Resisting the Lure of the In-Gate

One of the most difficult behavioural vices with which to deal in a show horse is in-gate sourness.

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By: Jessica Lefroy |

This can present itself in several ways, most often with a horse or pony that objects to entering the ring or one that bolts without warning towards the gate. It can be a challenging issue to work through, believes top coach Lindy Townley, who operates Westwind Equestrian in Ladner, BC. Here she shares her advice on dealing with what can be a potentially dangerous situation.

When horses refuse to enter the ring or subsequently bolt towards the in-gate once they’ve entered, it can be out of fear, because they are a bit spoiled, or because their personality is such that they just don’t want to play the game. The majority have simply learned that they can get away with it. They learn where the in-gate is pretty quickly and that it leads back to the barn.

It’s also a common affectation that horses will be more inclined to go forward towards the in-gate and be sulky away from it. This is something that will often show up at home as well as at the horse show, and with consistent training and good riding can be dealt with by insisting the horse respect the leg and move forward.

It becomes more serious when the horse is worried or afraid to go in the ring. Some horses, for whatever reason, are not confident personalities. It can stem from poor riding, an accident, or just an innate lack of confidence. To give more confidence to a timid personality type takes a lot of basic horse shows and work with a very good rider. Once they’ve learned the behaviour to refuse to enter the ring or subsequently bolt to the in-gate it’s something that should be dealt with professionally, because it can be lethally dangerous: a horse could rear over in the in-gate or bolt towards it in the ring with no warning.

One of the things that makes it most difficult to correct is that in-gate issues aren’t always something that can be worked through at home, and most often will only present themselves at horse shows. Good training, good riding, and lots of basic horse shows are the only way to work on this confidence issue for the horse or pony.

If the horse is young or worried and not dangerous we will feed treats at the gate. Some horses will always have to be led to the gate. You can put a very thin cotton rope looped through the bit so it can be pulled out as the horse walks in the ring. There are a lot of jumpers that you have to clear the gate for so they can be ridden in at a trot, or even at a trot with a leader/rope and treats. With the hunters and equitation horses you can’t go in the ring, so it is harder to fix.