Barrier rogues & other Reluctant racehorses.

Horses may not be able to talk but there are many out there

“SCREAMING”... for help!


Why is it that an animal that loves running and which in fact relies on flight for its survival, sometimes seems hell bent on avoiding just that!


The horse which as a yearling was a very tractable relaxed animal, broke in well and was initially ‘relaxed’ and obviously enjoyed its exercise under saddle, has now apparently undergone a ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ transformation.


Now we have a horse which exhibits some or all of the following undesirable ‘Mr Hyde’ traits.

1) Has its head in the far corner of the stable/yard with its rear end facing the gate when the bridle comes out.

2) Is reluctant to go onto the truck, float race days or gallop days.

3)Same reluctance to entering training track and then seems to want to get its work over with as quick as possible (pulls).

4) Gets up tight and ‘jig joggy’ pre race.

5) May not want to go into the gates

6) Has a tendency to over race or just ‘not try’!

                  TOO MUCH.... or......TOO LITTLE!

7) Goes Off! .. in the starting gates often seeming to want to get out the back (opposite direction to that of the race).

N.B. Bad breathers can also be very reluctant swimmers which have a tendency towards ‘mouth breathing’ when swimming.


Some of these horses are just ‘yelling’ whilst the others are  

                                    ‘SCREAMING’ at you!

And the majority are saying “I CAN’T BREATHE” or at least not well enough to perform at my best in a race without suffering the consequences which in many cases is like firstly nearly drowning ( choking)and then secondarily suffering an asthmatic attack ( blowing & or Panting excessively post race and or fast work!


Many of these horses are already wearing breathing aides ( tongue ties, tongue bits, Cornell Collars, cross over nose bands) and either pacifiers to help them settle or blinkers to encourage them to race honestly! Breathing aides may reduce the noises associated with breathing problems but don’t always improve their breathing!.

How do I know if this gear is actually helping the horse breathe and not just reducing the noise?

Answer. If breathing is improved sufficiently the horse will become relaxed and willing again. Back to being the amicable Dr Jekyll! If not the device more likely to help in the short term but do little in the longer term.

What can be done?

Answer : In the simplest terms

                   GET SOME MORE AIR FOR THE HORSE!

                                ( appropriate surgery)

But I had the horse scoped and there's nothing obviously wrong! Or its throat is fine but it has lung problems or allergies.

TELL THE HORSE! I’m sure you’ll be able to restore its confidence with this favourable veterinary report! And remember breathing problems often cause LUNG PROBLEMS. so in many cases the best treatment for their lungs is to improve their breathing.

Note. When the day comes that we can scope horses during a race and at the same time have an electrode attached to that part of the horses brain which tells us whether they are attempting maximal effort (‘Trying’) then we will be able to more accurately rule out deficient breathing as the problem behind their ‘reluctant’ behaviour!

Until then a ‘HORSEMAN’ is best off listening to his horse. Particularly those that are beginning to scream!


Otherwise someone may get hurt when trying to load one of these horses in the barriers, or when riding a horse which ‘bolts’ or over races in a trial or race or spins suddenly and drops its rider when trying to exit the scene. Others will run backwards and occasionally go over when nose bands are applied. WHY? Because they have learnt to rely on cheating (mouth breathing) to supplement their normal air supply... and you have just shut off that option! Fortunately most inflict the trauma on themselves by way of nearly drowning when panicking in the pool ( or trying to climb out mid swim), banging their heads on barriers or by bringing on asthmatic type attacks post race (distressed and sometimes very angry in the dismount enclosure)..


So how are these horses best treated?

Appropriate surgery is STEP 1.

Then Rehabilitation is STEP 2.

Step 1 is of course the veterinarians responsibility whist Step 2 is the trainers.


A typical ‘post operative rehabilitation program’ is as follows.



Day  1 - SURGERY

DAY 9-  two-five acre paddock & normal feed. for 8 weeks.(to rest their lungs & recover from OP)

DAY 63 - training resumes - these horses need to do plenty of miles or kilometres. Sand work is good for them. ... then when fit enough go to trials........

TRIAL 1- jockey asked to just sit quietly on the horse ( Don’t push, Don’t pull!). This is so that the horse will ‘enjoy’ itself.... not choke. After this give ventipulmin (Claire gel) 2 X’s a day for 5 days to help settle the lungs. Continue training and then 2 weeks later..

TRAIL 2 - This time don’t push the horse early but if travelling well , ask it to run home the last 200 meters only (hands and heels).

Then straight to the paddock for 2 weeks R&R. The first 4 days give Claire Gel.

Then back to training and half a dozen races ( or until they put in a 'bad one' = lungs hurt) before a

6 WEEK PADDOCK REST [for the LUNG’s to settle down AGAIN] !

After this program the horse is regarded as RECOVERED!!!!... so you can race them as with a NORMAL horse!                -------------------------------------------

During the recovery preparation particularly when the pressure is being applied. the area of old ‘lung damage’ [ like an old tendon injury ] can become Inflamed & PAINFUL!

How will you know this? The horse CAN’T TALK!

Answer. THEY CAN! If at the end of a piece of work your horse experiences ‘lung pain , it can tell you. ...but not till the next day when you ask them to repeat the dose. They won’t be agreeable! Meaning.. the horse that yesterday came to the door of its yard and puts its head in the collar ... today has its head in the far corner of its stall with its arse pointed at you... you get the picture. So if the last piece of work HURT then take the horse to the day paddock (or hand walk only) for 3-5 days instead of saddling it up and causing ‘MORE PAIN’. That's usually long enough to let the inflammation settle.. You can also feed ventipulmin for the first 3 days.

Question. - What do horses do if their lungs hurt (are inflamed) and you race them?

Answer - VERY LITTLE! =THEY WON’T TRY!... because their NOT IDIOTS!

Why hit your broken wrist with a hammer????? You’d have to be an idiot!


HORSEMAN hear the screaming.... other horse handlers are more likely to blame ‘the breed’ or the previous handler for the horses reluctant behaviour and convince themselves that nothing is amiss with a negative ‘scope and blood test’.

Personally ... I prefer to work with HORSEMEN!


Any Queries please contact Tom Ahern 08 94784029

or e-mail ahernvet@hotmail.com


N.B. some barrier problem horses are just physically sensitive ( neurological increase in sensitivity). These are usually reluctant to enter any confined space, narrow lane, will race through door spaces, often don’t like a crush or small float.. etc. They often improve with a barrier rug which reduces the impact when contacting the barrier running board.