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How to Handle a Buddy Sour or Spooky Horse, by Monty Bruce



Monty_Bruce_2Have you ever had a buddy sour horse  before”¦ a horse that won’t leave its buddy or the  barn? When you to try to walk away they worry,  toss their head, refuse to leave.

What is the best way to handle this problem?  I was teaching a cow horse clinic where there  was a horse with this problem and a pretty strong  case of it; with most of the symptoms I described  above.   She was a six-year old mare that had  been raised and kept with her full sister everyday  of her life.   To put it mildly, she felt very strongly  about being near her.   The rider was doing a  good job trying to contain her, but when she got  just-so-far away from her buddy, she would bolt  back to her buddy (sister) uncontrollably.   Her  total focus and attention was on her sister, which  makes it impossible to communicate with her,  let alone, train on her.   After struggling with her,  the frustrated rider decided to get off of her and  forfeit his spot in the clinic because he got tired  of fighting her with every step.   I asked if I could climb on to try to get her to  come around and relax.   I knew this was going  to be a challenge because she had never been  separated from her sister and was very much out  of her comfort zone when she wasn’t with her,  even to the point of panic.

As a child, can you remember losing site or  getting separated from your parents? Maybe at  the grocery store, fair, or some other public place  you weren’t familiar with? Remember the instant  feeling of panic or fear you felt!   At that very point  in time you couldn’t think clearly, reason through  things, or for sure concentrate on anything to  rational to do.   Only one thought consumed your  mind and that was getting your parents back  in your site no matter what it takes; running,  screaming, crying, until  you get back to the  comfort and security or  your parents.   That is what this  mare was feeling every  time the rider would make  her leave her sisters side.

We were in a facility she  had never seen, we were  asking her to do things  that she had never done  before, and we were  taking her away from her  security, her sister.   It’s no  wonder she was panicky.   When I got on her,  I knew I didn’t want to  make her leave her sister,  because she would  panic.   I would also never  want to make a horse  do anything.   Just as a child, if you make them  do something it probably won’t get done very  willingly, and you are likely to see fits and moves  like you have never seen before.   I don’t want to  force her to leave the security of her sister’s side.   I want to somehow set it up to where she thinks  it’s a good idea to be away from her sister.

When I got on the horse, I had the rider  on the sister stand at the end of the arena and  relax.   I started loping circles on the mare trying  to figure out the best way to handle this situation;  I decided to use the approach I try to use in all  aspects of my training.   I saw she didn’t want to  leave her sister, that was fine, but I would give  her something harder to do if we were going to  be near her sister.   I kept loping circles around her  sister, then I would trot her, then put her into a  series of rigorous flexing and bending exercises,  all the while keeping her very close to her sister  and her comfort zone.

I was accomplishing two things at once  here:  1) I was getting her softened up by the  rigorous exercise which she needed anyway.   To the horse it was like I was telling her “if you  feel you need to be by your sister for security,  that’s fine.   I won’t make you leave, but it’s  going to be tougher on you with all the work  that I’m going to ask you to do”.   2) By doing this I’m also taking her focus  off her sister and focusing it more on me.   This is a major part of our job in training, to  hold their attention and focus on what we are  asking.

After about 5 minutes of the loping and  exercises, she was starting to get out of air and  pretty much focused on me.   I slowly walked her  away to the other end of the arena, stopped her,  and started petting her (to relax her and make  her feel comfortable).   Comfort is the key word,  I think we are showing her a new  place she can be in a comfort  zone, yet away from her sisters  security.   I let her rest for about  three minutes continually rubbing  and petting her.   Then I turned her  and started walking back to the  other end of the arena towards  her sister, who is standing in the  same place.   I put her on loose rein not holding  her back.   She walked quietly for about 25 feet  then bolted off in a run back to her sister.   I let  her go without even so much as picking up a rein  to try to stop her (to let her know it is OK if you  want to go back, I won’t stop you, as soon as we  got up to her sister we repeated the process all  over again).   After about three times of repeating  this process she finally would walk back slowly.   It finally became her idea that leaving her sister  was a good idea.   She found a new comfort zone.   We never made her do anything.   We made her  want to do it, willingly.

The rider got back on her, she was like a  different horse; willing, focused, and her whole  attitude changed because of our approach.   If we  were going to make her do something she was  going to fight back, if we would show her and  convince her she would accept it and be willing.   She went on and improved in all of the areas of  her training over the weekend clinic, and never  gave anymore trouble about being buddy sour.

Have you ever had a spooky horse before?  Some horses seem to be scared of everything  while others may seem solid in most areas but  then suddenly become flighty and resistant  unexpectedly.   This is common to all horses  because of their instinct to flee from situations or  objects that may seem dangerous or harmful in  their eyes.   How is the best way to handle this problem?  Many people will try to force the horse to deal  with the scary object or situation.   But I like to take  a different approach.

The exercise I use is very  similar to the exercise I use to handle a buddy  sour horse”¦ with one minor change.   With the  buddy sour horse, we will have them work NEAR  the horse that they want to be with.   But, with a  spooky horse, we will have them work AWAY  from the object that they are afraid of.   For the  spooky horse, the place of rest will be near the  object that they are worried about.   Remember  that this is a process.   At first, you may have to let  them rest in a place that might seem far from the  object.  But as you continue with the exercise, the  horse will gradually let you get closer to the object  as they begin to focus more on you as the rider  and less on the object.   Eventually, you can try  approaching the object again.   If the horse wants  to leave, let him.   But after he leaves, put him to  work again, away from that object, and continue  the process again.   Pretty soon being near that  object seems like a pretty good idea.

Remember to set it up, in both situations, so  that it is the horse’s idea to do what we would like  them to do.   Make the wrong thing difficult and the  right thing easy.   Good Luck and God Bless,  Monty Bruce  Visit our website at

p style=”text-align: justify;”>[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 6.]

Make the right thing easy! Good Luck!

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