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Working With A Barn Sour Horse - Part Two

By Jeffrey Rolo

In the first part of Working With A Barn Sour Horse we looked at some of the common mistakes people make when working with barn sour or herd bound horses. We now continue where the previous article left off…

Feeding After Returning – When our horse does a great job we love nothing more than to reward him for his cooperation and loyalty, which in itself is a wonderful sentiment. We should reward our equine partners for a job well done! Unfortunately one of the common ways horse owners will reward their horse is with a portion of sweet feed, and this is where good intentions can eventually create bad results.

You need to find a balance whereby you can reward your horse for a job well done without setting up a situation where your horse actually anticipates the pending rewards. Rewards should be spontaneous and unpredictable in nature (excluding a good shoulder rub and reassuring words, which a horse can never have enough of), because if your horse comes to expect a certain result upon the completion of his ride he may look forward to that completion too much!

Before you know it your horse may start racing home knowing that a dose of sweet feed will be waiting for him!

So what are some ways to help discourage horses from behaving in a barn sour manner? Well, some good tips were interlaced with the common mistake explanations, but let's look at some resolutions in a more direct manner.

Make Home Less Attractive

One reason horses become barn sour is because they view home as a place of rest and relaxation whereas the trail ride means work. To combat this view make sure you work your horse at the stable regularly, as well as work your horse right after a trail ride concludes.

Most horse owners will immediately dismount a horse, remove his tack and set him free upon the conclusion of trail ride, and while this is absolutely fine for a well-trained and respectful horse, it's the last thing you want to do if your horse is barn sour!

Once you return home from a trail ride take your horse into the arena and work him for a considerable amount of time. Don't run him ragged; just prevent him from becoming too comfortable. When you have finished with your arena work bring him to some crossties, tie him and consider leaving him there for a couple minutes. Return in a bit, remove his tack and then let him stand there some more.

If the above actions seem like they are designed to annoy the horse… well, they are! They are painless and gentle ways to:

bulletDisconnect the "home equals reward" mentality
bulletShow the horse that you are his leader and will call the shots

Just Ride On By

Most of the time when we finish a trail ride we will head back home and immediately walk up the driveway or return path leading to the stable. If your horse is barn sour then try not to do that; instead upon your return home walk right on by the driveway and continue your ride. Do this several times until you are certain that you (not your horse) are ready to finally return home.

One of the reasons a barn sour horse speeds up his pace when he's heading back in a homeward direction is he's anticipating his return to the stable. When he finds that the homeward direction means little since the journey just continues right on by the stable in the opposite direction, he may eventually cease his quickened pace since he'll have no idea when the ride really does end. A homeward direction no longer equals a return home.

And now the key solution to remedying a barn sour horse…

Establish A Bond Of Respect!

When you get down to the crux of the matter you'll see that a horse is barn sour or herd bound because he does not respect you as a strong and reliable leader. Until your horse views you as his alpha leader he will continue to cling to the comforts of home or the security of an equine buddy. He needs to see that you control his comfort and that you are his security.

Consider dropping trail rides altogether for a while and work in the round pen or arena day after day until the horse fully trusts in you and looks towards you for direction. If you cannot keep the horse's focus on you in the round pen you will certainly not be able to direct his focus on the trail.

Bad habits can be incredibly difficult to break, so if you have inherited a barn sour horse I do not recommend trying to fight it out on the trail with him. Earning a horse's respect is far easier on the floor of a round pen than the back of a horse, not to mention far less dangerous. It may take days, weeks or even months to turn a barn sour horse around, but once your horse has enough respect and confidence in you as his leader, chances are very high you'll get through to him.

Just be patient and take it slow. Understand that in the horse world blunt force means very little, whereas respect and security mean everything. Redirect his other sources of respect and security (such as a horse buddy) towards you and you'll be well on your way to making him a perfect riding horse. Just expect to put in some hard hours of work in obtaining that goal.

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