Sunday, June 28, 2009

Barn Sour, take him back and work him

Many people do not bother to teach a horse not to be barn sour until they are returning to the barn after a long trail ride with friends. It can be done this way, but it is certainly the more challenging way to teach a horse this particular lesson.

For me, it is much easier to fix barn sourness, by dedicating specific lesson times to this difficult problem. It is interesting that, as riders, we will spend weeks, months, and even years, teaching horses so-called natural movements, like piaffe, and passage, but expect a horse to learn something

unnatural like trailer loading, or non-barn-sourness by simply asserting that it should be no big deal.

A problem of this sort can become fairly serious and the longer you wait to fix it, the harder it will become. I have found that the easiest way for me is to take the horse out by myself or with a willing companion who understands that we are not going for a fun trail ride. We are going for a TRAINING ride. In fact, I go on a training trail ride with friends and students every few weeks. We go out on a ride dedicated to the training of the horses and there is no expectation that we will complete any loop, circuit, distance or anything like that. Everyone brings their problem horses and we work together to fix those problems. This we do as a group every couple of weeks, but if I really have a barn sour horse, I dedicate a portion of everyday to this problem until it is gone. Then I use the occasional group training trail ride as a maintenance exercise.

When I have the horse out ready for his training, I ride out from the barn or the trailer as the case may be, and ride only a short distance. Then I run the horse back to the barn and when I arrive, I work the horse heavily for 3 minutes. (Get a kitchen timer to make sure if you don’t already have one.) Then I walk the horse back out on the trail. I ride the horse a little further than I did last time. Then I turn around and start riding back to the barn. If the horse starts to jig or pick up speed, I run the horse even faster back to the trailer and when I arrive, I work the horse heavily again for another 3 minutes. Then I walk the horse back out onto the trail. And of course I go a bit further. When I get to some arbitrary turn around point, I dismount, loosen the girth, and let the horse graze. Bring a halter to put on so you can even remove his bridle. Let the horse graze for 3 minutes. Then tighten the girth, put on the bridle, and ride him back to the barn. If he starts to pick up speed, run him back to the barn and work him hard again for 3 minutes and then bring him back out onto the trail.

Keep repeating this until he no longer starts to pick up speed on the way back. The first time he keeps his speed down on the way back, get off him immediately, loosen his girth, and let him graze for 3 minutes. Do NOT wait until you are back at the barn. Do it right on the spot.

This will teach the horse that returning to the barn does not necessarily mean that the work day is over. On the contrary, most of the time, it means that the hard work is just beginning. Furthermore, by stopping and grazing at the turn-around point, or wherever he decides he wants to slow down, he learns that the more calmly and more slowly he goes to the trailer, the sooner he gets the benefits of being at the trailer. The light bulb will go on when he realizes that he does not even need to be at the trailer to receive benefits.


Horseartist said...

What about a horse that gets a certain distance away and refuses to go further, to the point of threatening bucks? He doesn't run back home or jig, so that's not the issue. This is a friends horse. And it doesn't really matter if he is alone or with a riding buddy.

Enlightened Horsemanship said...

For a horse that gets a certain distance away and refuses to go further, leave a halter on him under the bridle. When you get to the place where he starts to act up. GET OFF. Use the halter and a lead rope to lead him onward past that point. Then get back on. If he does it again, then go through the same routine. He will find out that there is nothing to be gained by acting out.

The alternative is to work the exercise laid out on Day 19 of the Max Cunningham blog which you can find in the links on the side of this page under Enlightened Horsemanship. This exercise does a lot to gain command over the horse's hindquarters. This exercise should be mastered in an arena or controlled environment before taking it out on the trail.

Once you are in command of the Horse's hindquarters, you will be able to take the horse to the troubled spot and work him past it while at the same time being able to discourage bucking.

