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  • Writer's pictureKyle Van Splinter

Help for the Herd Bound, Buddy or Barn Sour Horse

Updated: Oct 5, 2022


UPDATED SEPTEMBER 1, 2021 ... please offer your comments, stars ✭'s, emoji's and suggestions at the bottom of this article (DON'T WORRY IT'S ANONYMOUS, and you don't have to sign in with google, facebook or any personal account 😀)

An earlier blog here focused on WHY horses are barn sour or buddy sour or herd bound ......and the importance for us to teach our horses to trust and feel safe with us. Not only are trust and safety the keys to dealing with those issues but they're also the answer to minimizing spooking, bolting, and shying situations....Whoo-hoo!!!


So, how do we help our horses to trust our judgement…and ultimately feel safe with us?

Overall, it’s important to consider spending lots of non-demanding time with your horse while also honoring their worries/concerns. Communicating to your horse that you don’t always want something from them changes your relationships for the better. The more you spend time doing this, the more your horse associates you with good, calm, and relaxed feelings. Consider sitting in your horse's paddock or if you don't feel safe being that close, sit just outside the fence (meditate if you know how or just read a book, have a cocktail/wine/beer/ 🍸🍷🍺 or another beverage 🥤, and/or focus on your horse and nature). Additionally, you could hang out by your horse's stall with also with no expectations.

Know that when it comes to fear in horses, it’s not really a “thinking” moment, it’s more of a learned and instinctual “feelings” moment. So if they relate you to “good feelings” the more they’re likely to trust your judgement and feel safe with you.

If you want your horse to trust you, it's essential that they believe that you see, hear and/or feel their concerns. Being "aware" is critically important to a leader/guardian/parent/etc. Only if you are aware (whether it be for a child or a horse), can you possibly keep your horse (or child) safe,

What this would look like is noticing everything your horse does. So, if your horse looks off out in some direction with his/her head high, YOU do the same thing. If your horse is being bothered by flies, YOU help them by shooing the flies away. (Fly spray is good too, by communicating that you are aware of the fly situation, but only if your horse at the point where he/she understands what fly spray's purpose is!) Should your horse be worried about another horse, YOU protect them from that horse. (Of course, this requires knowing who takes care of who your horse's herd.). Should your horse have an itch, YOU offer to help them with it. If a loud noice occurs, YOU look in that direction....possibly even if your horse hasn't yet looked.

Further thoughts on being aware is trying to "read" your horse's communications. For instance, notice if your horse turns their head away (even ever so slightly) when you reach out to pet or caress, They're essentially saying "no please, not right now". You could wait and try again or your horse might even touch you communicating that they might be ready for touch. Or, when you groom....if your horse gives you some type of grumpy behavior, instead, consider it's your horse's communication and offer a lighter touch. These are all examples of being aware and seeing, hearing, and noticing your horse's communications.

Here's the difficult caveat to the last couple of paragraphs: you need to learn how to manage your internal energy.....which is a hard one 😬 Your horse needs to feel that your message is consistent both in your physical presentation of the message (i.e. looking where your horse is looking, etc) as well as with what's going on inside you. Essentially if a horse is worried, you need to communicate on the inside that you're looking with concern; depending where you are in your relationship with your horse sometimes it's best to match your horse's energy followed by coming back to your horse with an energy that says "phew.....we're all good and we're safe". Yet at other points in your relationship, it's better emit a calm and safe energy until your horse is calm too: To do this you need to learn how to lower your energy. Here's a blog post that discusses that concept in depth: Is it possible to be aware of and manage YOUR "energy" to improve your horsemanship? Additionally, it's helpful if you can emulate the sound your horse makes when they realize that something isn't a threat.....generally a sigh, a breathe out, a four-part breathe out (similar to us at the end of a human after crying), a lick & chew, a yawn, a head drop, etc. (If you've been spending non-demanding time with your horse, you'll learn a bit about your horse's release choices.) Additionally when you're grooming or offering touch, it's important to check that your energy is calm and relaxed and that you're not thinking about something else other than what you're doing or you might be communicating tension which will be a very mixed message combined with grooming and touch.


Being aware and in-the-moment in your relationship with your horse, should go on forever. But, as time goes on you might not have to physically show that you're aware as your horse will come to trust that you are always "on top of" what's going on around the two of you. Eventually, your horse will flick an ear toward you to "check-in" as if to say" "are we good?" You then would be able to offer a "good feelings" sound or touch to say: "yes, we're safe" well as a "lower energy" communication.


As mentioned above, developing a language with your horse using cues which communicate some key behavior/feelings will be very helpful to create trust.

These cues or sounds/words should to be taught as communication to your horse over time and prior to their use.

An example of a cue or suggestion

is: "pay attention to me" which can be utilized to help your horse come back to you when they're worried or to ask them to simply "check-in with you". Some cues or communication examples of this could be: touching a rein (if you're in the saddle) or a touch on your horse's neck when you're on-the-ground. You can also develop a vocal cue. If you choose to use a vocal cue, your sound or word should sound somewhat abrupt and short, Your goal is to have an ear flick toward you. Ideally when your partnership has becomes really solid, your horse will be flicking an ear to you on the ground as well as regularly while you're riding.

A feel good "good feeling" word which can also communicate "don't worry...we're fine" is crucial to your dialogue with your horse. The goal is to help them connect to a good, calm, relaxed state; it should help bring them back to a good place, if they're worried or stressed. In order for the sound/cue to make sense as a calming signal, it should ideally be quite lilting and drawn-out similar to the way you would address a child to communicate those calm, good feelings.


Sometimes, more help for your horse is needed to help them help themselves. This requires some on-the-ground training whereby you help your horse find comfort in other places further and further away from the barn or "buddy"; essentially asking for for just small bits at a time and rewarding the smallest try. You may need to change your goals a bit ... again to honor your horse's fears such as: shorter trail rides....go back before your horse gets concerned, etc. If you honor and help your horse, your horse's confidence and trust in you* will get better over time (see *note below). Your horse will then feel that he/she is safe trusting your judgement.

The more you see, hear, and connect with your horse; honor your horse; and help your horse (both while on-the-ground ....and then ultimately while riding)....the more your horse will see you as his/her protector and will trust you with his/her safety.

If you need help with putting all this into action, please feel free to contact me directly: HERE

*Of course, in order for all this to work YOU need to feel calm, confident, and not be scared or worried yourself. If you’re worried your horse will feel it and will know that he/she isn’t safe; your horse will also feel the need to shy, spook, bolt, or get back to another horse. The Building confidence for you and your horse. It's a two-way street. blog installment addresses confidence. As another resource for the rider exclusively, you might want to check out: the Confident Rider website.

Kyle Van Splinter



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