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Training a Buddy-Sour or Barn-Sour Horse with John Lyons

John reassures Seattle as they leave the barn, after having practiced leaving many times. Whether riding or on the ground, you can ask your horse for movements such as shoulder over or hips over that will keep his mind on you.


Horses love the familiar even more than we do, so getting separated from home or friends is legitimate cause for upset. But like us, our horse can't always have things the way he wants them, so we have to help him deal with the emotional trauma he's experiencing. Through training a buddy-sour or barn-sour horse, we'll have a good, horse-specific game plan.

Fortunately, we have a big horse asset working in our favor. Horses have a one-track mind.

Anyone who's tried to quiet a horse left behind by his buddies knows that no attempt at feeding carrots or soothing talk will work. And anyone who's ridden a horse who adamantly refuses to leave the barn can tell you that it seems the horse can only think "back to the barn." So what's the solution? Use the horse's own emotions to train him. Here's the plan.

In a safe area where the horse isn't upset, work on particular exercises that give you good control. Be specific in your requests. Don't just lead or walk the horse around.

Cool-headed Training

  • Realize that responding to a cue involves the horse's mind, body and emotions.
  • Take learning cycles into account.
  • Work through the "bad" parts without anger or frustration.
  • Ask yourself if the performance problem you're dealing with could be primarily emotional.
  • Distractions can be used as an opportunity.


Anticipate what tools you'll need if he were to get upset. Moving his hip over will give you control of the horse's hindquarters, which may prevent him from bolting forward or pulling away from you. Moving his shoulder over gives you control of his front end. That will prevent him from crashing into you if you lead him from the ground. Steering the shoulders or hindquarters is also much more effective when riding than just steering the nose.

Let's concentrate on what we want the horse to do. We're going to separate him from his buddy or the barn just momentarily, then relieve his concern by immediately returning to the buddy or barn. We'll work that "get upset and then calm" process while we ask him for specific movements. Getting worried isn't hard and getting calm isn't hard. But that emotional roller coaster is. The horse will learn that getting worried is too much work, and he'll relax and trust your signals. Gradually, we can lengthen both the time away and the distance from the buddy or barn.

The rule we follow is: Ride where you can, not where you can't. That means we're not going to have a fight with our horse in a place where we don't have control, which essentially means we're not going to fight with our horse.

In the following examples, if your horse gets too upset, then you've tried to take him too far too fast. Backtrack in the lesson to where he's under good control and relaxed, then increase the distance or time.

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