You can also see a much more careful version of this exercise by clicking on the link titled "My Methods with Videos" on the blog titled "Jake's First Real Ride". In this video, you can see a Mustang being ridden for the first time after a lifetime of being feral. At this stage, he is extremely prone to buck and we are doing everything we can to discourage it. By turning his head BEFORE we put our leg on him, we make it difficult for him to buck. When he tries to straighten out, we let him, and release our leg so that he learns what the leg means.

The Max Cunningham Day 19 has a much more seasoned horse that has developed a bucking habit. We are using this technique to aggressively rehabilitate this horse and hopefully give him another chance with his owner. So far, it is going very well.

I hope all this helps. Let me know how it goes.

Grant Sipes said...

I have an eleven year old quarter horse and I can ride him a while, then he starts to turn around. He acts like he'll buck if I do otherwise. What should I do.

Enlightened Horsemanship said...

Hi Grant,
Thank you for reading my blog. For a horse that turns, the common response is for people to turn the horse the opposite way. ie, if the horse tries to make a u-turn to the left, people try to get the horse to turn back to the right. Often a more effective approach is to keep him turning to the left, until he is facing down the trail in the original direction again. Thus when he tries to turn, it buys him nothing since he ends up facing back down the trial again instead of back to the barn.

Also, if the horse tries to buck, it is easier for him to do that when you are trying to straighten him back out in the opposite direction. On the other hand, if you keep him turning then he thinks he's getting what he wants, but then ends up where he started. In addition, when he is bent and turning, it is considerably more difficult to buck.

So with this method, you teach the horse that turning gets him no where, AND discourages him from bucking.

Finally, as an exercise, try to take him out, and BEFORE he starts his turning behavior, turn him yourself, take him back to the barn and work him hard. That way the barn starts to look less and less attractive.

Hope this helps, and thanks again for your interest in Enlightened Horsemanship.

Chris said...

I am so happy to find this site. I am having jigging problems that have crept up over the years. 15yrs on the same horse. Miles and miles of mountain trail. She knows the routine and gets neurotic going back, especially if another horse is in front of her. If I don't hold a certain tightness she will gallop sideways, run backwards, full on run to the trailer. Neck bent practically to her breast and feet going 100mph even if it is a walk. Foamy, freaked out. This is in mountain terrain! I have done the circles, the stand still, the petting and talking, the dangerous turn around and head the other way which makes her even more frantic. Standing at the hitching rail after the ride home in the trailer doesn't mean anything. She can see her pals. Help.

Enlightened Horsemanship said...

Hi Chris,
Thank you for your interest in Enlightened Horsemanship. And I very much appreciate your comment. To address your issues I might mention a couple of things.

First, you said that you need to maintain a certain tightness. Thus you are holding your horse. I recommend that instead of holding your horse, you hold him responsible. Therefor, if I were riding him, and he started to speed up, I would rein him in, and make him back up about 3 steps. Then release the rein. When you do this, he will probably start moving forward again. As soon as he does this, I rein him in, and release as soon as he stops. I would count to 5, and then let him walk forward.

So here is the the algorithm:

1. Take him home
2. Horse start to pick up speed
3. Rein him in and back him up 3 steps then stop and count to 5.
4. If the horse starts to move before you finish counting, rein him in again, and start your count over. He must stand on a LOOSE rein. You holding him to make him stand does not count.
5. When you finish counting, give him some leg to ask him to walk forward.
6. Repeat as necessary.
7. Expect to do this for several weeks. And set aside specific rides to do this. In other words, a trail ride with NO OTHER AGENDA.

This teaches the horse that the responsibility to maintain the walk unless otherwise asked is HIS responsibility. Not the rider's.

If you are interested in more Enlightened Horsemanship, I am much more accessable on Facebook here:!/pages/Enlightened-Horsemanship/210377390293

Anonymous said...

