Concentrate on getting the horse to take the bait—standing still is much easier than going back to the barn and working hard. I sound like a broken record here, but again, when you work him at the barn, make his feet hustle. If you just let him lollygag around like “Come on, Precious, you need to move your feet,” he won’t catch on to the lesson. You have to give him a reason to want to leave the barn.
Initially, you’ll have to establish a starting point as to how far away from the barn you can take the horse. Each time you rest him, you can gradually increase the distance from the barn. The first time you take him away from the barn, you might only get 30 feet away from it. Or, if your horse is really barn sour, you may only get him 10 feet away from the barn. Where your starting point is doesn’t matter. What is important is that you establish one. Once you have a starting point established, then you can gradually build on it.
The most important thing to remember is to quit the horse before he quits you. If you think the horse is going to stop 45 feet away from the barn, then you stop him and let him rest 43 feet away from the barn. You don’t want to turn going away from the barn into a fight, otherwise you’ll defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Practice working the horse at the barn and resting him away from it four or five rides in a row before even thinking about trail riding. By the time you take him on the trail, you want the horse to be thinking, “Man, I’m happy to leave the barn, there’s nothing back there for me except hard work and sweat.”
FIXING THE PROBLEM IN REVERSE
Some people have the opposite problem with their horses. The horse might willingly leave the barn, but as soon as he’s turned toward home, he starts power walking back or grabs the bit and bolts for home. He’s in a hurry because he thinks the barn is the greatest place in the world. And why wouldn’t he? He gets unsaddled, washed off and fed there and he gets to socialize with his buddies.
With this type of horse, let him get back home. Once you’re there, instead of getting off his back and putting him away, hustle his feet. Repeat the same process I described earlier. Make the horse hustle his feet at the barn, then rest him away from the barn. Do that five or six times in a row so that the horse realizes that the barn isn’t necessarily the best place to be.
When you do get off him for the day, don’t immediately put him away. That’s like saying, “You were right! The faster you get home, the quicker you get to be with your buddies and eat.” Instead, safely tie him up for a few hours to the tree or post of knowledge. I love tying my horses up after a training session to let them soak on the day’s lesson. It not only stops the horse from anticipating getting back to his stall or being turned out, but it teaches him patience as well.
Even if your horse doesn’t rush back to the barn after you’ve worked him, it’s still a good idea to do some maintenance on him. When you get him back to the barn, do a couple of rollbacks or take him through a series of serpentines. Do something to make him move his feet and reinforce to him that just because he’s back at the barn, he’s not going to get an instant relief from work. Even if your horse is well behaved, you have to maintain the foundation you taught him. The last thing you want to do is get back to the barn and immediately unsaddle him, put him away and give him some grain. Remember, horses are nothing more than maintenance with legs.
Stay a step ahead of your horse.
One way to deter your horse from wanting to rush back to the barn is to come back to it on different paths. In other words, try not to always come back to the barn from the same trail. Or, when you do come back to the barn, work the horse, and then immediately ride him off on another trail. Stay a step ahead of him. I do this with my horses even when I’m riding them in the arena. All of my arenas have multiple gates I can take my horses in and out of, so I’m conscious of always leaving the arenas through different gates. That stops the horses from getting hooked on one particular gate and thinking it’s how they can escape work.
Dismount away from the barn.
For extreme cases of barn-sour horses, after implementing the fix I described, you can also dismount the horse away from the barn. Get off him, loosen up his girth and then hand walk him home. This just further plants in the horse’s mind that the barn doesn’t mean his workday is done. This isn’t necessary for most horses, but it certainly helps with extreme cases.