Help: Stubborn mare won't lead from her paddock

Hi everyone,

I’m having some issues with my mare and I’m out of ideas. For context, we moved to a new barn in June 2020 where she is on 24/7 outdoor board. One day in November she refused to leave her paddock to walk to the barn. It took about 20 mins to get her into the barn, but I won and she did not try to do that again, so that was a one time thing. However, this week she tried it again. I can walk up to her and put the halter on fine, she has no problem leading in the paddock, but as soon as we get through the gate and she’s out of the paddock, she refuses to go forward.The first time, I managed to get her into the barn, but since then she has started to get more creative. Instead of just planting herself and refusing to go forward, she has started to walk backwards instead. I CANNOT get her to go forward. I have tried everything. I’ve tried to be nice and patient and praise her if she takes even the smallest step forward. Not working. I’ve tried chain over the nose, I’ve tried tapping the ground and her bum with a dressage whip, I’ve tried lunging on the spot, forcing her to move her feet. I’ve tried being more “harsh” but she is just so stubborn. Nothing is working. She will walk maybe 2 steps forward then back up 10 steps, so we are not getting very far. She is a very stubborn and opinionated mare, shes driving me insane because she has never been like this before! I don’t know how she can be barn sour because I don’t ride every time I see her. When she is in the barn, she’s not stressed or calling to her friends, so I’m not sure if this is a herd bound issue either?

Sorry this is so long, but I don’t know what else to do! I’m hoping someone can give me some ideas.

Have you tried backing her through the gate?

I would probably try that. Feed her a treat when she gets through the gate, stand and let her chill. Walk her back into the paddock. Back out, feed a treat. If possible, work her next to the gate with no intention of getting her back to the barn. Just work very patiently on getting her to focus on her job with no change in behavior based on her distance from the gate.

I audited a Buck Brannaman clinic a couple years ago and he worked a horse going back and forth through a 4’ wide gate in the round pen. It wasn’t the point of the demo, but he noticed the horse being sticky at the gate so he dropped everything until he could walk the horse back and forth through the gate, and work it everywhere inside and outside the gate with total obedience. He could get the horse to stop halfway through the gate, back out or step through. Very similar to training to trailer load. Of course he does not feed treats, but I am not against it for the rest of us mortals who can benefit from bribing our horses a bit. :wink:


Question, what happens when you get to the barn? You said at first you “won” so that implies she must’ve lost. What was in it for her when she got up to the barn?

I would try a positive reinforcement approach. I would guess that this mare doesn’t want to go up to the barn because she doesn’t like whatever goes on up there. I would just change your outlook and make it that she wants to go up there. For the next few days, when you get up there, don’t ride, don’t tack her up, don’t do things she doesn’t want to do. Just give her some cookies and maybe a massage.

In order to get her up there I would also start slow. When you pull and pull and pull and she takes one step forward, do you leave her alone? Or keep pulling? If it were me, I’d go in, catch the horse and then ask to get a step forward. If I get it, I’ll give a treat, unsnap my lead rope and then walk away. A minute later I’ll come back, but this time I’ll want 2 steps, when I get it, treat, unsnap, walk away. Eventually I’ll work up to where I can get the horse to walk forward willingly. Like I said, when I do make it to the barn, it shouldn’t feel like I won, the horse should feel like they won.


Thank you for your response!

I will try the gate thing tomorrow! I did try lunging her just outside of her paddock today but she still was not willing to move forward afterwards. Like you said, I may just have to continue doing that with no intention of going to the barn

She sounds just sour in general. She doesn’t respect you and would prefer to be left alone in her pasture.

I would back her a long way ( going toward the barn) and then ask her to go forward( again toward the barn) . If she doesn’t move I would back her some more and ask again to go forward. When she does go forward praise the heck out of her and let her stand. Repeat.

I would work her butt off in the pasture and make going out a nice relaxing event.

These issues don’t happen overnight. usually it is little things that slowly build overtime. we don’t see it and then we have a problem. Are there any barn employees or people that lead her besides you?


The first time I “won” and got her into the barn, I didn’t ride, groom, etc. I just worked on walking her back and fourth from paddock to barn until she was willing. Once she was willing, I let her go back into her paddock.

I usually don’t pull her to try and get her to move, what worked before was waving a dressage whip behind her and every time she moved forward I would stop waving and release that “pressure”

The next few times I get her into the barn I’ll definitely try just giving her treats and ease off the grooming/riding for a bit and see if that helps.

thank you!

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Well that doesn’t sound very fun for her. I wouldn’t want to go to the barn either if every time I got up there I had to work on things I really didn’t want to do.

Again, I wouldn’t want to go up the barn either if somebody kept waving a dressage whip at me.

