Horse Turns Toward Gate And Stops Working

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Common Complaints

My horse heads for the gate and stops while we’re working.

Follow Julie Goodnight’s advice to teach your horse ignore the gate and work steadily.

If your horse thinks turning toward the gate is his cue to slow down, ride with a purpose and direct him straight past the opening.

Does your horse slow down as you pass the gate and speed up when you turn toward home? Does he break gait again and again in the same place in the arena? When leaving the barn, do his legs suddenly become leaden and you feel like you’re dragging a ship’s anchor?

If you’re nodding your head, knowing the scenario describes you and your horse, it’s time to make a change. Here, we’ll discuss why your horse may act out this annoying and disobedient behavior then give you steps to take to teach your horse to work steadily around the arena and leave the barn at the same pace he returns. Soon you’ll have a steady horse that acts like a champ and respects your authority.

The Reason
Gate gravity is actually herd gravity; it’s a horse’s nature to be herd-bound—staying safe by remaining close to his fellow horses. The instinct is strong. Whether this problem occurs while you’re riding in the arena, trail riding or working on the ground, your horse is being disobedient and making unauthorized decisions. Your horse needs to see you as his trustable leader and know that he’s safe in a herd of two with you.

What horses seek beyond all else in life are two simple things: safety and comfort. When you ask your horse to leave the safety and comfort of the herd to go out and work, you’re asking a lot of him. He may feel alone and vulnerable.

Horses are also instinctively lazy, preferring to conserve their energy for flight, should it be necessary. Your horse doesn’t really want to lope circles and leap obstacles in the arena. He’s looking for any relief available and thinks he may get a break if he heads to the gate. He’s always thinking about going back to the herd; if he can get away with slowing down or stopping for a moment or two, he may think he’s made progress and that you’re allowing him to head for home.

Horses also challenge for hierarchy within the herd. When your horse challenges you—by stopping at the gate—he’s testing to see who’s really in charge. Within the herd, each horse is either dominant over or subordinate to every other individual. One horse is at the top (the “alpha”) and one is at the bottom (the “omega”), with all the other individuals fitting somewhere in between. Subordinate horses respect and admire the leader of their herd and will willingly go with them anywhere; the alpha can herd and direct subordinates and the latter will go at any direction or speed dictated by the boss.

If your horse respects your authority as the leader in your herd of two, he’ll go in a direction and speed that you indicate—without making any unauthorized decisions such as slowing down or speeding up. You’ll have to convince your horse that you’re taking the helm and accepting the captain’s seat and that he’ll either toe the line or be swabbing decks.

Whether your horse just slightly slows down at the gate or gives you a constant battle leaving the barn, there are some simple steps you can take to fix this common complaint.

The Solution
First, you have to realize that your horse’s “problem” stems from your lack of authority. It’s time to take charge.
Examine other areas within your relationship with your horse. Is he responsive to you on the ground? Does he respect your space? Does he focus on you, looking to you for directives and guidance? Is he peaceful and docile in your presence, knowing you’re in charge? Or is he looking at the herd and whinnying? When you ride, is his head down and his nose pointed in the direction you have asked for? Or is his head up and is he changing his path and speed impulsively?

If you’re nodding your head, you and your horse are good candidates for a systematic series of groundwork exercises. You’ll have to teach him to accept your authority on the ground first then carry your newly found authority to mounted work. My groundwork DVD called Lead Line Leadership will take you through this process with step-by-step explanations. The Complete Groundwork Package includes two DVDs and all the equipment you need for groundwork.

After spending some quality time with your horse from the ground, you’ll also have to address your authority with your horse from his back. You must act like the captain and your horse must accept his position as first mate. As captain, you dictate both the direction and speed of the ship and your first mate carries out your orders. The captain makes all of the decisions and any insubordinate behavior from the crew is met with strict consequence.

Your authority in the saddle starts when you put your foot in the stirrup to mount and ends when you hop off.

Professionals teach horses that they should keep doing what they’re told until they’re told differently. If you allow small infractions, such as making the unauthorized decision to slow down at the gate or veer from the dictated path, you’re eroding your authority. Once your horse realizes that you don’t have complete control, he’ll push the limits and the erosion continues until the dam gives way.

As soon as you mount, begin by not letting your horse walk off without a cue (see last month’s issue about standing for mounting), then take him directly to the rail and deep up into the corners. Immediately correct the smallest infraction of direction or speed until your horse gives it up and just does what he’s told to do. Depending on your assertiveness, this process may take one time around the pen or a few weeks.

Make sure your corrections are adequate to motivate your horse to change his ways. If he stops at the gate or breaks gait at any time, there must be ramifications and the punishment must involve enough pressure to motivate your horse to change. If the ramifications are insignificant to your horse, he’ll happily endure it if it means he gets to rest for a moment.

In this case your corrections might range from more leg pressure to a bump with the spur or a spank with a crop or the tail of your reins. If he breaks gait with me at the helm, I’ll make sure he not only gets a spanking, but that he has to work harder. I only allow him to stop or slow down when he’s working willingly forward, without me having to push him.

Each horse is different in the amount of pressure it takes to motivate him to change, but you’ll know if it’s enough by his reaction to the correction. If he blows it off with an expression meaning “so what?” then you didn’t use enough pressure. If his head comes up and he jumps to attention with a look on his face like, “what do I have to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” then you’re making an impact. I don’t want you to cause your horse undue pain. However, you’ll need to use enough of a correction to let your horse know you’re in charge. If your horse doesn’t see you as a leader, you may be in much more danger later on.

