How To Safely Ride a Frisky, Barn-Sour Trail Horse



Thank you for taking the time to read this. My question is about my 14 year old QH trail mare. When on a trail ride, as soon as I even think of turing back for home she tosses her head, prances and pulls on the bit, (bites it) and even does tiny, frisky, defiant jumps. I turn her in tight circles and ask her to calm down. She will, but it’s a tense and scary ride the rest of the way home. She is also a big anticipator, and will act up and then turn herself in circles!

Her background is that she is an amazing, gentle, gorgeous, well-mannered, respectful girl. Excellent trail horse, will go through anything. We work very well together. She is a flashy type, impossible to tire out, strong and big. If my horse and I have a problem it’s me wanting her to go slowly. I think it’s a combination of defiance and being bored. She needs a job…climbing hills is fine, but she is capable of much more.

Otherwise my mare and I are blissfully happy. She is so sensitive, sweet, smart, etc.. I’ve never (in 10 years) had her buck or explode on me— and I want to AVOID IT! I am 90% sure if I kick her in the sides and rip on her mouth, she may lose it, and I’ll lose my butt! I’ve never done it and am scared to. Plus, I don’t want to make it worse…

I need advice other than, “Make her move her feet.” What else is there? Help! I want to feel safe on my mare!


What your horse is displaying is just a tad bit of barn sourness and excessive energy, and there are a couple of different things you can work on to remedy it.

When I hear of a high-strung horse problem, one of the first things I ask about is what the horse is being fed. If a high-energy feed is in the rations, and if the horse is not being used and excercised accordingly, your horse’s problems may be coming straight from her feed bag. As long as your veterinarian has not prescribed extra feed for weight gain, etc., try backing off a little on the grain, and up her hay instead. You might notice a good change after a week or two, and as long as she is in good health, less grain might be a better fit for the amount of exercise she is getting.

Maybe you have her feed set just right, I don’t know….but a lot of horse owners over-do the grain, then wonder why their horse is developing problems (prancy, fidgety, starts weird stuff like rearing or shying when it used to be a calm, steady horse). So look at that, first.

You will also want to be sure there’s nothing causing your horse discomfort, such as an ill-fitting saddle or bridle, and that the horse has no soundness or pain issues. For instance, sometimes pain in the horse’s stifles can cause it to “rush” and always be in a hurry, or fidgety.

You also asked for advice other than “make her move her feet”, but that is one of the things I would suggest for this problem. That, and a whole lot more riding. I think the mare is anticipating getting back to the barn and being returned to her stall and fed immediately after your rides. So change it up a bit. Ride her longer when you get back
to the barn. Make her work harder at the barn (lots of transitions, trotting, circles, poles, etc.) than she works when riding out on the trail. She should not associate that turning around for home with getting to go be all done. So do a complete switch on your riding routine, and always make an effort to be in control of your horse and her schedule. If you’re always riding close to feeding time, this may be a problem. If so, see if your mare can be fed before you ride….or feed later in the evening, so that you still have riding time that is separate from feeding time.

When she is anticipating what you are going to ask of her, that’s a signal that you are far too predictable of a rider. Surprise her and make her stop and stand (rather than turn circles). Or make her walk back the other direction, away from home. But if she is acting up and then wanting to turn circles, do not allow her to make that choice. You need to take a more active role in what she is doing, and have it in your head what you’re going to do when she tries these little tricks.

Another thing you can do is when you get back from a trail ride, then make her work circles in the arena, etc….then tie her with her tack on out by your horse trailer or somewhere away from her stall. Leave her safely tied within sight while you do something else for awhile, muck a stall, read a book, file your fingernails, chat with other boarders, etc. But make her wait and stand tied rather than rush right back to her own little world of eating/socializing with other horses. This will reinforce her comfort away from her stall.

Also, make the trail rides more enjoyable. Go out on longer rides. Explore places you’ve never ridden in before. Take along a snack for both of you to enjoy, or get off and let her graze in a grassy area or awhile, and let her realize that trails can be fun, too. She should learn that you are the leader, and she can be as happy and comfortable in your presence as she is around her stable mates. The more time you spend alone with her, apart from others, doing work or having fun…that will build your relationship with her and she will learn to be more content.

Other than that, just keep riding and try to use calm, patient cues even when you’re frustrated. It sounds like you have the confidence to stick with her, and it sounds like she is a valuable horse in every other way. So invest more time in her, and she will pay you back with behaving better.

Good luck! I hope this helps, and thank you for reading CowgirlDiary!

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