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Fixing the Barn, Gate, or Buddy Sour Horse, by Richard Winters



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Have you ever found yourself in one of the following real life scenarios?   You and your  husband have paid good money to ride in a  clinic and both horses get frantic every time  you attempt to ride in opposite directions.   You’re  riding in an arena and every time you start  back toward the  gate your horse  speeds up.   You  are out on a long trail ride and as soon as you  turn back toward  home, your horse  becomes excited  and jigs all the way back to the barn.   You want to ride out from the barn and go for a leisurely trail ride but encounter a horse that will not go forward and is attempting to rear, whirl, and run back to the barn.   Maybe you have asked your reining horse to do a run-down through the center of the arena but rather than run in a straight line, it feels like there is a magnet pulling your horse off the line and toward the gate.   Barn sour, gate sour, or buddy sour.   No matter the label, it’s no fun! Let’s talk about what causes these behaviors and see if we can try to counteract them.

Horses are creatures of habit and they quickly pick up on routines.   They soon realize where they experience discomfort and where they can be comfortable.   They understand that the arena means work and that the gate leads back to comfort.   A horse learns quickly that heading back home from a trail ride means that work will soon be over.   Of course, they’re right! We subconsciously train them to understand where they have to work and where they can rest.

The following suggested training tips will probably not be the most convenient.   However, they are simple and can go a long way in balancing out your horse.

Don’t make a habit of riding out the arena gate and going directly to the barn after a workout.    At the end of your training session, ride to the far end of the arena, stop, dismount, loosen your cinch, and lead your horse back to the barn.    If your arena has more than one gate, exit from a different gate than which you entered.    When completing a ride, continue to ride past where you would normally dismount and unsaddle.    Keep riding well past that area and then dismount and lead your horse back.    If your horse speeds up when going toward the gate, trot multiple figure eights in front of the gate and then trot to the other end of the arena.   Now, stop and rest there for a few moments.

If your horse is resistant to leaving the barn area, begin a training session right there.   Trot around the barn, trailers, and hitching rail and then walk out away from the barn quietly.   If you encounter resistance, trot more circles around the barnyard and walk away again.   When your horse leaves the barn area willingly, ride out a ways and then dismount and walk your horse back to the barnyard.

When schooling, at a horse show, allow your horse to stop, rest, and at the farthest point from the gate that he gravitates towards.    When your horse starts looking for his stable mate, head right over to his pal and trot about a dozen tight circles around him and then take off and rest somewhere else.   Repeat this as often as necessary.    After a while your horse won’t be so inclined to want to be with his buddy.

I imagine that you’re getting the idea! As with any training scenario, you simply make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.    If your horse wants to go to the gate, make him work at the gate.   If he won’t leave the barnyard, make your horse work at the barnyard.   Rest where your horse thinks he should be working and work where your horse would generally rest.

Whenever I feel “magnets” drawing my horse to a certain spot ““ I begin using reverse psychology to reprogram my horse and get him mentally balanced.    A conscientious rider feels these things and begins to nip it in the bud before it becomes a serious issue.   Paying attention and taking a little extra time can turn your sour horse back into something sweet.

Richard Winters Horsemanship Biography For nearly three decades Richard has dedicated himself to honing his horsemanship skills and to passing this knowledge onto others.   His vast experience includes starting literally hundreds of horses that have gone onto almost every equine discipline imaginable.    Richard’s credentials include World Championship titles in the National Reined Cow Horse Association along with being an A rated judge.   In 2007 Richard was named champion of the West Coast Equine E x p e r i e n c e “$10,000 Colt Starting Challenge.” He was also presented with the 2007 Monty Roberts Equitarian Award for outstanding achievements in Horse/Human relationships.    Richard was also honored to be named champion in the 2009 Road to the Horse – Colt Starting Challenge in Nashville, TN.   In July of 2009 Richard won the Super Cow Horse competition in Santa Ynez, CA.  More info available at:

<p style=”text-align: justify;”><em><span style=”color: #ac601f;”>[Published in Performance Horse Digest, <strong><em>Volume 3, Issue 5</em></strong>.]</span></em></p>

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