Gate In-Hand and from Horseback
© 2008 Cherry
you ride in an arena or in pastures or on trails, it is helpful to know how to
open and close a gate safely from horseback. It is not only handy but it can be
the basis for introducing and using a good number of individual maneuvers. If
you have a plan in mind before you approach a gate, things will go more easily.
Before you try to ride a horse though a gate, be sure he has good manners as you
lead him through a gate from the ground.
with a young or inexperienced horse, it is best to begin the in-hand gate lesson
with a halter and lead rope. Once the horse works the gate well with a halter,
repeat the lesson using a bridle. When using the bridle, instead of grabbing both
reins together and treating them collectively as a lead rope, separate the reins
with your fingers and use them in a way that does not give the horse conflicting
signals. At all times during ground work it is advisable to carry a dressage whip
in the hand farthest from the horse (the left hand if leading from the near side).
The simplest gate configuration to work from the ground is a gate (when you are
facing it) which swings away from you, hinges on the left, and latches on the
right. With such a gate, you lead the horse from his near side up to the latch,
halt, open the gate as you walk the horse forward until his hindquarters have
cleared the latch post. Then halt.
Here there will be some variation depending on your horse's level of training.
You will be asking your horse to perform a 180 degree turn on the forehand around
the left front leg with the hindquarters moving to the right. Ideally, you remain
facing forward and continue holding onto the latch with your left hand. Tip his
nose toward you and cue him on the left rib cage with the whip you are holding
in your left hand. This will make him move his haunches to the right while rotating
around his left front leg.
of the aids for a young horse would be to let go of the gate (you may need an
assistant to steady it), change hands on the lead and whip so that you are facing
the horse's left side. Tip his nose to the left as you press his ribs with your
right hand or butt of the whip. Either method should result in the horse rotating
his hindquarters around the forehand so that the horse now faces the back side
of the gate. To complete the gate, you simply resume your normal position, if
necessary, and walk the horse forward to latch the gate.
If you approach the same gate except that it is designed to swing toward you,
lead the horse up to the latch halt, then as you open the gate, ask the horse
to back. Then perform a turn on the forehand and finish by backing through the
opening as you close the gate. The gate will provide a visual aid for the horse
but the gate should never be used to bump a horse that seems stubborn or stuck
as it will make him afraid of the gate and spoil his mounted work. Instead the
horse should first be taught to back in-hand using a fence or the side of a building
to help to keep him straight. Intermittent pressure on the noseband of the halter
and the chest usually brings the least resistance and the best results.
It is more difficult to work a gate smoothly in hand if the latch is on the left.
This means that the handler must change to the off-side to work the gate properly.
It is valuable for the horse to be worked from both sides to prevent habits which
can lead to stiffness. Working the horse from the offside also adds to the handler's
ambidextrous capacities. The practice of stepping in front of a horse at a gate
and then sending him in ahead and allowing him to swing around is a variation
of the proper method. The handler's position is not as safe and because a longer
lead rope is required to allow the horse to swing through the gate, control is
The in-hand preparation will pay off when it comes time for mounted work, not
in that you will use the exact same sequence of maneuvers, but because the horse
has been taught to approach the gate as a formal lesson which follows a definite
plan. There are four ways to properly negotiate a gate from the horse's back.
Which one you will use will depend on which way the gate swings, hinges, latches,
and what types of corners or supports are present near the gate which may inhibit
With a young or
inexperienced horse, it is best to take your time with the various components
of working the gate so the horse does not become nervous, frightened, or anticipatory.
For example, ride up alongside the gate, stand and let the horse relax and then
ride off. The next time rattle the gate or latch a bit. The horse needs to be
comfortable with the gate so that he will pay more attention to your aids than
to the gate itself. Little by little add the various components described below.
Be sure to pause often and add a square halt in between the segments so the horse
does not become anticipatory. The criteria for working a gate properly includes:
the rider never lets go of the gate, the rider never has to reach for the gate,
the rider does not lose position in the saddle while working the gate, and the
rider can stop the horse at any moment.
simplest way to work a gate is to ride alongside it and stop with your leg at
the latch. Give your reins to one hand and with the other, unlatch the gate. Then,
while sliding your hand along the top of the gate, back the horse a few steps
so that his head is now at the latch. Swing the gate away from the horse so that
he sees an inviting opening. Later, as the horse progresses, instead of swinging
the gate away from the horse, you can have the horse "work the gate"
with a few steps of side pass (similar to a full pass) or turn on the hindquarters.
Which one you will use will depend on the length of the gate and how close the
horse's haunches must work to the hinges - a very long gate will allow the horse
to do more of a side pass while a short gate will require more of a turn on the
hindquarters. In any case, once the gate is opened, the horse is walked forward
until his shoulder is at the end of the gate. Then perform a turn on the forehand
(about 340 degrees) to position the horse parallel to the opposite side of the
gate. Then as many steps of side pass or turn on the hindquarters as is required
to close the gate.
the horse has mastered the first way, you can teach him a variation by pulling
the gate toward you to open it and to close it. Although you might think this
would be the easier way to first teach the horse because the gate coming toward
him would be a visual cue, it seems that more horses get confused or frightened
if this method is used first. It seems to be much clearer to them, initially,
to ride through an opening.
and fourth methods involve backing a horse around the end of the gate. This is
often necessary if the latch is located in a tight corner and the rider can not
reach it by riding forward to it. The way to begin is to position the horse alongside
the gate and back him into the corner. Unlatch the gate and swing it open (or
use a few steps of side pass) so that the horse sees and senses that there is
an opening he can back through. Then back the horse a few steps so that his hind
foot that is closest to the gate is just a step beyond the end of the gate. Then
alternate one step each of a turn on the hindquarters and a rein-back. The result
will be that the path of the hind foot nearest the gate will describe a small
semi-circle as the other legs work around it. Once the horse's body is parallel
to the gate, but now on the back side, a few steps of full pass will close the
gate and complete it.
The fourth method
would also be used for a latch in a corner and especially one with a restricted
area inside the gate. Therefore the gate is opened toward the horse and utilizes
a combination of turn on the haunches and rein back as the horse works around
the end of the gate. This last method would be the most difficult to start with
but presents no big problem if the horse has been taught the other methods first.