Why some horses are: herd-bound, barn sour, or buddy sour.
Updated: Aug 20, 2021
This is the the first installment of my blog and hopefully there'll be many more 😊 (The next blog installment will be about addressing these issues.)
Is your horse "herd-bound, barn or buddy sour"? I hear that a lot from clients. Sometimes the issue develops over time or sometimes it appears to happen suddenly. Possibly a new horse arrives without this issue and then the "sourness" seems to come out of nowhere; the horse starts trying to race back to the barn or refuses to leave the barn area. Out on trail rides or heading to the arena, the horse keeps looking back behind him/herself appearing to long for home; taking any opportunity to get home or to get back their "buddy". Another scenario: while out on a trail ride your friend decides she's late for something and has to head back, You then find that your horse is suddenly very wide-eyed, tail is up in the air, and your horse is now trying anything to go back with your friend's horse, possibly: spinning, rearing, crow-hopping, or bucking to convince you to go too 😉
Nobody wants these kinds of situations. They're frightening for us and certainly can ruin our confidence. It helps to understand where our horses are "coming from" to avert these barn/buddy sour behaviors.
Horses are driven to feel safe and to a lesser degree to feel relaxed and comfortable. Survival (and procreation) is what has kept horse on this earth for millions of years. It's part of the horses' DNA to find ways to feel safe. Horses live in herds, while we live in communities and areas where we have thoughtfully determined that we're "safe" (hopefully). So, when we're going on a trail ride or moving away from the barn or away from another horse and rider, we have cognitively determined that the environment doesn't present much of a threat for us. We feel that where we're heading with our horse is safe. However, that may not be the case in the horse's mind.
To feel "safe", a horse needs to have a good benevolent leader/guardian to keep him/her safe. Sometimes they don't believe that their human is the best guardian and hence don't feel they'd be a source of safety. Quite often the horse, for many reasons, feels that another horse is with whom they'll most likely have a safe haven. Horses are motivated to find their best source of safety in any given moment and it makes sense that if they don't fully trust their human, they would look to one of their own species.
In order to solve the barn or buddy sour issue, your horse needs to trust you with his/her life. Trust takes time to develop. Trust requires mutual respect. Your horse needs to learn your spacial boundaries .....and similarly you need to honor your horse's fears and concerns. Additionally, communication that makes sense to your horse can be taught. Over time, your horse will learn to trust you to be his/her benevolent leader. Create good experiences for your horse.....consider that in order for your horse to trust and feel safe with you, "good feelings" need to be developed. This is so that your horse's association of being with you is all about feeling good, comfortable... and ultimately safe. If you work in this manner with your horse and consider your horse's motivations, you'll find that these barn and buddy sour issues will slowly disappear. That's when the partnership really develops and everybody feels safe: horse & human ❤️ Contact me at to learn how.
Kyle Van Splinter