What Does It Mean If A Horse Is ‘Barn Sour?’


A barn sour horse is not a fun horse to ride when out on trails. These horses are known to actually be potentially dangerous when riding away from the barn or their home. What does barn sour mean? And what are other names can this issue be called?

What Does Barn Sour Mean?

Barn Sour is a phrase used by people in the horse industry to describe a horse that has difficulties leaving and returning back to its barn or home. A barn sour horse will usually be reluctant to leave the facility, walk or travel slowly when riding away from the barn or facility, but when it comes time to turn back home, they want to gallop back to the barn to get home as soon as possible. Much of the time, barn sour horses will also neigh and stop moving forward and try to turn around during the ride because they have such a hard time leaving home.

What Other Names Can Barn Sour Be Known As?

If you aren’t familiar with the phrase ‘barn sour,’ you may recognize some other names for this behavior. The other names that this issue can be known as include:

  • Barn Sick
  • Barn Bound
  • Homebound

What Causes A Horse To Be Barn Sour?

Sometimes, horses are naturally anxious, and being taken away from their home or safe place can cause their anxiety to spike and makes them become extremely nervous. Anxiety in horses is one main cause of barn sourness.

Many times, people only find that their horses are barn sour if they ride the horse out alone or take the horse somewhere without any other horses along for the ride. Because horses are herd animals, they do better in groups of other horses as they feel much safer in numbers than they do alone. This is why a horse may only show their ‘barn sourness’ if they are alone as they don’t feel as secure.

The main thing that causes barn sourness is when the horse feels unsafe or insecure.

What Is The Difference Between Barn Sour & Herd Bound?

Barn sour and herd bound horses are often confused. A barn sour horse is a horse that feels insecure away from the barn and wants to go back to its home as soon as it possibly can, often which ends up with the horse sometimes bolting home. A herd bound horse is a horse that is just wanting to be with its herd and as long as it is with other horses it is okay. This means that the horse might be okay leaving home, but only if other horses go with it.

Many horses are actually both barn sour and herd bound which makes differentiating them very difficult.

At What Age Are Horses More Likely To Be Barn Sour?

Typically, horses that are barn sour are younger when looking at their age. The average age for a horse to be barn sour is between 5 and 15 as usually somewhere in this age range the issue is addressed or the horse grows out of it.

Some horses remain barn sour for the rest of their lives. This was an issue I dealt with when I had my first horse (I will talk about my experience below.)

Is There A Way To Fix Barn Sourness?

Yes, there is a way to fix and work on this issue that many horses deal with. Barn sourness can be fixed through gradual introduction. If your horse struggles with being away from its home no matter the circumstances, working at it bit by bit can help.

Try riding your horse or taking your horse for a walk away from the barn enough for where the horse is wanting to go back, but not trying to run away from you to get back to their home. Practice this until your horse relaxes and realizes that it doesn’t need to panic or worry as you will go right back home at the end of your walk or ride. You can also practice this by going further and further away and then go on a trail ride or just a ride down the road with another person so your horse feels safe.

Keep progressing with the distances that you ride to work on how well your horse does with being away from home. Make sure that you remain patient with your horse. This is something that they are afraid of doing and I’m sure that you wouldn’t want to be rushed into a scary situation quickly.

My Experience With Barn Sour Horses

My first horse, Show-Me, was a Palomino Missouri Fox Trotter mare that I had the privilege to own when I was just 14 years old. She was the best horse and had almost now flaws in her temperament, training, and gentleness. The one thing that was a flaw in this horse was the fact that she was very badly barn sour.

She would, when I would ride her out on the dirt roads of my neighborhood, constantly try to stop and turn back home, continuously neigh, and if we did turn back home would try to gallop as fast as she could back to the barn. When riding her, it was often quite stressful because as soon as we’d turn back home, she would try to take off. This resulted in many rides where all I did was hold her back.

One time, my sister and I tried to take her for a walk, but she ended up rearing up and freaking out not far down the road from the barn. We ended up turning back as it was getting difficult to handle her from the ground.

Sadly, she passed away not long after I was able to call her my own meaning that I was never able to work much on this issue that she had left home. Had I had the opportunity to own her longer and work with her on this, her barn sourness would have been the key thing I would’ve worked on in our days together.

Hailey Johnson

Horses have been my passion ever since I can remember. At school, I was known as that weird horse girl, and I would read horse encyclopedias for fun. Over the years since those days, I have only learned more. My experiences with horses of a variety of breeds have taught me a lot. Now I want to share what I know with you!

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