Help me help them figure it out!

I’m pulling out my hair over here…I have a pretty spread-out property and my pasture is a long ways from my barn. About a month ago, I had a chute put in that connects my pasture to my dry lots that are directly behind my barn.

The chute is a cleared trail through the woods, with some open clearings, but you cannot see the barn from the pasture or vice versa. My horses quickly figured out how to get down to the pasture, but haven’t realized that the chute also TAKES THEM BACK UP TO THE BARN and they’re making me nuts because that’s where their water is, and where I need to bring them in at night!! Instead, they stand at the pasture gate pacing when they’re ready to come in. I end up having to lead them up the chute, which is no easy feat as it was built for horses and not humans and is a long hike.

I’ve shaken buckets of grain, ridden them up the chute from the pasture, led them up from the pasture, but they can’t seem to grasp to come up by themselves. Any ideas to help them figure this out?!

The whole point of the chute was so I didn’t have to lead three of them up my long, steep driveway and they’re really not cooperating with this plan :joy:


You could try operant conditioning i.e.
Pavlov’s Dog.

Get you one of those triangles and strike it each time you feed them . Or ring a bell.

They should come running up in no time.


Ha! I’m a psych major and that was my first thought! I never followed through with actually BUYING a bell, however. :woman_facepalming:

In my laziness, I thought shaking grain in a bucket would have the same effect but they can’t hear that all the way from the pasture. Okay, good call. Off to order a bell…

ETA - My only problem might be that they still haven’t connected the dots that they need to come up the chute and instead they pace at the pasture gate. When I’ve shaken grain they run around the gate and don’t go to the chute, which is on the other side of the pasture.

How long has this new set up been in place? I recently did something similar and it took the horses about two weeks to reliably find their way back. They’ll figure it out but I feel your pain having to hike out to them.

It’s probably been close to a month! I really thought they would have caught on by now.

Oh man, that is a drag! Can you put a hay trail down the chute for a few days? That’s what I ended up doing.


Get some bales of hay and dribble hay crumbs from the gate to the entrance to the chute and up the chute as far as you want to go.

Maybe they will follow the hay and so find their way up there, where you have some more good stuff ready for them?

If they are not the brightest, you may have to do that a few times, until they catch on.

Edited to say, guess we came up with the same idea at the same time. :wink:


So Pavlov walks into a bar…

Sits down, orders a beer.

The phone rings…

Pavlov jumps up and runs out the door, yelling, “Oh no! I forgot to feed the dogs!”

I hope your horses figure out how to move themselves soon.


How wide & long are the chute? Did they have access to the woods prior to the chute being constructed? Assuming you’re on daytime turnout at the moment, what time are you bringing in? Is it possible they’re sensing a nocturnal animal becoming active & don’t want to walk through there? Or maybe there’s funky shadow that isn’t there at turn out? Worth walking thru it at very slowly to see if anything jumps out at you. Hopefully not literally :joy: . But, hey! At least you’d know.

Here’s my New Age, crunchy granola theory: They’re unaccustomed to the decision of when to come up being theirs. It was always you as the decision maker in that regard. They likely understand how to use the chute. They just aren’t totally sure if they should. You need to grant them permission. Maybe try temporarily removing the gate & installing fence boards. Inconvenient, but easily undone.

Next, try some visualization with them. Start in the field with the. Picture in your head the horses walking up to the barn, entering their stalls, & enjoying their dinners. Next, imagine yourself in the barn doing evening chores. You’rr happily readying the barn for the horses. You can see them coming up the chute now & you’re cheerful for not having to walk down to get them. You greet each warmly as he arrives & show him the waiting food and water. You’re so proud of them for bringing themselves up! Maybe a small piece of whatever they consider a high-stakes treat. Next, picture the steep driveway & yourself struggling to lead all 3 at once. Then back to how happy you are all going to be with the chute. Repeat over the next few days. You just want to make it clear you have removed yourself from the process. Hope thar helps!


Love everything about your post! That’s a great point, we have a ton of deer that tend to come out around dusk and spook the horses. I bet that could be part of the issue. The horses come in right before it gets dark, so right now it’s close to 6pm.

Yesterday I led them from the pasture gate where they were pacing to come in, to the chute opening at turn in time, and they all walked themselves up to the barn…I suspect I’ll need to do that several more times.

Interestingly, there were two days they did come up to the barn on their own. One time was only an hour earlier than I’d bring them in so I brought them in early and fed since it was brutally cold anyway. The other time was mid-afternoon when they came up and then I guess they gave up on me bringing them in and went back down to the pasture and refused to come back up the chute that evening.

