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.

— It is rarely effective to discipline a sour horse for his behavior. If a horse has come to resent riding, punishing them aboard only reinforces this conviction. Instead, try finding an easy activity they enjoy and rewarding them for their cooperation. Once you've gained a rapport, reintroduce them to the discipline training in lighter doses and with greater rewards for their achievements.

— Horses that have turned sour rarely become standout competitors (unless you change their career to something they learn to enjoy), nor fun pleasure horses. If your aim is to put them back into the routine that created their sour nature (unless this is due to pain you address and correct), you are likely to be disappointed. Consider a different project if your aim is to have fun with this horse.

— Find some riding activity that's really fun for your sour horse and reward him with this after every positive response to a lesson (this could be trail riding, jumping, riding with a companion horse, going fast, going slow, a long rein, a swim in a pond each horse is different and you need to figure out what makes your horse happiest).

— Know when to call it quits. Sour horses are some of the toughest to turn and sometimes there is no reward for the effort. If you come to hate riding or working with this horse, it may be time to say goodbye. Quality of life (yours and theirs) is something worth considering with these projects.

Nanette Levin publishes the "Horse Sense and Cents" series and has been horsing around for over forty years. Check out her blog: or visit for horse training tips.