5 Ways to break bad gate behaviors

A horse who pulls, slows or balks by the gate can be dangerous. Here's how to break that habit.

A horse who insists on slowing his pace each time he passes the arena gate is a source of endless frustration. Not only does this behavior make it difficult to maintain a steady rhythm, but it may escalate to stops or swerves that can cause a spill. This problem, however, has as much to do with the rider as the horse.

Slowing or balking by the arena gate can be a learned behavior.

Most horses who balk at the arena gate were inadvertently taught the behavior by riders who consistently slowed or stopped in that area, tacitly giving permission for the horse to do so on his own. To break the habit, a rider must focus more on her own behavior than that of her horse:

• Don’t linger by the gate. Avoid stopping to socialize just after you enter or exit the arena. You can chat, but keep your horse moving as you do, performing a few simple ground exercises to make sure He’s still paying attention to you as long as He’s in the arena space.

Click here to learn what behavior may indicate lameness in horses. 

• Never do a downward transition in that area. Make all of your downward transitions as far from the gate as you can or, better yet, as you are traveling toward the gate.

• Make it clear that your horse must go forward past the gate. Be ready to use your aids to remind your horse that he must continue the same pace, regardless of where he is. But resist the urge to simply apply stronger leg aids; You’ll only teach him to ignore everything else. Use your typical amount of leg pressure as a reminder, then immediately reinforce it if necessary with a slight tap of the crop.

• Add another entry point. If it’s possible, add a second gate on the opposite side of the arena and then alternate using the two. Of course, if you aren’t vigilant about your habits and his behavior, your horse might simply learn to stop at both gates.

Get out of the arena. Stopping at the gate can be a sign of ring sourness and burnout. Take a break from the space for a few weeks and hit the trails or ride in the fields instead. You may find when you return that your horse is not nearly as fixated on the gate space as he was before.

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