Resolving Problems


Barn Sour (refuses to leave the barn or paddock area)

Being barn sour is a common bad habit with riding horses. New Owners often contribute to this problem by failing to make the horse walk the last mile towards home. Just as humans need to warm up and stretch prior to strenuous activity, your horse does too. Unlike T.V. Westerns, you don’t leave at a dead run and come home the same way. If you do, you’ll end up with a bad mannered and possibly sore horse. You should always start out walking the first mile to warm your horse up and walk the last mile coming in to cool your horse off.

One tactic that often works on horses that are already barn sour is to work them harder once you get them back to the barn than they have to work while you are riding them. Instead of rewarding the horse with rest, a nice bath and grain when you return do ground exercise, circles, figure-eights or serpentines or negotiate some simple trail obstacles you can set up in your yard. When the horse realizes that getting back to the barn does not necessarily mean the end of work, he won’t be in such a hurry to return.

Another article on this subject is:

Horse Behavior and Training: The Barn Sour Horse article by Cherry Hill


This behavior needs to be corrected immediately. It is much easier to break bad habits before they get started than correct them later. A horse, especially a young foal or yearling, may benefit from more turn-out time and another equine to play with.

Foals are just like human infants and puppies; they like to taste everything. Discourage him from mouthing by pushing his mouth away. If he tries to bite, slap him immediately, very hard, one time, on the shoulder or neck while sternly saying “NO!”. It usually only takes one or two times to get a colt to quit if he has not been getting away with anything for a long time and you are immediate and consistent in your discipline. After that you can probably just say “NO!” and he will stop. It is best not to hit a horse anywhere about the head but if you can’t reach his shoulder or neck and his mouth is coming at you it might be necessary, but usually only once. As soon as he stops, reward him by rubbing his head, neck or shoulder.

Rearing or Striking (when being led)

The same tactics used to curb biting can be done for rearing and striking if you catch the problems early enough. If you can not safely do this, carry a dressage whip (longer than a riding crop and shorter than a lounging whip). When he rears, immediately say “NO!” and swat him hard, once only across the chest or legs. Again, if this is corrected right away it usually only takes once or twice. Rearing (bringing the front feet off the ground) and Striking (using a front foot to strike out or paw at handlers) can be very dangerous and must be corrected immediately. Again, reward the behavior you want and discourage the behavior you don’t want.

The secret is to convince any horse that you are the dominant partner without scaring them unnecessarily. Watch what the mare or any other horses that the colt is around do to get him to behave. They only need to threaten by flattening their ears, swinging their head, raising a foot as though they are going to kick or just appearing aggressive. They rarely carry out any threat by actually kicking or chasing each other. A person can do the same thing.

Rearing (under saddle)

Rearing horse

1) If your horse rears just after you pick up on the bit, her teeth may be bothering her. Other symptoms would be that she throws her head, especially when you ask for a change of gait or lead change or refuses to give her head. She may also drop her grain when she is eating or eat very slow. Have an Equine Dentist or a Veterinarian skilled in Dentistry check her mouth and resolve any problems.

2) If she rears only when approaching something she is uncertain of, such as something new out on the trail, she lacks confidence. You can build her confidence in you and herself by doing more ground work with her. Linda Tellington Jones (of T-Touch fame) recommends using a trail-type course and leading through, over and under obstacles to gain the horse’s trust and confidence. If you can locate a T-Touch practitioner near you they can probably diagnose the problem and resolve it or suggest the resolution. Her website can help you locate a seminar or practitioner.

3) If she rears just as you mount her, the saddle may be pinching her, she may be sore in the back or you may have inadvertantly pulled on her mouth as you mounted. You may need to have someone else watch to determine what is happening. This could also indicate that she just wasn’t thoroughly started under saddle and doesn’t want to be mounted or ridden.

Age could be a factor if the rearing is a bad habit. (The longer a bad habit exists, the harder it is to break and the longer it takes.) If her mouth and back are fine and you aren’t bumping her with the bit then she may just rear out of lack of training or because it got a previous rider to get off.

She could have an extremely sensitive mouth. You could try riding her in a bitless headstall or even with the reins tied into the halter rings to see if she stops rearing. (This would be best done in a confined area if you aren’t certain you can control her without a bit.) You can always circle if you can’t stop her.

John Lyons detailed a method for retraining a rearing horse in his Training Guide and also in a the July 1997 issue of Perfect Horse.

Bucking, Running Off, Rearing or Flipping Over

Unless you are an experienced horse person you should avoid horses with these three bad habits. They can be difficult to break and are very dangerous, especially if you ride in high traffic areas. Some good horses will try these tricks on beginners but aren’t really confirmed bad horses. Sometimes getting a more experienced person to show you how to handle the horse properly can resolve the problem.

Horse flips on rider

Most horses will buck if they get too scared, are in pain, or if the girth on the saddle slides back into the flank area just in front of the back legs. These are good reasons and can be forgiven. What I am talking about here is a horse that bucks with the intention of getting rid of the rider. Those horses are either not properly trained and not appropriate for a beginner or uncooperative. Either way, they aren’t much fun unless you want to be a bronc rider.

Running off is not a huge problem if you have plenty of wide open spaces, aren’t afraid and are far away from traffic and other obstacles. You can simply pull the horse into a large circle by reaching forward on the side you wish to turn to and using a direct pull on the reins. You may be contributing to the horse wanting to run off by leaning forward (common in beginning riders), standing in the stirrups, squeezing with your lower legs or hanging on the horse’s mouth. Ask someone to watch you ride and make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem. If you are, more training for the horse or lessons for you may resolve it. If you ride across pavement, in traffic, crowds or any other dangerous place, a runaway is not for you.

Remember that you can’t actually stop a horse with a bit; the horse must be trained to give to the bit. You can’t win a tug-of-war with a horse; they are stronger than you are. To stop, sit deep into the saddle, lean SLIGHTLY back. squeeze with your thighs (not lower legs – that is the que to speed up) and ASK with the bit. You do this by pulling, releasing, pulling and releasing, not by hanging on! Racehorses are taught to run faster the harder you pull and they slow down when you stop pulling. Ex-racehorses need to be retrained to give to the bit and are often ridden in a different type of bit or hackamore.

Rearing and flipping over are degrees of the same problem. If the horse you are riding runs backward or rears up you may be pulling on its mouth. Many horses who rear or flip over are actually responding to the rider. Try giving the horse more rein and be sure you aren’t hanging on its mouth all the time. A horse that rears or flips over when the rider is not pulling on it is dangerous. If they only rear, lean forward and wait for them to come back down. If the horse wants to flip over, the horse is more dangerous than most people should handle. Many riders have been killed by horses flipping over and landing on them.