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From Sour to Sweet - Fixing the Barn, Gate, or Buddy Sour Horse

April 16, 2010
1. Being at the gate is a lot of work.
1. Being at the gate is a lot of work.
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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.

1. 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.

2. If your arena has more than one gate, exit from a different gate than which you entered.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. When schooling, at a horse show, allow your horse to stop, rest, and relax at the farthest point from the gate that he gravitates towards.

7. 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.