Creating a Willing Partner: The Story of a Sour Horse

by Nanette Levin,

There are a number of circumstances that can make a horse sour. It's important to be creative and responsive in how you approach the training and communication regimen.

Patience was the ideal, but frustration sometimes turned to stupidity. Carrying a crop was essential for achieving any gait faster than the walk – and sometimes a halt – using it in any way other than a gentle tap on the shoulder was a mistake.

Interestingly, we found him much more comfortable and cooperative with a repeated routine vs. a more dynamic and exciting workout. We routinely spent each day covering the same ground.

We're Making Progress

Every day we'd trek up the hill, at a walk initially until we hit the point in the trail where he was willing to trot. Then down the slope to the designated field. If we asked him too soon, he'd plant himself and we'd spend a half hour asking and waiting for him to proceed. Every second turn around the field, he'd slam on the brakes prior to galloping. His behavior was tough on the rider's back, but certainly predictable. Accepting his demands in exchange for compliance with our requests became a daily requirement to getting this stud ready to race.

Studley was tough but he was trainable. If a groom led us twenty feet past the clocker's stand, he'd plant himself but ultimately proceed, particularly if a horse passed him and he had a hind end to focus on.

He ran second in each of his five allowance races during the latter part of the season, and headed south to Florida for the winter with a younger trainer, a different set of grooms, and a new exercise rider.

Practical Advice for Sour Equines

— Rule out physical issues that may be causing pain and the horse's associated frustration in his failure to communicate.

— Do not continue to push a sore horse, or you will only make him more sour and could turn him mean. Give him the help and the time required to heal prior to resuming training.

— Figure out whether routine or varied activities are the preference of your sour horse and give him what makes him happiest.

— Be patient, flexible, and accommodating with a sour horse when their behavior is justified. Conversely, if you've taught a horse to be sour by rewarding bad behavior, resolve to stop the pattern or get some help.

— Try getting a horse out of the routine with some fun activities, trail rides, and long walks if his sour behavior is likely due to too much of the same grind. Some sour horses will bounce back pretty quickly once relieved of the drill that has made them bored and cranky.

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