Horse refuses to go in barn
I am currently working with a 5 year old Standardbred mare. She was a racehorse and I have a theory that something traumatic has happened to her at the track because since she has come back, she refuses to go into the barn. I have been told that she was a hard break and was a 'useless racer' because she was inconsistent and 'broke' a lot in the races.
I was asked to help get her into the barn at night (For some reason the barn owner insists the horses have to come in at 9pm!) This mare will rear up and almost go over backwards when you ask her to be lead in the barn.
I have done everything I can think of... Done some ground work- have gotten her to the point where she will lead mostly respectfully, stop when asked, and back up. But when it comes to bringing her in, I have tried positive reinforcement with treats, pressure and release, but nothing seems to work.
I cannot put a chain over her nose. She will flip over. Speaking from experience. I have also tried having a assistant tap her hindquarters with a driving whip and stopping when she moves forward. This resulted in her swinging her hind-end towards the assistant and bucking at her, then began her huge rears again.
She may have had some whip abuse at the track. But I honestly do not have a clue. But all signs point that way.
I am just looking for some different ideas to try with her. I have told the barn owner that she would probably be just fine outside at night. She has a run-in shelter, heated water and would be fed. She has a thick coat. But the owner insists that she comes in, but he is not capable of doing that himself because of his age (Over 70) and his recent surgery.
I just don't want anyone, person or horse, getting hurt and would appreciate any ideas or tips.
I do not want any judgmental comments such as 'That old man shouldn't own horses' or 'horse sounds crazy'. We all have our opinions, but lets keep them to ourselves and only say useful and respectful things. Thanks! :-)
Have you tried backing her in? Also when tapping with the whip if she is looking at the barn quit tapping even if she isn't moving forward she is paying attention and thinking about it. When she takes her attention away from the barn then start tapping again. You also might try tapping on her side so she doesn't want to kick out instead of hind qtrs
Also is the barn well lit? And open so she doesn't feel closed in?
What else have you tried besides what you've said? Are the lights on or is it dark inside the barn? How wide is the door opening? Is it just a small walk in door? Is there a larger door that you could use? Is there another horse that she is turned out with that she is buddies with? Have you tried leading another horse in right in front of her?
You may have to spend quite a bit of time to get her through this. Walk her towards the barn. As soon as she balks, just hold steady pressure without looking back at her. Wait for her to talk just one step forward. When she does, turn and walk away from the barn and start over. If she simply refuses to step, you could try having your helper/coworker gently rock her sideways. Just enough to get her slightly off balance. If you don't have someone to help, talk a step or two to the side so you are putting the steady pressure to the side of her. When she takes a step to rebalance herself, release the pressure.
One last thing you could try. How is she with yielding her hindquarters? When she stops, her feet get stuck in place. You need to break them loose. Yield her rear end to get her feet moving again and try leading her in again. Repeat as needed if she stops again.
OK that wasn't the last thing. I just thought of another and didn't want to retype/correct it on my phone. How is she with backing up? Try backing her through the door. Sometimes, horse will back because something is unfamiliar. When they back up, they are fleeing in their mind but when the back past where they balked, they are better going forward the next time. I've used this several times going over obstacles, one being a bridge over water.
I had a similar experience just with a trailer. Just stop. Sit on a pale and put like a pound of pressure on the rope so you have a tight rope. It took me 2hrs to get a step. Once u do put slack in the rope tell them they are good and then start over. Everything takes time. When u have a day to do something, it takes a minute however when you have a minute it takes a day.
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I would walk her up and turn away BEFORE she starts to balk. Make it your idea, not hers. Circle one way, then turn and go the other way. Get closer to the barn as you go, then stop. Just wait. Don't look at the barn. Resume circles, getting progressively closer. Then stop, again, and wait. Then, one step toward the barn. Stop. NO pressure. Keep this up, and she will be in the barn.
Have you tried leading a buddy in in front of her? Lead another horse she's used to a few feet ahead, and just follow the other horse with a soft lead. Not long enough that she could get a leg over if she reared, just soft so she doesn't feel stuck.
I'd also try leading her in during the day. I don't know where you are, but at 9pm here it's pitch black and can be pretty spooky!
Another thing I would try (which I do with young horses teaching to load in a trailer) is take a bucket of grain/treats and put it near the entrance. Far enough away that she doesn't feel any threat yet. Let her eat for a few seconds, and then move it ahead 4-5 feet closer to the barn without pulling her with you. Go stand by the bucket with a longish lead. Like you're bored. Don't try to pull her there. If she has real issues and is sour to the barn, making it a positive experience is the only way to have her relaxed and willing about it in the future.
I also would try backing her in, but be careful not to get run over.
All good suggestions. When your working her are you doing it near the barn?
Would she be the only one in the barn? I'd try standing just inside the door and rattling a feed bucket to entice her to come in a step or two. This ways it's her decision. She gets a quick nibble then step back on step. Big decision now as she's dealing with her fear yet you have some tasty goodies. Don't pull on the lead. If she backs out, don't try to stop her. Just start again. She sees both the barn and her stall as a trap. If a horse can see out, it knows a predator can get it.
Thank you everyone for the ideas! I have listed them all! Will update if there is any improvement with this mare! I will note that I am not with this horse on a daily basis, but I am wanting to help the owner and the young/ inexperienced handler with her when I can.
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