My horse used to go out on trails alone fine, and would always come home nice and relaxed without any incidents. He was calm and confident alone on trails. A couple months ago, I made a large paddock for him to share with another mare. Now when I take him out on trails alone, he goes out alone fine, but as soon as I turn him toward home, he'll curl his head, and raise his head and feel like he's going to explode. I can ride him home okay, but he doesn't calm down until we are almost home. I make him work once we get back home, but I would love to have my calm, relaxed, confident trail partner back. Did I create a monster by moving him in the same corral as his buddy? Would it help to separate them again?

Enlightened Horsemanship said...

You can try separating them and see if that helps. Otherwise an alternative is to get off him when he is getting jiggy and wait for him to calm down. Another thing you can do is ride him back, leave him for a few minutes, then ride him back out onto the trail for a few minutes, and then back to the corral and repeat. That way he realizes that he will not be gone long and there is no reason to freak out since you will be taking him back to the corral in just a few. Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

This post is very helpful - and so are all the comments.
I've got a 21 year old TB retired race horse (out of seatle slew). He is good at the barn and good for about 100 feet away from the barn in either direction. We live in the middle of a big city but have direct access to MILES of trails and lakes. We just moved here a year ago - before we were in the country. Now when we go out there are so many things for him to look at he all but refuses to listen to me. i've changed bits - I lunge before we go out - nothing helps. Its gotten to the point that i'm not comfortable ridding him out on the trails (away from his comfort zone). Last week I started putting his bridal on- attaching a lead line and walking 2 miles of trails every day. he is getting MUCH better- more relaxed every time but am I doing the right thing?
When he acts up on the trail we got back to the barn and work. When hes calm for the enitre walk we come back back and graze. What do you think about my new "plan"?

Enlightened Horsemanship said...

I actually love your new plan. Hopefully it not only helps you, but anyone else who reads it. But one thing I might add is if you can find a place away from the barn to graze, that would be a wonderful addition to what you are already doing and give him more than one focal point for him to fixate on. Eventually he starts seeing you as someone who leads him to greener pastures "most of the time" and so you become someone he really wants to listen to.

Anonymous said...

This article was super helpful!
I have a horse that is slightly barn/pasture sour. Our only real place to work (aside from trails) is a field that joins up to her pasture. At the walk and trot she does well especially if I keep her mind busy (but still speeds up every so slightly and cuts circles off going in the direction of the pasture) but at the lope, and lope transitions, she gets so worried about going back to the pasture that it makes working on loping and transitions very difficult. Once we achieve decent departures and work on maintaining a lope, she tries to be sneaky and dive back for the pasture. I was wondering if you might have a suggestion for how to alleviate the problem, especially since that is really our only arena type place to work. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

My 14 year old gelding recently started with barn sour after years of no problems. I brought in a trainer, who rode him twice a week for two months and the problem is pretty much gone. Here is how the trainer corrected the problem and taught me what to do.

When he starts to turn I let him complete the turn and immediately take him into a trot heading in the direction we started. I trot for maybe two to five minutes enough so that is an impression on him. If he trys it again we do the same thing. It is now rare if he trys to turn more than twice. Also, it is my responsibility to ride this horse more than just weekends. If I am to expect him to behave I have to give him the training time and riding time to build his confidence for leaving his save zone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I have worked on this similar to your way and she is much improved! She will try to get away with returning to the hitching rail or back home/trailer if someone else rides her but she is figuring out not to bother with me. It is hard to correct but necessary!

Chris Moore said...

My 16 year old Arabian (that probably tells you all you need to know) goes out well by herself but gets very anxious and wants to rush as soon as we turn around to head home. The areas I have available for trail riding are hills COVERED in badger holes or the rocky creek bottom, so letting her run home only to continue working before heading back out isn't a viable option; I have to hold her back the whole way home which makes her dull to the bit and jigs sideways. Have tried the stop, back up and stand routine for years and she never settles down; as soon as you apply your leg to walk she rushes right off again and I've literally done it for hours. Being an Arab she'll just get hotter and hotter and hotter without ever giving in even if she's staggering tired which is a place I prefer not to push her. Advice? Lead her home so she can't rush, then work her and take her back out?

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