Claustrophobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of confined places. Although more commonly categorized as a human disorder, it can affect horses as well. In fact, horses are born with an instinctive fight or flight response that can be activated in response to their aversion of small spaces. Feeling the sidewalls of the stalls pressing in on its flanks can trigger a horse to panic and in turn be scratched from the race, losing before the race even begins. For this reason, a horse must be gate trained.
Gate training includes loading the horse into the gate and getting him to remain still until the front gate swings wide open, as well as desensitizing the horse to the noises that could potentially upset him as he waits at the starting gate. Bells, cheers, horns, applauses, loudspeakers, trumpets and rattles are just a few of the noises that could distract the horse at the starting gate. Assuring the horse is calm at the gate plays a big part in its success in the race. An anxious and mentally distraught horse will not perform as well as its confident opponents.
Oh, what a finicky animal a racehorse can be!
Does this sound familiar to you?
Every item in your checklist has been crossed off. Even the smallest detail has been taken into consideration. You are as prepared as you will ever be. But just as you are about to break forth you begin to feel the pressure of what lies ahead. You suddenly get a case of the “what if’s”.
What if I can’t perform the way I thought I would?
What if I can’t meet others expectations?
What if I’m not as talented as I thought I was?
Panic wants to set in and you fight to keep your composure. Countless hours of work, and just like a racehorse, one misstep can cause you to be scratched from the race.