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Horse Training: How to "Unsour" a Barn Sour Horse

Updated on May 8, 2012

Horse Training and horse training tips

This article is about horse training and horse training tips. More specifically, it's about re-training horses that are much too fond of their home barn. If you’ve had much experience riding a number of different horses, chances are that you’ve run across at least one that was “barn sour.” In other words, this guy didn’t want to leave the barn, and once he left, he couldn’t wait to return. Barn-sour horses usually start out a ride leaving the barn at a slow, reluctant walk. They plod along like an old plow horse, and some constantly try to turn back in the direction of home. Once the ride is over and it’s time to return to the home barn, this same horse suddenly turns into a spirited prancing steed that’s full of new found energy and chomping at the bit to get back. And actually, it’s no wonder.

Most horses love their stall and barn. It’s safe, warm, and cozy. It’s where they rest and take naps. It’s where they get food. It’s where they “hang out” with their buddies. When they’re taken away from their “pad,” they have to work. Sometimes they have to leave their pals behind. So why would they ever want to leave?

Effective Horse Training

To change the horse’s behavior and to achieve effective horse training, you have to think like a horse. Horses' brains are fairly simple, really: barn = good. Leaving barn = bad. You’ll have to make some changes with the horse’s associations to make him think differently, and this could take some time, so be patient and determined. Negative behavior is always harder to correct than positive behavior is to establish.

Horse training tips

First of all, stop his thinking that the barn is always equivalent to rest and relaxation. Work him at the barn sometimes. Make him understand that being at the barn doesn’t always mean fun. Canter in some small circles and do some figure eights on your mount. Afterwards, you can go on a trail ride or stop for the day.

Work from the other end, also. Your horse always associates leaving the barn with work. Un-do that thinking. Saddle up as usual for a trail ride, but take along a halter, a lead rope, and a little bag of grain or some horse treats. When you’re a good distance from the barn, dismount and remove your saddle and pad. Replace the bridle with a halter. Attach the lead rope and let the horse graze for a while, and offer him some feed or some treats. Just let him enjoy his time away from the barn. Before long, he’ll realize that leaving the barn isn’t so bad, after all.

Don’t establish a pattern. Mix up your activities with the horse. Don’t always work him at the barn, and don’t always give him R & R away from the barn. Let him know that you’re in control of the situation by keeping him guessing.

An extremely barn sour horse can be dangerous - an equestrian accident just waiting to happen. I’ve seen horses run headlong back to the barn, ignoring their riders’ instructions to stop or slow down. If the horse actually runs into the barn itself with a rider on board, the rider could face serious injury. If your horse is beginning to exhibit symptoms of barn souring, correct the behavior now before it gets worse. Also, never run your horse back to the barn. If you do, you’ll be helping to establish a bad pattern. Always walk him back to the barn, making sure he's calm and relaxed before rewarding him with the removal of the saddle and bridle. This type of horse training might just save you from serious injury someday.

Some horses hate leaving their herd.
Some horses hate leaving their herd.
Give your horse some "down" time away from the barn.
Give your horse some "down" time away from the barn.


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    • BellatheBall profile image


      21 months ago

      I whole heartedly agree with article. The dangers of a barn sour horse cannot be over stated.

      Once, when I was 17, I went with my sister to a summer camp (while the camp was not in session), where I had been before and I had a terrible crush on the Director's 18 year old son.

      The camp had a stable of horses for the campers and we decided to go riding. I picked out a very huge strawberry roan. He was 16 hands at least. The Director's son advised me against this horse, saying he was difficult. But, I was a strong rider and since I was in a mood to impress to him, I ignored these words of advice.

      What he didn't tell me was that the horse hadn't been ridden all summer because he was barn sour and terribly difficult to control.

      So we saddled up western style and the three of us took out across the meadow. Everything went fine, until we turned our horses back toward the barn.

      My strawberry roan took off like he was running the Preakness. No amount of rein pulling was slowing him down and my companions were far behind.

      In desperation, I pulled the reins to the left. BIG mistake! The horse went into a spin and I was dumped off onto my head. The last thing I remember was the ground coming up to meet my face.

      The next thing I knew I was sitting on the couch at home with 3 broken ribs and a severe headache and concussion. Of course, that Strawberry Roan got back to the barn just like he planned.

      Barn sour horses are dangerous. But you can never blame the horse. It is our responsibility to train them properly.

    • profile image

      Melody P 

      4 years ago

      Thank you for this article! I can't wait to try it out this summer! I have a barn sour horse who has bucked up off twice and ran into the fence in his haste to get to the other side!

    • profile image

      Sierra Mackenzie 

      7 years ago

      Nice hub. When I was a kid we didn't have a barn, but our horse was "yard sour". We children had a hard time getting her out of the yard for a ride, and she was always in a hurry to get back home.

    • renee21 profile image

      Tori Leumas 

      7 years ago

      Good hub! I love your pictures!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Diana, I fully support horse training with humane methods. Thanks for reading!

    • DTroth profile image

      Diana Owens 

      8 years ago from My Little Hole In The Wall, HubPages, USA

      Hi habee,

      Good info! I always like hearing about people using humane and gentle training and re-teaching practices. It does no good to use cruel methods on a horse. All it does is reinforce them hating doing it even more. It helps to think like a horse!

      Keep up the good work!

      Be blessed and stay safe,


    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Me too, Juli! Thanks for visiting and commenting! Best of luck with your horse.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Funny you should show a haflinger photo as my little haflinger is quickly becoming barn sour and bolted back to the barn with me in the saddle today while completely riding through my pulling on the reins to stop him. I had a more experienced rider help me put him in his place. I hope I can fix it!

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      You're right, Jim! I didn't have any suitable pics so I got this one from the net. I didn't see the chain until I examined it more closely! I replaced the pic. Thanks for reading! Wow. Can't believe anyone would use something like that!

    • profile image

      jim t 

      9 years ago

      what kind of control device is on that poor horses head? showing the world a picture like that sets a lot of us horse owners into a sadistic and cruel controllers catagorie might just as well be a hunk of barb wire

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Yep, it can be pretty scary. Thanks for reading!

    • Carol the Writer profile image

      Carolyn Blacknall 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Great hub! That is something I never heard of before, but it makes sense. Thanks for telling us. - Carol

    • habee profile imageAUTHOR

      Holle Abee 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      A barn-sour horse can be a real problem! Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      9 years ago from London, UK

      Hello, habee, that is interesting. I have never heard of that. It is amazing what they can get up to. I love them and I think they are the best. Thanks for writing this hub.


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