A barn sour horse is no fun, not to mention dangerous. Barn sour simply describes a horse that will take the rider straight back to the barn if he isn’t restrained and sometimes even when the rider is trying to hold the horse back. The worst cases are those where the horse runs full speed and doesn’t stop until inside the barn, thus the term barn sour.
Some horses aren’t as bad, but still have the mind-set that going for a ride isn’t as much fun as standing at the feed trough. These horses may not run to the barn, but engage in some annoying habits. For example, the horse may walk really slow away from the barn and walk really quickly any time you turn towards it. They may even want to trot a little. Others may continually turn their head and gaze back while watching for the opportunity to turn around. Generally, if not corrected in the early stages, the situation just keeps getting worse.
For several years, we would take a barn sour horse and make sure we had plenty of time at the end of the ride. We just rode back and forth in front of the barn for 45 minutes to 2 hours letting the horse figure out we weren’t going to quit riding until he could walk out away from the barn and then slowly walk back. Coupled with some long trail rides from time to time, we could usually clear up the attitude in a few weeks. Recently, Shawn showed us a slightly different version of the method that we like even better.
While riding a horse that really handles pretty well, we both noticed the long gaze back and the seeming willingness to turn around if someone didn’t stop him. It wasn’t a problem, just the slight annoyance and the recognition that if uncorrected, it would probably get worse. As we rode and discussed what we were seeing, Shawn gave me his thoughts.
When we get finished with what we are doing, let’s head back to the barn to change horses he said. “Except before we do, let’s take about a 15 minute break here on the trail and just let that horse stand and enjoy the cool shade.” Now I have to tell you that I had heard of lots of ideas to correct a barn sour horse, but letting him stand in the shade was a new one. We got off and Shawn suggested that I pet him and make him really enjoy the opportunity to stand relaxed.
After our little recess, we started back and he said, ” When we get to the barn, I’m going to trade horses. You just ride right into the area in front of the barn and make his feet move! You keep him in turning, trotting, backing, and just make him work. Don’t stop and make sure when we ride back out that he’s sweating and breathing!” So I did.
As we rode back out, he said, “Let’s find a spot with some shade in the next 10 minutes and take a short breather.”
The concept was to teach the horse to enjoy the time away from the barn. You see the horse learned an important lesson that was positively reinforced. When we go to the barn it means work and when we go ride the trail, it means shade and being petted a little. Now this horse may not be real smart, but he was able to connect the dots. If you have a horse that is starting to show indications of wanting to go back to the barn, address it early. It is a lot easier and safer to correct the attitude before it becomes more than just an annoying attempt to look back or turn around.
Depending on your horse, it may only take two or three times to make the point and your rides will be a lot more enjoyable.