Horses should not be restricted to small spaces. These animals are naturally drawn to open spaces. Every racehorse has to learn how to be comfortable in the starting gate, regardless of how cramped it is. Most states require racehorses to complete official workouts. Some such workouts must commence from the starting gate. The logic in this requirement is the horse is allowed to load up and break away without impediment. A weak start hinders the horse’s individual chances to win, show or place and also make it difficult for the rest of the field.
The gate crew ultimately gauges whether the horse if officially ready to race. In some cases, certain horses require a minimum of three extra workouts. The gate crew is comprised of a group of 10 horsemen who help with training and loading prior to the race. The gate crew also determines each horse’s progress and provides gate cards to those that fulfill all portions of the approval process.
The best riders provide encouragement to the horse as it enters the starting gate. Once the horse is provided with a gate card, entry is granted to the race. However, horses that prove disruptive at the start of the race can lose their gate card and be put on the Starter’s List. Those placed on this list are not allowed to race until the gate crew re-schools them and provides the gate card. It is possible to add special padding to the stalls for horses that have had prior issues. This padding makes it possible for the horse to settle down without risking injury.
Horses that require an equipment change such as the addition or removal of blinkers will have to be re-approved. As soon as the re-approval process is complete, the crew provides a card with the equipment change along with the date of the horse’s last work. Meticulous records are maintained on all horses for the easy identification and handling of new and problem entries.
The gate workers are comprised of starters along with assistant starters. Assistant starters are tabbed for reach individual horse on race days. The assistant starter must enter the starting gates with the horse and jockey to ensure everything is secure. The horse’s feet are subsequently planted. The animal’s head is directed straight ahead as the gates open. Once the horses are loaded, the starter waits for a moment of calm then lets the field loose.
The Inherent Risks of Working With Horses
Those who work with horses should be aware of the inherent danger. Horses are gigantic animals, weighing between 800 and several thousand pounds. The gate crew has to be hyper-aware of their proximity to the horse along with the horse’s temperament. These workers don flak jackets along with a helmet on race days to guard against significant injury. Additional precautions are taken when dealing with horses with gate problems.
An array of techniques are available to load especially challenging horses. Assistant starters sometimes interlock arms behind the animal, move the arms down to the hindquarters and guide it to the starting stall. This approach requires positioning gate starters at the animal’s hip to prevent injury from kicking. Some horses benefit from being led in with the front gate open. Others have to be blindfolded or blanketed.
The gate crew is sometimes responsible for moving the gates out of the way after the race has begun. Crew members pull the gate away from traffic immediately after horses are off and running. This is clearly one of the most dangerous jobs on the track yet it is also one of the more important positions. A solid gate crew ultimately guarantees the well-being of horses as well as those riding them.