There are horses that would rather hang out at the gate in the ring than participate in a training session. Horses will do this under saddle and on the ground. Why do horses do this and how can you heal the behaviour or prevent it?
When horses high tail it to the gate repeatedly they are clearly expressing their desire to cut class and skip school. It’s also very similar to you if you are watching the clock at your job, waiting to go home. (I’m sure you don’t drag your boss to the door repeatedly, but the attitude is the same).
It’s surprisingly easy to find yourself in any of the below situations. Don’t take it personally. You can fix it. Your horse may be bound to the gate for one or more of the following reasons:
Training the Gate Sour Horse
- Your horse finds the ring unfamiliar or scary
- It might be a completely new space
- Your horse hasn’t spent enough time there to get cozy
- There are scary things in or near the ring (herd of terrifying alpacas, tractors, tarps etc.)
- You haven’t taken the time to build a bond and would just like performance instead
- Your horse feels insecure away from his herd mates
- He doesn’t recognize you as a big enough attraction and prefers his buddies
- He resents your requests, given you aren’t truly friends
- He doesn’t see you in a leadership capacity
- He is afraid he’s all alone out there (you’re not going to save him from the lions)
- Your lack of leadership fails to motivate (Why should he work for you when you aren’t his muse? Who do you think you are anyway?)
- Negative experiences have happened in the arena (These can range from mild to severe – see below)
- boring training sessions
- Too much physical work
- Poorly fitting tack causing soreness
- Lack of handling or riding skills causing emotional and physical discomfort
- Lessons that are too challenging and frustrating
- Unsoundness that has gone ignored or unnoticed
- Too much emotional or physical pressure
- The positive rewards are few and far between
- Not enough rest periods
- No treats
- No fun
- No affection
- No interesting challenges or games
With such a large variety of reasons to cause a horse to dislike the arena it can be difficult to pin down which reason is the cause of your horse’s anxiety. Liberty training can help many of these problems because the focus of the exercises is on bonding, leadership and fun.
- Spend time bonding and engaging in short training sessions in your horse’s regular living space with his buddies nearby. This way he can build up a positive association with working with you in a more comfortable location. Practice leadership exercises too. Then start to expand your territory by working further away and eventually in the ring.
- Spend passive time in the ring. Go to the arena for food, treats or just to explore and hang out. Put your horse away without working.
- Practice your horse’s favourite things in the ring. This might be grooming, eating hay or learning a simple skill. My horse loves putting her foot up on objects so we practice that lesson in-between more challenging training sessions.
- Bring some of your horse’s friends with you to a training session in the arena. If it’s a liberty session let everyone come hang out. (Keep your eyes open and don’t get caught in between horse’s arguing or playing). Herd behaviour is 100% natural yet we so often expect our horses to feel secure and happy without other horses around. If the other horse’s aren’t yours ask the other boarders to come and do a ground work or riding session while you are practising on a line or under saddle too. You won’t expect this all the time, but if your horse starts to see the ring and you as a positive thing he won’t mind spending some time alone there later.
- Have someone experienced assess the fit of your tack and your skills to see if there’s something you are inadvertently doing to cause your horse discomfort. You could be accidentally using the reins for balance and hurting your horse’s mouth for example.
- Have a vet check your horse out thoroughly and make sure there aren’t any soundness issues at the root of your problem.
Keep your training sessions fun, easy to accomplish and inspiring. More often than not, equestrians get in the habit of taking their horse to the ring purely for difficult and/or boring work out sessions which offer little or no value to the horse.
I know that you are interested in discovering methods of gaining leadership, friendship and inspiring your horse to have fun regardless of what you do. That’s why you’re reading this blog! Congratulations on proactively seeking methods to improve your horse’s fun factor in the ring or out of it.
If you have some insights to share please share them in the comments below.