Feature photo by Ginny Furness
Opening a gate on a horse is not the same as training your horse to open a gate! Gates are a fun, interesting and useful challenge to learn. All horses, regardless of size, temperament or breed are able to master gates if the rider understands the maneuver.
Horses hurried into performing the entire process are not as fluid, confident and harmonious as those given time to understand each step individually.
If you and your horse have not been exposed to gates, take your time and build progress over several days. Become proficient at each of the small steps before moving on. This is the most sure way to success with the gate.
Prerequisite training for gates.
- Quarter turn on forehand each direction.
- Side pass.
- Have you horse comfortable with standing very close to the gate, even to the point your leg is touching the post. When you are close to the gate you will not have to reach very far to grasp the rope and this prevents several problems.
A ROPE GATE is best for initial training. If possible master the rope before moving on to solid gates. The steps will be similar for the solid gate. For sake of clarity here, when facing the rope gate, the latch side will be on your left, the hinge on your right. To see how to create your rope gate to conform to competition specifications click here.
- If you horse is not comfortable just standing next to the gate without fidgeting, make the gate a really nice place to be. Use the gate as a resting place after performing any physical activity that will have you horse somewhat winded, but not wound up.
- Stop the horse so the latch side post is lined up about with your right knee. Just stand quietly and ask no more. This is the real key to success, as horses that are unwilling to listen quietly at this step take much longer to become proficient. Remember, you want this obstacle maneuver to be fluid, in harmony and pretty.
- After the horse stands quietly lift the rope with your right hand. Then set it down and after a few moments walk away. Repeat on occasion between other obstacles. this will establish in the horses mind that what he has done is acceptable to you.
- Now is time to start properly addressing this obstacle challenge. Stop the horse facing the gate, then ask for a turn on the forehand so the horse is parallel with the gate as before.
- Lift the latch side rope and back the horse, hang the rope on the hinge post, creating an opening for the horse. Perform the following steps without holding the rope. This will permit riding with both hands, hence better control of the horse.
- Turn on the forehand (haunches left)into the opening and walk through the opening till he clears the posts.
- Again turn on the forehand (haunches left) until parallel with the gate facing the opposite direction as before.
- Side pass over until in proper position to the hinge post. Now pause, take a big breath and praise your horse. Then walk off. remember step 6,7 and 8 were without the rope in hand.
- The next step is to back the horse as though you are moving the rope and closing the gate. Do this without the rope, as the movement is more important than holding the rope at this time.
- When the above step is VERY solid, put all the steps together with actually returning the rope to the latch side. Congratulation, you did it!!!
To make the gate obstacle pretty and score well, have good control over minor movements of your horse. Stop close to the posts so you have very little reach. Take your time and let your horse frame his body before asking for any movements. Use your weight and leg queues more than the reins. When done well the obstacle will appear effortless.