Helping the Barn Sour Horse

Posted in: Ask A Pro, Featured, Horse Training

A “problem” that most every horse owner will experience at some point, is a “barn sour” horse. Here are a few tips to help you, help your horse learn that the best place to be is with you.

Helping the Barn Sour Horse


There are a few things you might not know about a barn sour horse.

-He may feel like he gets more support at the barn than from the person on his back. When you ride your horse, you’re expected to be his leader. If you are not an effective leader, he may feel the need to find his comfort and support elsewhere, in this case, the barn/corrals/his home/with his friends nearby. 

-Horses want peace. They want comfort. And he finds that at the barn. We feed them there, we let them rest there, we hang out with them there, so they find that that’s a peaceful place to be.

-Since we are creatures of habit, and we are comfortable at the barn, the horse may pick up on that and think this is likely a super great place to be too! We might get anxious about leaving that comfort zone as well, and because horses are perceptive they’ll pick up on that anxiety and that will contribute to them feeling like being at the barn is “safe”.

Helping the Barn Sour Horse

That said, let’s work on how we might help a barn sour horse. Here are a few things I’ve learned through the years:

Don’t get off at the same place everyday. When I was riding reined cow horses in college, we would get off before the barn. Or we’d ride them completely past the barn and then get off.  We might even do a lap around the barn. The point is, to keep your horse thinking about what you might want his feet to do.

-If your horse gets excited about heading home, and wants to pick up his pace, perfect. Make that work for you. Practice your turn arounds, practice stopping and backing up, practice directing the left front foot, then the right. But, keep your horse thinking. Don’t just tune out because you think there’s going to be a fight. Also, don’t fight with him. Help him learn to think. By doing a lot of stopping, backing up, and direction changes, you’re tuning him back into what you want, thus being an effective leader.  If you allow him to take over and lead the dance, the struggle will be real, very real!

-Make being at the barn uncomfortable for your horse. Maybe take him and ride him through his friends: trot serpentines or circles around them.  Or, maybe you just trot up and down the fence line near them. After a few minutes, or when you feel he’s tired of that, offer him the chance to leave his friends. Pick a spot away from the barn, ride to it, and let him rest there. If you feel resistance in him going towards your chosen spot, go back to what you were doing. Mentally, you want your horse to be in a place where he will willingly go away from his friends, and go straight when you ask.  When you go to your chosen “sweet” spot, let your horse rest and rub the hair off of him.  *If/when you feel him get ready to leave, hustle him back to his friends and repeat the process.  Don’t ever get nasty or resentful with him. Just let him figure out that being where you ask him to go is the most peaceful solution for him. Rub him when he finds his way away from his friends and reassure him that that is what you want.

*Don’t be afraid to get off your horse when he’s gone away from the barn and is relaxed and happy. So what if you have to walk the ½ mile back to the barn? You may have to go to work the next morning, and by quitting your horse when he’s in a good place you set up an opportunity for a successful ride the next time.  Often, people push through these things, too far, and get into something they don’t have time to finish. It’s always better to quit your horse in a good place, than to push them through something good to get to something bad.

I hope these tips will help you, help your horse become a better partner.


Happy Trails!


Posted in: Ask A Pro, Featured, Horse Training

About Jenn Zeller

Jenn Zeller is the creative mind and boss lady behind The South Dakota Cowgirl. She is an aspiring horsewoman, photographer, brilliant social media strategist and lover of all things western. After a brief career in the investment world to support her horse habit (and satisfy her...

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