If you’ve ridden a horse that acted up when you asked them to go away from the barn, then you have experienced a barn sour horse. Being barn sour is not only a potentially dangerous habit, it’s also one of the hardest vices to cure. A horse can be broke of the habit or behavior, but frankly the potential to regress is always there and requires maintenance instead of a training session.
The barn is the place where a horse gets attention and rest. It’s also the place where they usually get to quit. If your horse is stalled it’s also the place where they get fed.
On the flip side, the arena or trail is the place where they normally have to work. When they get to those places they’re automatically asked to work. They’re either asked to stand still while mounted for riding or they’re asked to lunge.
When you look at these two locations in this basic way, you have to stop and wonder why the horse would ever want to go to the arena. That would be like us wanting to go to the gym to jog ten miles. Suddenly it becomes clear why horses become barn sour.
While you can’t avoid having to work away from the barn, there are ways to manage your horse’s riding routine so that their attitude improves. You can change your horse’s attitude but keep in mind that there are no quick fixes and improvement requires long term dedication.
The first basic rule to working with a barn sour horse is to make the barn a place of work and away from the barn a place of rest. If your horse wants to go back to the barn, let them go but when they get there put their feet to work in the area around the barn. Ask them to trot circles in different directions or ask for rollbacks. Work them in such a way that they’re constantly guessing what you’re going to ask for next.
After you’ve worked your horse for a few minutes, go away from the barn to let your horse rest. Ride away from the direction of the barn but don’t go so far that your horse starts to panic again. If you ride too far, your horse can’t focus on the fact that they’re getting to rest. As your horse improves, your goal can be to gradually get farther away.
Instead of riding back to the barn to dismount and unsaddle, dismount in the arena or on the trail and loosen your cinch. This gives your horse a reason to want to be in those areas as they know they get to quit there.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once your horse’s attitude improves that your horse is cured from being barn sour and you can go back to your previous routine. Even after your horse has improved, it’s important to continue giving your horse a reason to leave the barn. By keeping these simple routines, you’ll give your horse the reason he needs to look forward to being out on the trail.