Barn sour!! - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 17 Old 11-06-2014, 02:58 PM Thread Starter
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Exclamation Barn sour!!

Hello horse people,
I have an age old problem with my Tennessee Walker mare, where she tries to race home every time we go out. She is a perfect sweetheart while leaving, with only a little bit of a fast pace where she will slow down if requested. This is her only bad habit, and it has progressively gotten worse. At one specific point, she will even buck and/or rear if she is held back. I am a 15 year old girl who has been riding for about 6 years, and I can not handle this problem without any advice. She is my first horse, and even my dad loves her, even though he is absolutely NOT a horse person! ;) Please help me if you have any experience or advice. Selling my perfect horse who only has one problem is not an option, so anything that you have to offer is worth it!
Thank you!
Michaela
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post #2 of 17 Old 11-06-2014, 03:11 PM
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To start off you could hand walk her away from the barn each day and gradually build up the amount of time she's away from the barn. If she's fine with that, do the same thing but undersaddle. Doing a little bit at a time can help make them less anxious.
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post #3 of 17 Old 11-06-2014, 03:42 PM
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If indeed the only problem is when you turn to go back to the barn it can be relatively easy to fix. If there is something else going on and this is just a symptom of a cause then you may need more help then you realize.

The goal is to get her thinking about you, not on the barn. First don't fight her by pulling on two reins she will win. Do lots of changes of direction serpentines, circles, go around trees, over logs, move her shoulders, do gait transitions if you can but keep her thinking about you and what your going to ask next. When and if she acts like she wants to walk or slow down give her the opportunity, if she speeds back up put her feet back to work. Turn around and go back the other way until she relaxes, keep her thinking about you.

Secondly don't just put her in her stall and feed her when you get back, make getting back uneventful. Tie her in safe area and let her stand tied for a long while, not just 15 minutes, I am talking a couple of hours. She will learn there is no reason to get back if you don't give her one.

Third be consistent, and patient, the process will work and it will take time. You have to respond to her the same way every time, so she can figure out what you expect. If one time you let her just go back at her speed then you just confused her, she needs to know the rules always apply.

Eventually she will learn to walk back, but you will have the tools you need in case she decides to test you. Be safe.
loosie, Maple, Foxhunter and 3 others like this.
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post #4 of 17 Old 11-07-2014, 05:59 AM
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Agree with above, apart from 'secondly'. Remember, horses learn from *instant* reinforcement, and do what works for them, quit doing what doesn't work. So firstly, getting home & resting there (tied or otherwise) might 'work' very well for a lot of horses - it is a desirable thing. Secondly, if you're doing something with the hope of effecting a behaviour, it needs to be within a few seconds of that behaviour, not a minute or hours after. Teaching horses to stand tied & be patient is invaluable, but it won't have any effect on the ride you recently had.
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post #5 of 17 Old 11-07-2014, 10:59 AM
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I would add not always using the same return path towards home. Walk past the driveway, or entrance to the home trail, even by a few feet, or reverse direction for a couple steps. My horse used to speed walk home, but that has changed over time. I try to always change up our routes while on the trail so it isn't same old same old.
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post #6 of 17 Old 11-10-2014, 07:22 AM
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I read this suggestion, somewhere, and it seemed to make sense. Do not cause returning to be a reward. No feed, no water, plus half hour or so working in the round pen. Make returning not scary for certain but nothing to necessarily look forward to.

And the notion of accomplishing 1% per day for 100 days seems an important approach. That's over 3 months but then it's done forever.
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post #7 of 17 Old 11-10-2014, 08:05 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hondo View Post
Do not cause returning to be a reward. No feed, no water, plus half hour or so working in the round pen. Make returning not scary for certain but nothing to necessarily look forward to.
See above re instant associations, for one reason I don't agree with working the horse(or failing to feed or water) as punishment. It is also extremely commonly the case that a horse is 'barn sour' because he's afraid to be out in the big wide world, so regardless of how punishing you might make homecoming, it's still a 'reward' because it's where he finds safety... which is more important than discomfort.
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post #8 of 17 Old 11-10-2014, 09:36 AM
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I understand instant association in training and also personally believe in abstaining from punishment.

The recommendations that I read and related in my post do not in my view necessarily have to constitute a punishment and should not be thought of that way or executed as such. They should be made just a routine part of the ride.

