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Correcting The Barn Sour Horse
 By IggyPogo   •   21st Mar 2012   •   2,098 views   •   11 comments
Correcting The Barn Sour HorseDoes your horse fuss on the ride away from the barn, but happily gallops the entire way back to the barn? Or does he start walking in the direction of the barn before you remount in the middle of a trail ride? Does he gallop all the way home when given the slightest chance or performs perfectly when working in the arena, but acts up on the trail?

If any of these questions are answered with a yes, you have a barn sour horse. This is a very annoying and potentially dangerous habit. Recently I was riding one of our older horses, Mozart. He’d been just sitting on the ranch, giving pony rides for the past few months and I thought he’d like a change in scenery by going on a trail ride. His owner granted me permission to use him if I used my own tack. Mozart was usually ridden western, but I fitted him with my English bridle and saddle, adjusted the stirrups, and voila! We were ready to go.

At my friend’s barn no one was ready yet, so I took Mozart for a quick canter. He was pretty good at the start, but then grabbed the bit and took off for home. I managed to turn him in time and we went back to my friend’s. I dismissed this as excitement, but looking back I now realize it was a hint of barn sourness.

After that episode I dismounted for a little break and hung my reins over Mozart’s head. Then I released him for a second to grab some water. During this time Mozart whirled around and took off at a flat gallop down the road right back to his barn. Me and my friend leaped onto Pogo and Stormy (my friend and sister’s mounts for the night) and raced after him. Stormy is a great deal faster than the other horses (our little racehorse Paso Fino) and easily caught up to Mozart. I was a bit sad to give Pogo to Megan to pony back, but I needed to get on Mozart and teach him that he wasn’t going to get rewarded for running away.

As I struggled with him I couldn’t help but think that a lot of people and their barn sour horses could use some tips on how to prevent what just happened to me.

How I Fixed a Barn Sour Horse
First, when I tried to get on Mozart he started walking away, so I held the reins tightly in my hand and said sternly, “NO!” Then I tried to remount and Mozart started walking away again. This time I managed to boost myself in the saddle and the bay started to canter back before I even found my stirrup. He didn’t respect the bit, so I hopped off to give myself better control. (Don’t do this if your horse respects the bit. Other issues I had at the time that kept me from staying on were a canal on one side of the horse, tons of little holes in the field and some boys riding by on motor bikes nearby.)

This time I was determined to control Mozart. The first step I took was to turn Mozart away from our barn and in the direction of my friend’s. I held him against the fence and the second I was on, before he turned to the barn, I urged him against the fence. Mozart walked around stiffly before relaxing.

Removing the barn sourness from your horse involves lots of patience and rewarding. Once Mozart finally started walking perfectly and nicely after I mounted I would simply get off, and give him a little reward by having me walk instead of ride him. Each time I would get on him I would ride him a little longer. Over time I could ride him around the neighborhood a bit more and he performed pretty well. The work-and-reward method work really well for me.

Of course, Mozart isn’t completely rehabbed, at least not yet anyways. On a recent trail ride Mozart grabbed the bit yet again and took off, jumping over a bush. But this time I caught him faster and we whirled around, giving some jumpers across the street an improptu rodeo. I definitely have my work cut out for me, but his episodes are less common and I'm noticing general improvement over time.

Good luck with your barn sour horse! I would love to hear comments on how you address this situation.
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