It’s been weeks since you went riding. Now you have time to ride this afternoon and there ain’t no one gonna stop you. Excited, you saddle up your horse and get on him. You get about 50 feet from the barn and your horse turns around and goes back – and you can’t stop him. Why? You have a barn spoiled horse. This is a common scenario for novice horse owners. Here are the top three tricks to solve the barn sour problem.
Teach your horse that you have control over him. Once your horse gets it in his mind that you can make him do what you want him to do, you have control over him and can thus make him leave the barn. One way to get control over him is to use a training technique called doubling. When you double your horse, you teach him you can control him. It doesn’t take long before your horse will know you can control him. Be careful when doubling though. If you do it too much at a time you can overdo it. Your horse could get so sensitive to you doing it that he may try to anticipate it. If he sees your hands making the slightest movement that looks like you’re about to double him, he may double himself. Thus, just double him four to six times a day on both sides. He’ll quickly learn you have control.
Make Doing the Wrong Thing Hard
The next thing you can try is this: Make it dang hard to do the wrong thing – and make it easy to do the right thing. Here’s what I mean. A while back my horse didn’t want to leave her buddies or the barn. We’d get about 100 feet away and she’d turn around and bolt back. She’d stop in front of the barn expecting me to get off, remove the saddle and tack, and put her back into the corrals. By my barn are two haystacks. There is a space between them big enough to go through and do figure eights around the haystacks. So, every time she’d go back, I would make her work, and work, and work at running figure eights around those haystacks. Then I would test her to see if she had enough and would leave the area.
The first seven times she ran back. Each time we came back to the barn we’d run more laps around the haystacks. I could tell she was getting tired. But the eighth time I walked her away from the hay stacks I noticed she went quite a way before turning to go back. When we went back again, we ran more figure eights. Only this time I could tell we didn’t have to do too many. I walked her out and away from doing the figure eights and I suddenly had a horse who decided that it was so much nicer going for a walk away from the barn rather than doing a bunch of crummy ol’ figure eights. We had a nice ride that day and she was in no hurry to get home.
The last thing to do is this: Ride. Ride a lot. Don’t wait for weeks or months in between riding. Try to ride at least once per week for three or four hours. Preferably, try to ride at least twice a week for a few hours at a time. (Ideally, you should ride every day. But that’s hard to do with today’s time constraints) Doing this will help your horse get it in his brain that you’re going to ride and he’s going to leave the barn and there will be no argument. In fact, if you want to have a great horse the biggest secret is this: Ride the tar out of him! So, if your horse is barn spoiled you can try doubling him to show you are in control. The next thing you can try is making the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. Make it dang hard for him to do the wrong thing and very pleasant to do the right thing. And lastly, ride your horse often. Two to three times a week if possible.
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several bestselling horse training and horse care books.