout for 15-30 minutes. His muscles are warmed up already from the ride, so it’s the perfect time.

You will soon start to see a change in him, one that says, “Gee I’m glad to see ya, take me out, it’s hard work being at home.” Remember in this case, DON’T be consistent. Never let him learn a routine. Always keep him guessing.