Horses who throw a fit every time you try to leave the barn by refusing, turning back, or even rearing are barn sour and rather be at the comfort of the barn or with his buddies instead of riding with you. Horses can also exhibit a barn sour habit by rushing toward the barn on your way back from a trail ride. Here I will give you some exercises to cure your horse’s barn sour behaviors.
Horses are lazy by nature; they much rather rest at the barn or where ever they are kept with their pasture mates, than work in the arena or on the trail. Horses want to put in the least amount of effort whenever possible, this actually works out quite well for us as riders and trainers as all horse training is making the wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. With good horsemanship and regular training your horse will learn to be content where ever he is.
Pressure and Release
The key to teaching a barn sour horse is to give him a reason to want to leave. We do that by pressure and release, making your horse work hard near the barn and letting him rest away from it. Ask your horse to work by the barn, pasture, or wherever he wants to be by riding circles at a trot. While on the circle, bump your horse’s sides with your heels or rhythmically tap him lightly with a crop behind your leg. The idea is to make the horse feel uncomfortable not to make him run or panic. Use the correct amount of pressure for your particular horse. When the horse starts to spiral away from the barn, do one more turn until his nose is pointing in the direction you want to travel in. Let him walk forward on a loose rein and stop tapping or bumping with your legs.
If he is a very hot and sensitive type you will only need to apply a little bit of pressure. Slight bumping with your legs may be enough, while a lazy horse may need sharp taps with the whip. Adjust the amount of pressure to your horse. If the horse continues to make the same mistake and come back to the barn add more pressure until you see better results. Circle equally in both directions or use this exercise to supple a horse on his stiff side by bending him more in that direction. Supplying 70 percent of the time on his stiff side and 40 percent of the time on his soft side is a good way to make your horse equal on both sides.
When you walk away from the barn with no pressure the horse learns that going away from the barn is better then rushing toward it or refusing to leave. Walk only as far away as your horse will let you at first. Don’t try to steer your horse; give him plenty of rein and allow him to turn around and head back to the barn. Wait until he gets all the way back to the place he wants to be before putting pressure on him by asking him to work. Once he gets away from the barn let him stop and rest. It is important to stop the horse before he decides to turn back. Let him rest for about five minutes on a loose rein. Slowly build up the distance that your horse will travel willingly away. If he tries to go back to the barn before that time allow him to and just put him right back to work. Don’t get frustrated, a horse that has had this habit for years may take a few weeks before he leaves the barn willingly every time.
Continue bringing him back and forth from the barn, increasing your distance until you can ride him easily in the arena or down the trail and back. Remember to work your horse for a few minutes when you return to the barn. Then tie him for ten to twenty minutes at least to teach the horse patience.
One of the worst things we can do after a ride is to immediately unsaddle our horse, put him up, and feed him. When you do that you are telling the horse that the barn is the best place to be. Right when I get off my horse after each ride I will loosen the girth a little while I am still away from the barn or in the arena. I also like to take the saddle off in the arena away from the gate or where ever your horse’s magnets are. This teaches the horse that he will get a reward after a good ride instead of when we get back to the barn.
I also like to tie up my horses for an hour or so after a ride as well. This teaches the horse patience, lets him think about his lesson, and makes it clear to him that he won’t go right back to his stall or pasture after each ride. It’s a good idea to mix up what you do with your horse after a ride. Sometimes I will turn a horse out in a dry lot or round pen afterward instead of putting him back in his stall or pasture. I also will tie a horse up while I ride another. Remember, the key to this exercise is to make the horse work at the barn and rest away from it.