Horse Barn/Arena/Ring Sour

Information on equine anxiety, fears of barn sour or ring/arena sour horses.

info on barn sour or ring/arena sour horses

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  1. What are Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour?
  2. What Causes Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/
  3. Diagnosing Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour
  4. Help for Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour

What are Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour?

Horses, like humans and pets tend to have a variety of behavioral problems. These behavioral issues may arise suddenly, after a traumatic experience, or may be deeply rooted from past experiences. For instance, an abused horse may lack confidence when it is away from home base.

A horse may want to return to the barn when the owner is trying to ride him/her out – or a horse may show great resistance to riding in a ring or staying in an arena. These are issues that need to be addressed on many levels – with physical and mental support and perseverance.

What Causes Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour?

Barn Sour is likely the result of anxiety produced by separation from:

  • A group of horses (the herd)
  • A particular equine buddy
  • A physical location that represents security

The cause of this problem is almost always horse anxiety caused from insecurity. Remember that as a prey animal, a horse’s in-built mechanism is fight or flight response kicks in when danger is present. Safety lies in numbers. Perceived separation from the herd leaves a horse vulnerable to attack – this instinct is still sharp, despite years of evolution and domesticity. As insecurity escalates, the matter is made worse as horse has not reached the level of training necessary to overcome the insecurity. This can create a cycle that is hard to break.

Arena Sour/Ring Sour is mostly caused by strict routines that never waver tend to cause ring sour horses. A horse may become frustrated with the same routine and boredom may cause it to ‘act out’ and avoid the routine. An unpleasant experience in the ring or underlying anxiety and stress can greatly influence a horse’s avoidance of a ring or arena. A horse may avoid entering the area at all costs- producing an emotional and unpleasant experience for both horse and owner.

Diagnosing Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour

A barn sour horse will not willingly leave the barn, and when it eventually does, it will try anything to return to the barn, often speeding back at great pace! This can make leaving impossible and cause great distress for both horse and owner.

A ring sour horse is any horse that does not willingly enter the arena or ring. If a horse won’t go willingly and easily into an arena (whether he’s a park horse, participates in speed events or domesticated), he is said to be ‘ring sour’. This type of horse has gotten the idea that the arena is an unpleasant place to be and resists going into the arena or ring at all costs.

Help for Barn Sour/ Arena Sour/ Ring Sour

There are many medications to assist horses that have behavioral issues or stress and anxiety. Unfortunately these medications are not without side effects, and while they may help to relax the horse in the short term, their long-term effects are not known. Furthermore, sedatives and calming drugs can leave a horse’s senses dulled – that can make competitive events difficult, as concentration and alertness is required. Speak to your vet about other alternatives.

Tips related to Barn Sour

Teach your horse to be responsive to your cues. Focus your horse’s attention on you, away from the barn and his buddies. Do this in a calm manner.

  • Start by asking him to perform basic, familiar maneuvers near the barn.
  • Gradually increase the difficulty of the maneuvers and increase the distance – working farther and farther from home.
  • Ride about 10 feet from the barn, then turn and ride back to it.
  • When your horse seems comfortable with this, ride about 15 feet away from the barn before returning to home base. Then ride out 10 feet from the barn, returning to within five feet, before riding 20 feet away.
  • Play with the distance and direction. With repetition your horse will learn to stay relaxed – as he/she knows you will return to the barn.
  • Use a smooth full-cheek snaffle – allowing you to ride with two hands, use your reins to "lead" your horse.
  • Gather 10 cones, or other markers, to create a "test" pattern.
  • Praise and reward him when he gives you even the slightest positive response. (Do not whip or spur).
  • Spend 2 to 3 hours on this and repeat it daily until your horse willingly moves away from the barn at your request.


Tips related to Arena Sour/Ring Sour
  • Vary your routine of showing as much as possible
  • Allow your horse to take part in other events, to take the edge off competitive habits
  • Change or delay the manner in which you enter the ring or arena. Repetitive and habitual behavior by an owner often creates frustration for a horse and may contribute to the likelihood of ring sour…

Try the following:

  • Keep your horse with you and vary the things you do – lead him/her into the ring when you set up a pattern. Ride him/her into the arena while others are warming up then dismount and lead him/her on foot.
  • Mount outside the arena one time, inside the next.
  • Enter the arena at speed one time, walk, trot, or lead in the next.
  • Vary the exit in the same way.
  • Take him/her through the pattern slowly or even start it in the middle!


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