I recently bought a beautiful black and white paint horse who is about 12 years and is good as gold when ridden in his comfort zone – the outdoor arena where he can see other horses. He walks out fast but I have been riding all my life so I am quite comfortable with a fast mover. However, I am a trail rider through and through and want to take to the trail anytime and any place. He gets very nervous when he is out of sight of the barn and the other horses – yes, he is barn sour to the extreme – and recently got so insane with me on the trail that I had to jump off. He was whirling and backing – nearly into a barbed wire fence – and just was so beside himself with fear that I couldn’t get him to listen to me at all. I have been doing some natural horsemanship training and have learned how to bend him until he relaxes, the problem is that when he gets like that on the trail, no amount of bending or giving me his head works – he is like a little boy throwing a tantrum that won’t listen to anyone at that time.
I have always been a confident rider but this is starting to freak me out because I don’t know when he is going to do it and therefore am reluctantly giving up a large part of my trail riding opportunities to avoid putting him in the situation where he is going to be most frightened.
Will he ever get over this or is it just his nature?
Janie C. from Boulder, Colorado
Thank you so much for your question! This is a very common problem with a lot of horses and their owners.
One thing I want you to think about is that you said “he is fine when ridden in his comfort zone”. He is not “barn sour” he is just scared!!!! He feels as though he needs to be safe, that is what all horses want is to be safe! So where does he feel safe? Where he can see other horses.
So here is the other thing to think about. Is he seeing you as another horse, as a partner, a leader that is going to keep him safe? He is obviously not or he would not be doing these types of behaviors. Now I know he is new to you so I am not saying that you are doing anything bad, you just need to build a relationship with your new horse that is built on Trust, Respect and Love, and in that order.
It is great that you are learning more about Natural Horsemanship. And it is great that you are teaching him that when you do Lateral Flexion he should relax! That is really going to help you. And here is how! Thresholds!!!
It is all about Thresholds or their comfort zone. Here is an article about Thresholds that I want you to read.
So how can you apply Thresholds? Well while you are on the trail, or maybe while you are even walking from the arena to your trail, your horse will be going through a number of his thresholds. So you need to see the little signs that he is getting upset and not wait until he is at that place that you finally have to jump off to stay safe. When you reach a point like that all he can think about is survival, that is why nothing you do can get his attention. Horse don’t think that they are going to get hurt, they think they are going to DIE! When he gets to that point he thinks he is going to die. So you have to see the little points that happen before he gets to the die part. Every time you feel him get tense, or lift his head, or get faster in his walk, DON’T JUST KEEP GOING! Or you will get to the I am going to die part. If you stop him, let him get confident, do your lateral flexion, let him eat some grass, or anything else that he likes, like scratching, get him confident in that area before you keep going then you won’t get to the ‘I am going to die’ part.
So for the first trail ride you may only go 10 feet down the trail with 20 thresholds. But if you get him truly confident at each threshold then the next day you will go 40 feet with only 15 thresholds and so on and so on. Once your horse understands that you are not going to push him and you will let him set his pace and be confident he will start getting better and better and then eventually he will never have any more Thresholds because he knows that you will take care of him and keep him safe.
Consistency is key, never miss a threshold!
Also the more ground work you do the better. Ground work, if done correctly, will teach the horse that they can trust us and that we are their leader and partner that will keep them safe. Also a good thing to do is take him for walks on a trail where he is following you, as his partner and leader, and also thinking about his thresholds on the walk too.
YES he will get over this! I had a Arab that was a run away freak out horse. He hated trail rides! But over time and with a good understanding and relationship I could trail ride him anywhere I wanted bareback and bridleless! So yes he will get over this with a good relationship with you!
Thanks for the question and I hope this helps,