The horse seems to be making a distant association with what is going to happen upon returning to the barn. If it's a lot of really good stuff, pellets and alfalfa, that's not instant association. The horse is thinking ahead. My intent is to suggest changing up what he is thinking about lying ahead.

An opposite example that I had personal experience was Hondo being herd sour. It was very difficult to lead him away from the herd in the field. Just did not want to leave.

I read a suggestion on the net and began what I called "The Easter Egg Hunt". (this started near easter)

I would place a small dish (or two) of pellets along the trail I had planed to take on our daily 1-2 mile walk. Could have just been the daily interaction with him that did the trick, but in my mind having an association with leaving the herd and good stuff happening helped. I would also leave to return to the herd before he finished his goodies. (hey, i don't wanna go back to the herd yet, i'm not finished, let's stay here)

Whether it was just regular old desensitisation from repetition or if the discovered "easter eggs" worked, something did work.

I now walk out into the herd of 23 horses in roughly 600 acres and Hondo walks over to me and literally sticks his nose into the held open halter and leads happily away. And most of those times he gets ridden soon after.

CDC Advisor: " Wearing a mask is a lot easier than wearing a ventilator"
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post #9 of 17 Old 11-10-2014, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Hondo View Post
The recommendations that I read and related in my post do not in my view necessarily have to constitute a punishment and should not be thought of that way or executed as such. They should be made just a routine part of the ride.
Why?? (Positive)Punishment is something undesirable that you 'apply' to lessen the likelihood of a behaviour. If you're not wantint to make homecoming unpleasant for that reason, why??

Quote:
The horse seems to be making a distant association with what is going to happen upon returning to the barn. If it's a lot of really good stuff, pellets and alfalfa, that's not instant association. The horse is thinking ahead. My intent is to suggest changing up what he is thinking about lying ahead.
What makes you think he 'seems to be making distant associations'? I don't know about that. And as mentioned, returning to the 'barn' can be very rewarding in itself, regardless of what unpleasantness might also happen.

Your 'opposite eg' is one method of reinforcing the 'good' behaviour, rather than punishing the 'bad'. I think positive reinforcement(reward) based training is incredibly helpful & effective when done well. Again though, instant associations still apply.
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post #10 of 17 Old 11-10-2014, 06:45 PM
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Hi loosie,

We are appearing to disagree but I'm betting in the long run we don't.

Allow me to explain a little more. When we talk of positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment, we are talking about operant conditioning, or at least I am. To my understanding, (it's been a while), the stimuli can appear either before or after the resultant behavior, depending on which of the four modes are used, but in all cases the time between stimuli and resultant behavior is small. Real small. 3 seconds. Less if possible. The quicker the stronger the association.

If operant conditioning were to be used in this case, I think something would need to be done the instant the horse wanted to speed up to get back to the barn.

And certainly something needs to be done there, otherwise there could be a dangerous high speed return to the barn.

But for long term remission of this barn sour tendency, I was not thinking of beating the horse up in the round pen and let it become famished with thirst and hunger while thinking, there that serves you right. No!

I was simply thinking of something that would extend the ride after returning to the barn.

Rather than denying the horse food and water and working in the round pen, perhaps I should have suggested to just extend the ride either in a field if available or even in the round pen itself. If there is a horse trough, let it drink as it would from a stream out on the ride.

What I was trying to suggest, and apparently failed miserably, was to
remove at least some of the reward associated with returning to the barn and make returning to the barn in the horses mind not that much different than staying on the trail.

And I didn't think to mention it in the other post but doing things that make it at least a little fun on the trail might help also. I try to do that with Hondo. If we've been out a while and I see a particularly nice patch of grass, I'll ride over, dismount, and let him eat. I'll loosen his cinch and sometimes pull his saddle.

We all have dichotomies of various sorts within us, or at least I do, and since I believe horses are a lot like people in some ways, I suspect they do to.

Trail-Work-Do Stuff I Hafta/Barn-Free-Do what I Wanna.

That's all I meant to suggest. Nothing in the way of either positive or negative punishment at all.

I'm working on Hondo with a long term goal of him bonding to the degree that he is as content here in his pen as he is out with the herd. Ya, I know, lotsa luck!

I'll give it a year. There has actually been some progress.

Harold

CDC Advisor: " Wearing a mask is a lot easier than wearing a ventilator"
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