Your Guide to Equine Health Care

Horse Won’t Cross Railroad Tracks

My horse is great about nearly everything, but he will not cross railroad tracks. What can I do to help him?

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Q. I have been enjoying a new horse for a couple of years. He is just great about everything, except crossing railroad tracks. It’s so frustrating. He just will not cross. I have tried getting off and leading him across, even bribing him with treats. Is there anything else I can do? The best and safest riding in my area is in the river bottoms—and across the tracks.


A. First, the good news is that your horse is great about everything else.  This suggests that he can easily learn to comply with novel or threatening situations and tasks. Otherwise, there would likely be some other aversions in his domestic life. It also suggests that he is genuinely fearful. If he is one of those characters who is just “testing you,” it would have shown up somewhere else by now.  As with helping an adult horse overcome aversion to anything, such as trailer loading, bridge crossing, stocks, clippers, blankets, injections, feet handling, rectal temping, etc., the training is usually more effective if done as an independent teaching project, where there is no big pressure to complete the task.  The focus can be on the training procedures and on the amount of progress made with each session, rather than on the fact that he failed to cross again, and in doing so ruined your nice ride. It’s also amazing how little time it takes to gain compliance when that one task is all you are doing.

So, what exactly would you do? Well, it sounds like overcoming this problem is pretty important to you and might be worth some initial time and effort for an almost guaranteed good outcome and continued compliance. I would get some railroad ties and rails, then set up a mock railroad bed somewhere familiar to him on his home farm. It’s good to place the obstacle where the horse must pass on his way to somewhere he likes to go, or at least is used to

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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