Go behind the Gates of a Horse Race

Horse racing starts at the gate, and how a racehorse departs from the gate can have a big effect on his performance. Journal photo.

Trainer Russell Harris shares his inside secrets for creating a good gate horse

Working the horse-racing gates can be a dangerous job, but renowned trainer Russell Harris works with his young racehorses to make the process a little safer.

Gate training begins with familiarizing the horse with the gate.

This includes letting the horse have a good look at the gate, then walking him through repeatedly.

Russell says his key to creating a good gate horse is patience.

He keeps these seven steps in mind when training young horses to start on the racetrack:

  1. Russell ensures that his horses are thoroughly conditioned to the gate before they start in a race.
  2. He also takes the process slowly. Russell lets a solid month go by before he begins shutting the horses in the stalls.
  3. Once his horses are comfortable with that, he opens the gates by hand and lets the horse walk out.
  4. Additionally, he never tries to force his horses to break out of the gate. Instead, he teaches them to follow the doors.
  5. Russell never uses a whip to get a horse out of the gate. Instead, he and his assistants will work on the gate more often until the horse is following those doors.
  6. If Russell has an older horse with gate anxiety, he’ll start at square one.
  7. Typically, Russell says he doesn’t use flipping halters on his horses, unless he gets a horse from somebody else that he doesn’t have enough time to fix before the horse has to hit the racetrack again.

And once the horse is trained for his job and ready to go, the gate crew is ready and waiting to help the horse do his best.

“Those guys do a good job, and if you have a problem, say, from the last time he ran, or he has got a little history, you’ll refresh the starter’s memory or he’ll refresh yours,” Russell says. “Most of them are real good about working with you – you’re going up there as a team, trying to figure it out.”

Can’t get enough of the horse-racing world? Read more about the racing American Quarter Horse!

American Quarter Horse Association
1600 Quarter Horse Drive
Amarillo, TX 79104

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