Ring Sour

Story is a bit ring sour. Her previous owner was very upfront about this in her sale ad and in person. Since her new career doesn’t involve an arena, this isn’t a huge problem and obviously wasn’t a deal breaker.

However, it does make conditioning work trickier! My neighbor’s beautiful hay meadow is perfect for hacking, but she’s in the middle of harvesting a second cutting of hay from it. Hauling out isn’t impossible, but the closest trails are about 45 minutes away and not always feasible on a weekday. So Story and I are currently stuck in the arena. She is not a fan.

Story’s fitness plan involves fitting this whole bale of hay in her mouth.

Story is happy to walk around in the big outdoor arena on a loose rein. She marches along over ground poles, raised cavaletti, and the wooden bridge. She’s unfazed by cows, galloping yearlings, or people on mowers. I’m really pleased about all of that! But eventually she makes a beeline toward the arena gate and becomes very unhappy when she’s redirected. She stops dead and wrings her tail or kicks out when asked to move forward. Once she’s moving again, she repeats the behavior after a few strides. This is also her go-to if she’s asked to move from a walk to a trot.

It’s difficult for me to tell if this is a physical or mental problem. Maybe she stops because she’s out of shape and needs a break. Maybe she stops because this is a evasion that worked in the past. Maybe something is causing her pain. Maybe she’s just burned out on arena work.

So far, I’ve addressed her behavior by asking her to go forward when she stops and rewarding her when she does so by releasing my leg or dressage whip, petting her neck, and verbally telling her she’s a good girl. I’m trying to keep rides short (around 20 or 30 minutes) so she hopefully learns the arena is not a place of endless work. I’m also trying to introduce some variety into our rides – leg yields, turns on the forehand, halting, backing, cavaletti – so more than her ability to walk laps is challenged.

Happy to march around on a long rein.

I hope after a few weeks or months of this type of arena work combined with excursions elsewhere will help! I don’t mind if Story never goes super well in an arena, but it does help to have somewhere to ride when the hay meadow is unavailable and hauling out isn’t feasible.

I’d love to hear your suggestions for or experiences with ring sour horses!

3 thoughts on “Ring Sour”

  1. The best approach I have found is to make the desired area the place of work and the other area for rest. So if sh3 headed to the gate or refused to leave I would say ‘okay, let’s work at the gate’ and put her to work. Not in a punitive way but in a matter of fact way. I’d trot, change directions etc and then take all pressure off when she was pointing away.

    It takes a few repetitions but it does work. It really worked well for Carmen.

  2. Shiny gets a little like this when she needs vet work. Not so bad that she stops, but when I ask her for canter she’ll suck back, wring her tail, and kick out. But I’ve ridden others that are just ring sour that act that way too. These are the times I wish they could just say “I hate this.” Or “my hocks hurt, please fix it.” It would be a lot easier! I’m confident you’ll figure it out though. And hopefully they”ll be done with the hay soon so you can get back out in the field!

  3. congrats on the new horse! she seems lovely <3 charlie has always been a bit barn sour in general, and gate sour in particular. i have tried *every* method known to man, and concluded that… you just can't "fix" it. bc at the end of the day, we always go back to the barn. so no matter what the horse does, it always accomplishes their goal lol. unless, i guess, you just wanna release the horse to the wilderness instead?? lol (yes, have considered before!….).

    so basically, with charlie now, i aim to be extremely clear and intentional. when we are going to the gate, it is absolutely clear we are exiting. and i otherwise am very mindful of avoiding a situation where he "thinks" we're done, when we are not. my sense is that the horse just wants to understand what we want from them, doesn't want to be tricked, and will more or less consent to a little more work if they know they can trust us when we say, "ok we are done!" sometimes with charlie, we kinda have to have a big push to get back to work if he's tired after a break — but when i'm working on establishing the routine, it's easy enough to reward him instantly for just shutting up and going, and calling the day right then and there to reaffirm that's all i needed from him. setting ground poles nearby helps give us something to aim at to take focus off the gate, too.

    ooh, and also, we do a tiny little circle at the gate before exiting. every.single.time.no.exceptions. charlie knows this, he does them himself. but what he *doesn't* do is bolt the gate LOL #winning?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *