Why a Training Gate is often more important than a Starting Gate
- On July 1, 2020
Gate training is part of race training. Before a horse can ever race, it must earn its "gate card" -- in other words, the horse must first prove in training that it will load, wait quietly and break cleanly.
There are definitely horses who never make it to racing, despite training because they can't get their gate card. Horses who manage to get their gate card but become consistently difficult and unsafe about loading in the gate can eventually get banned from that track. They can try to get their gate card elsewhere, but if the underlying issue isn't resolved the horse is destined to a repeat scenario.
As Dr Andrew McLean, who has broken in over 1,500 racehorses and has done a PhD in equine training and behaviour says, “When an animal like a horse does something, he stores it and he doesn't think about it again until he sees the same stimulus. Horses don't reason. They don't extrapolate, they don't hope. They are very good at reacting to triggers in the environment.”
Even a good racehorse might have 25 actual races. 25 times it is in the starting gates on race day. But where it learns this stimulus and understands how to react to triggers is when it first begins to use the training gate. When the horse is first learning to race, as a two or three-year-old, that is when it has all the first learning experiences and they need to be good ones.
If the horse bumps its shoulder on the gate, gets burnt on carpet at the side of the gate, or gets claustrophobic from close contact with cold (or hot) gate rails and decides it does not want to go through that pain or fear again, then coaxing it into the stalls again will be tough. Champion Jockey, Darren Beadman confirms this “If a horse has a bad experience entering a gate…they resent to go in…”. If it does it once, twice, three times, four times, then good luck having a calm horse on race day when you want to coax it into the stalls again.
Steriline uses exactly the same design, technology and quality when producing a training gate as it does when producing a starting gate. The training gates are used more often and in greater extremes of temperature. As they are used more often, they have to withstand a greater number of impacts from 500-600kg animals butting into them than the actual racing day starting gate. They open more times, under more trying circumstances and will often have less maintenance focus than the race day gate.
As John Fargher, Steriline CEO says, “They might be smaller, but the quality of the engineering that goes into the training gate is as high as that which goes into our Race Day Starting Gates, as training gates are where a horse learns to race."
It’s one of a trainer’s worst nightmares. Imagine this. Lengthy periods of planning and preparation have gone into selecting a prestigious big-race target at a far afield racetrack; ensuring that your horse is at the peak of physical fitness, having overcome any potential negative side effects of many hours of travel and racing in unfamiliar conditions; and complying with all the relevant licensing and quarantine protocols.
However, your challenge is derailed before it has begun by your horse either getting upset in the starting gates or, worse still, refusing to enter those gates and being scratched by the starter. Not only is it a wasted journey but, in the most intense spotlight of publicity, you are left looking like a trainer incapable of “training” a horse to enter the starting apparatus, never mind to run fast once the gates have opened.
There are many famous incidences where this has happened, and many more around the world every race day. As Dr Andrew McLean says "horses respond to stimuli." If their training gates trigger a poor response, then the starting gate will likely trigger that same response. Add all the other commotion of a race day and you are likely to get a fear response which will be hard to get over even if you do get the horse into the gate.
So, when you are thinking of your next training gate, do not just think of how much it costs, but how much it will cost you if you do not invest appropriately in a quality product.
Please contact us for further details on our racetrack solutions.