• Erin Long

Buddy Sour Blues

Bucking, dragging, neighing, bulging - all of these are behaviors that buddy or barn sour horses tend to exhibit. Having a buddy sour horse can be dangerous, so today I want to talk about how you and your horse can get past it. 

First, I want to make one thing clear: buddy sourness is completely natural. Horses are herd animals. They will innately want to cling to their herd and where they feel safe. This is precisely why attempting to just punish a horse (smacking, yanking, etc) for buddy sourness doesn't work. In their mind, you're only reinforcing that they have something to fear when away from the herd, and it can actually make them employ more dangerous behaviors to escape you. 

Instead, focus on why your horse doesn't want to leave his herd. We strive to be leaders for our horses, and provide a place that offers clear communication and understanding. If your horse is severely buddy sour, he isn't getting this from you as strongly as he is from his herd mates. When a horse is exhibiting a buddy sour behavior, he's effectively saying "you aren't engaging my mind enough or asking me the right questions, so I'd like to return to the animals that do". So how can you fix this?

​Step one is to be preventative. Even just walking from the barn, pay attention to your horse. Walk with confidence and purpose. If you notice him lagging, or tipping his nose and ears towards the barn, ask more of him. Ask him to jog a circle, or sidepass, or yield his fore or hindquarters. Bring his focus back into you before it becomes an issue. Eventually he'll start focusing on you constantly, as he'll want to respond immediately in case you ask for something of him. 

When riding, the same general principle applies, except that the upper end of the spectrum can come into play as well. Your horse could be bored/confused, or he could feel overwhelmed by what you're asking of him. So, in the saddle, when your horse starts to direct his attention elsewhere, ask him for a challenging exercise that you know he is capable of. ​

For example, with Cleo right now that is leg yielding or sidepassing. She is very capable of it, but she has to focus on me in order to execute it correctly. This draws her focus back into the arena before she can escalate her behavior into something dangerous. You should always be challenging your horse, but this is one point where it's especially critical to do so. 

I also want to note, as there was some confusion on the Instagram post located here, that this is not to be severe, rushed, etc. The goal is to get your horse to want to direct his attention to you, and the performance of whatever you have asked should always be followed with a reward (like anything your horse does in response to a cue). Your horse shouldn't find whatever you're asking to be difficult or aversive, because as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, adding unpleasant things defeats the purpose of trying to build their confidence. Instead it should be something interesting that they would like to participate in in order to draw their attention away from their equine friends.

Effectively, the goal is to provide your horse with leadership, confidence, and engaging activities when he's away from his friends. That way, he won't fear leaving them, as he knows what to expect and knows you will be there to guide him. I hope this helps you guys with your buddy sour horses. Please feel free to ask questions below!

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