I would just try to get the “winning versus losing” mentality out of your head. I think it’s fine for complete beginners maybe but other than that, you really don’t need to “win” you just need to listen. You’ve “won” by getting her up to the barn before and it hasn’t helped in the long run right? Don’t worry about getting to the barn, just worry about getting her comfortable and willing.

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I’d start by not calling her “stubborn”, instead I’d be wondering why she has this opinion?

Again, what is happening at the barn that she is trying to avoid? Why does she not want to go there? Most horses WANT to go to the barn, that is often where dinner is served. Is there an electric wire nearby that is energized? Does she think that she may touch it by mistake? She’s got a reason, you just don’t know what that reason is… yet.

You can likely get her to come into the barn, if you work smart. You can often back her up, point her away from the barn, and go backwards. Go the whole way backwards if necessary. Get her into the barn, and give her a cookie, or dinner. Make sure her friends are in there first, so she is going to them, not going alone. In fact, leading her with another horse who is her friend may help get her where you want her to go. Another option is the use of a “rump rope”, like teaching a foal to lead. For a full sized horse, you can use an old lariat, or any soft rope with either a loop at the end, or tied into a looped end. The loop goes over the butt end of the horse, and you apply pressure with the end part as necessary. Especially if it is a lariat, the squeeze as it tightens gives forward impetus. That pressure is released as she comes forward for you. Then the reward for her cooperation.

Horses learn from pressure, release of pressure, and reward. They want to do the right thing, when they know what the right thing is. We need them to be comfortable in our presence, and want to be with us. If they are not comfortable and not happy in the company of the human, they may choose to not participate. Figure out why your horse is not comfortable about being led into the barn, and why she is not wanting to participate in what you are wanting to do. She’s not “stubborn”, but she has issues and she’s trying to tell you about those issues. Listen to her, and address and solve her problems for her.


My first thought is to wonder about footing. If she is going from grass to gravel she might be telling you her feet hurt.

Or she might be stubborn and somewhat herdbound. A herdbound horse is an unsafe horse. I personally wouldn’t wave the whip at her, she’d get a smart tap and a crap ton of praise and a candy for responding to that smart tap.

Backing is also a very useful tool. Just remember that whenever you get a bit of what you want, you need to turn off your “aggression” like a tap and pour on the praise and softness (treats, favourite scratches, etc.)

That said, if she is uncomfortable, that needs to be addressed first. I think you said it was months between episodes. That really makes me wonder about foot pain, be it laminitis or tender soles. And, depending on where you live, if you are far enough south, the timing might line up with high sugar in the grass (fall and spring).

The other thing that is possible is transition heats. If she goes through a super strong heat in the fall and again in the spring, that can affect behaviour fairly drastically and make her tune out everything but her hormones. My mare is a bit like that. No problem for me as we’ve had discussions about her need to be aware of me at all times, but I will not let a small child or inexperienced handler lead her during fall and spring transition heats. She becomes a headstrong menace and could accidentally hurt someone.


Eh, that’s kind of how it works when horses are turned out all day and you need to catch them to ride.

They know if it’s dinner time or not, and if you’re the one who feeds them or not. They are pretty smart.

I would consider treats once a horse is caught, but I also know that in some turnout groups, walking out with a handful of treats might create new problems.

Is the mare turned out alone? Or in a group? It might be worth having a pre-ride snack (e.g. alfalfa cubes) while you are grooming or tacking up if that will work logistically (does horse go in a stall in the barn or only in the aisle? If in the aisle - is it possible to safely feed a small bucket of something while grooming in the aisle?) It probably would help willingness and might soothe the stomach at same time.


“Pulling” isn’t what you think it is - obviously, you’re going to lose in a pulling match.

The “pulling” is just the horse knowing what to do when they feel pressure from the halter on the poll in a forward manner - it means step forward. Period, no negotiation. It’s the same pressure they feel when straight tied, and they need to offer the same response.

Be a pest to her, not mean, not smacking… I’d put pressure on the halter (“pulling” if you will) in an annoying fashion (me, I tug-tug-tug pretty hard without ever completely releasing the pressure) with clucking - the second she even shifts her weight forward stop like your life depended on it. If she backs up, just follow her, keeping the same annoying pressure until she steps forward (or even “thinks” of going forward). The timing is critically important here. Count to ten to let that idea “simmer” in her mind. Repeat. She will learn very quickly that the way to get you to stop being so darn annoying is to think and go forward.

Do not use a chain here. A rope halter might be useful, but is not necessary.

Once up to the barn, there would be great things waiting. Treats, favorite spots to be scratched, etc.

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There will be a reason - it’s your job to work it out.

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She lives outside 24/7 with 4 other horses, so she is fed her daily grain outside as well. I could definitely try feeding her a snack while she’s standing in the aisle. She’s very food motivated so you’re right, that might help with willingness.