Speed event horses are notorious for having problems in the alley or at the gate leading into the arena. Horses that are well-behaved in the gate area are sought after and can even sell for a higher price than its gate sour counterpart. With a few changes to your routine, you may also be able to have a quiet horse that settles in the chute rather than one that acts up and is potentially dangerous.
How to Tell If Your Horse is Alley Sour
If you have to fight with your horse to stand still or need a handler to safely guide you to the arena, you may have a horse with gate issues. If your horse flat out refuses to enter the arena, he may be in pain, anxious, stressed or dreading repetitive work. Have your trainer and veterinarian evaluate your horse to rule out any training or medical issues before attempting any confidence building exercises.
Rider is Causing the Gate or Alley Problems in their Barrel Horse
No one ever wants to have the finger pointed at them but occasionally, the rider is sending mixed signals to his or her mount. This can cause confusion in your horse and ramp up his excitement and anxiety. If your reins are tight yet you’re squeezing your horse, he doesn’t know if you want him to stand or run. This seesawing can make your horse misbehave and may even get worse with every trip down the alley unless you recognize it and take steps to resolve the issue.
Put An End to Balking at the Arena Gate with Circling Exercise
While sitting deep in your saddle (sit back on your jeans pocket) quietly walk your horse in a large circle (20-30 feet in diameter). Work him as close to the gate as you can without causing excitement.. As you circle, keep your eye on the entrance, slowly moving your circle in that direction. Use a direct rein and leg pressure to keep him moving forward. If he balks or acts up once near the gate area, sit deep, apply inside direct rein and leg pressure to continue making a smaller circle. Once your horse is calm again, make your way to the arena gate. If he passes by easily, praise and pet him. If he balks, continue the circles until he willingly walks past the alley or gate.
Once he quietly walks by the gate, ask him to slowly walk into the arena. Once again, offer praise and reassurance. If he’s relaxed, just walk right back out of the arena. It may take several attempts to make walking into the arena a smooth action. Before your run, keep your horse away from the noise and commotion of the racers and spectators. Just before your go, walk up and start your circle, planning to move directly from your circle into the arena once they open the gate for you.
During downtime, you may want to ask the event staff if you can enter the arena to quietly and slowly work your horse, maintaining his focus by asking for transitions. Always remember to praise and gently pet him often or when he does something good.
Work on Horse and Rider Bad Habits at Home
Waiting until the day of the speed event to fix bad habits or training issues is a guaranteed fail every time. At home, work with your trainer or another experienced racer, to resolve problems before you compete again. Work on keeping your hands quiet and staying relaxed as nervous or anxious riders have a tendency to transfer their anticipation through their seat and heavy leg pressure.
Also alleviating exercise boredom may help. If you are constantly running cloverleaf patterns at home, your horse may dread running them at competition time. Keep your horse fresh and focused by trail riding or doing arena work. Work on relaxation and movement by doing serpentines, smooth transitions and long distancing trotting. For trotting, start with a reasonable time-frame such as 5 minutes and then build from there. The idea isn’t to wear your horse out, it’s to get him supple and relaxed enough to drop his head without anticipating what’s next. Some riders incorporate basic dressage into their training program.
Add a Calming Supplement to Your Barrel Horse’s Diet
Experienced barrel racers and ropers can tell you that sometimes, no matter what you do, there is no helping or retraining a horse to be calm in the box or alley. However, you may be able to use a calming feed additive like TWYDIL® C to take some of the edge off his fear, anxiety or nervousness. This can help increase his attention and focus for a successful run. Even if adding some new relaxation techniques to your training regiment has helped, you can add some peace of mind by adding a natural calming supplement.
TWYDIL: C Calming Supplement for Barrel and Speed Event Horses
Whether you run barrels, cones, poles or even rope occasionally, you can help your horse stay calm without drugs. TWYDIL® C is one of the only all-natural, event approved supplements that uses science and botanicals rather than sedatives to maintain a calm, relaxed demeanor in performance horses. It’s safe for all horses and can be used up to and on the day of competition to help your equine athlete relax and focus on a winning run
As with any condition, it is advised that you seek proper diagnosis and treatment from a licensed veterinarian. From there, he or she can recommend proper dietary changes and equine management practices to alleviate pain or problems that are causing arena gate issues.