I’ve tried the hay trail the first few days they had access to the chute, and it’s still sitting there in piles.

sounds like they just do not want to go “home” to the barn

A horse’s sense of smell and positional awareness is actually amazing (to me)

My oldest daughter and a friend were out riding on the river levee about four miles away, the horses had not been there before. Daughter’s friend did something goofy and feell off, horse looked at rider on the ground and proclaimed Not My Fault, turn and back tracked home, down the levee, off at where they came on and back through the cut in the woods to the city streets where a police car saw the horse, police followed the horse as they said it really seemed to know where it wanted to go AND it stopped at all cross walks looking both ways before proceeding (one street is a four lane divided highway…they said horse got to the median…stopped looked both ways then proceeded when clear)… and we look up to see horse trotting down the street to our drive, turns in trots up to the gate and stops with her police escort following… followed by daughter with her friend riding double.

Also horse know pretty much where they are, at least ours do. When out in the LBJ Grassland which is huge area where there is a central parking area to unload with rings of trails intersecting there. I was on our little horse on the other ring of trails when horse decided I was Lost. She turns to look at me with a big question mark in her eyes …Lost, Again? OK dear, you take us to the truck…which she did cross county directly to the truck

So my thought is they really do not want to go to the barn.

Might want to give them some treat once they get the barn as an encouragement

Maybe they think they’ve trained you! When they paced the gate, you brought them in. Voila! Trained owner.

I might consider if there are right angles in the fence line from the pasture to the chute. If those angles can be eased to create a funnel shape, it might help. I worked for years at a barn with up to 60 horses, turned out in groups of 15 or so in 20 acre pastures. Each one had a “lane” to the barn. We had a special shout that called them all in and they would remember even after going south for the winter. But I would note that each of our lanes was wide enough for a hay wagon to go down it comfortably. Narrowness of your chute might be an issue too. At least cut down brush on either side to increase visual space.

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How wide is the chute? Like less than 20’? I’ve not had any adult animals (horses, cattle, pigs, sheep) that will enter a traditional cattle sorting type chute by it’s own volition. It goes against their innate survival instincts. That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to failure here; I’ve taught animals how to do it. It just takes time.

In your situation, I’m betting only part of it is the addition of the chute & more the fact you’re trying to change the long standing routine of you bringing the horses in. Checking the chute thoroughly for scary, horse-eating environmental factors is the first step. Based on my (admittedly limited) understanding of how horses see it sounds like they perceive shadows with higher contrast than we do. As you noted, the deer activity at that hour could well be a factor.

Next step is letting them know the routine is changing. You will no longer come get them. The decision to come up is now theirs to make. I agree with PP who suggested training them to a “come home” signal like a bell or whistle for times you need them up pronto. You indicated the water is up there & you need for them to also go back & forth at liberty, too. Maybe putting hay out in the dry lot after a certain time of day would help. And add in the visualization technique I mentioned in my other post. It sounds off the wall; “I’m sending IMAGES to my horses!” All it is really doing is altering your own energy & your body’s electromagnetic field. Animals are very sensitive to perceiving those changes & respond accordingly.

But for going south all winter, I’d swear I worked at the same place!

The only concern I would have is the water situation. Any chance you could get water to the pasture?

I sorta trained the horses at the barn where I board to come when I yelled “Cookies!”
It wasnt on purpose.

I used to come into the barn and shake a bag of ginger snaps and yell “Who wants cookies?”
It didnt take them anytime to figure that one out.

One day they all turned out and I wanted my horse so I went to the gate with a bag of cookies and yelled out " Who wants cookies?"

Guess what? They all wanted cookies and they all ran to their pasture gates nickering that yes, they indeed want cookies and to hurry the hell up already cause we’re starving here.

And yes, they all got cookies. I’m a pushover.

So, you probably dont even need a bell. I bet an ordinary whistle would probably work just as well.

This would make a great experiment by the way. You could try 2 or 3 different ways and see which method is the most efficacious.

Videos would be great. Hint hint.


I keep a tub of water by the pasture gate too, they have hay and water available in both the dry lot and the pasture.

The chute is only narrow where it connects to the dry lot, since it ties into the 12’ gate, but it opens up right after the gate and is probably a minimum of 50’ wide with large cleared openings on the way down, that are probably 100’ in diameter.

Unfortunately, my training efforts will have to be put on hold until we dry out, we have 1’ of snow currently melting so the horses will be stuck in the dry lot indefinitely :frowning_face: But, I’ll update with video once my pasture is back open!!

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In my short stint as a working student, I had my favorite horse trained to come to her name to get my apple core after lunch. She would come in a little “hot” though, so I stayed on the other side of the fence. Of course my favorite horse is the one that lawn-darted me when we were walking back from a hack - she got excited and caught me off guard - on the buckle.

I’d try the hay path for a week. I’d also put their feed where the chute opens, so they’re right next to it all the time and start to associate that location with where they should be “spending their time”.

Good news … Bad news … they will figure or have figured this out but there

will be times they come in as planned

and then again

times they will NOT .

No need to ask me how I know …exact same set up (with deer & turkey) .

It will all be ok except your patience will wear thin at times…

but only when ?


Good Luck …at times I have to just let mine be horses (who do not follow the plan)

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