There’s an old saying in horse training that says it always gets worse before it gets better. That means that if your horse has been getting away with things for a while, he’s not going to immediately give it up the first time you lay down the law with him. If he has been stomping on your authority for a while, he’ll challenge your first attempts to correct him by threatening you with a kick or buck. Make sure you have the ability to ride through his resistance or engage the help of a more qualified hand to help you. Never let his antics get to you emotionally—if he learns he can control your emotions, he’ll keep pushing your buttons. Instead, be calm, firm and persistent in your request for obedience.

Once you learn to be the 100% authority figure that your horse needs, he’ll gladly do what you ask. To reach this point, you’ll need leadership and consistency.

With repetition, good timing and lots of enforcement on your part, your horse will soon be steady, responsive and obedient.

 

For a wealth of information on the skills and knowledge needed to gain complete authority over your horse and cue him correctly visit www.juliegoodnight.com.

Rotating Horse Wormers

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Question: Could you please give me your opinion on the rotation of wormers to use throughout the year to get the most coverage for my horses?

Answer: The purpose of rotating dewormers is to get a broader spectrum of coverage for your horse, since each type of dewormer has efficacy against varying parasites and at different stages of the parasite’s life cycle. So rotating dewormers gives horses better coverage against the four major types of internal parasites that infect horses: strongyles, ascarids, pinworms and bots.

Another reason for rotating dewormers is to prevent parasites from developing resistance to the chemicals used in deworming. Until ivermectin came along, resistance was a constant problem with dewormers. With the advent of ivermectin, two or three decades ago, a new “class” of dewormer was established, and it promised that resistance would never be a problem. And so far, that is true but scientist believe that if we over-use ivermectin, that eventually some worms will become resistant. So, we continue to recommend rotating dewormers, to protect the efficacy of ivermectin.

Anthelmintics are the drugs we use to deworm horses and there are different classes of chemicals available. Rotation refers to rotating the class of drug used to deworm. The most popular dewormers fall into three classes: the benzimazoles (Panacur, Anthelcide), pyrantels (Strongid) and the avermectins (ivermectin and moxidectin). I use all four of these chemicals in my rotation program.

In my opinion, Ivermectin is still a superior class of dewormer because it has a high efficacy, is inexpensive (generic available), available in liquid or paste, is very safe to administer and won’t hurt other farm animals. Many vets will tell you to give the whole tube of ivermectin to each adult horse because overdosing is hard to do and under-dosing is a waste of money. Ivermectin also kills the skin parasites that cause summer sores.
In the last decade, another new dewormer was developed with the advent of moxidectin (brand name Quest Gel). This dewormer has many promising traits such as being longer lasting in the horse’s system, therefore requiring fewer doses. However, moxidectin should be used with discretion since it is easier to overdose a horse and cause a toxic reaction. It should, in my experience, also be used with caution on geriatric horses or very lean horses.

How often to deworm is a whole other question, but it basically depends on the density of your horse population and the hygiene practices at your facility. Climate, humidity, rainfall and the age of the horses are also considerations in how often you deworm. The more horses on a smaller parcel, the more often you need to deworm. There is speculation that horses kept in a totally natural environment (a pasture big enough that the herd has all the range it wants) may never need deworming. In the wild, horses will not eat where they defecate. Therefore, good stable hygiene is a major factor in how often horses need deworming. You should consult your vet about the frequency and rotation of deworming that is most effective for your area.

Traditional research indicates that it is best to concentrate deworming doses in the summer months, while more recent research indicates it is better to concentrate in the winter months when the worms are in their early life cycle. Given this contradiction, what makes the most sense to me is to deworm year-round.

We deworm every two months, six times a year, which is a little on the high side, but it helps keep the horses looking their best (some show horses are dewormed every month). We use ivermectin every other rotation and in-between we use strongid, panacur and moxidectin. I do not give moxidectin to any geriatric horses or any horses in an unthrifty condition. We deworm foals every month for their first year of life with ivermectin every other month, and rotating in-between with panacur and strongid.

Once every couple years, on my personal horses, I invest in a Panacur Power-Pac, for about $50 per horse). It is a double dose of panacur every day for five days. This takes care of any residual parasites that our regular program is not catching. We will also use the Power Pac on any horses that come to us in an unthrifty condition, especially if it has a questionable deworming history. It is a safe and effective way to get a horse up to par in his condition right away.

For the greatest efficacy, it is best to deworm all horses in a facility at the same time. For that reason, any horses that come into my facility either as a boarded horse or a horse-in-training, go onto my deworming schedule and I take over the administration of dewormers and bill the owner.
Many facilities do routine fecal egg-counts of their horses and only deworm when the egg count reaches critical levels; this is called target dosing. These facilities report that their horses are in better health and that the cost of deworming is drastically reduced (research indicates up to a 75% reduction in doses is possible). Also, resistance becomes less of a problem, since horses are not being needlessly treated.

Many horse owners and some large facilities have started using a daily feed-through dewormer and I have heard of good results with this program, but not tried it myself. For me, it is too expensive and you still have to deworm with ivermectin twice a year, because the feed-through dewormers do not kill bots. Also, if horses are kept in group paddocks, it is very difficult to administer.

One more thought, we always wait until after the first hard frost of the year for the fall deworming and we always use ivermectin, because it is more effective in killing bots, (those pesky yellow specks that horses get on their legs in the fall are bot fly eggs).

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