Simplify Your Gate Skills

Featured image: Nicole Grous, photo by Michael T. Photography

You can train your horse to open the actual gate to the pasture!

Gate training is indispensable  to any rancher’s horse. Working Equitation is designed to show the skills necessary to maneuver obstacles that closely represent the athleticism of a working ranch horse. Teamwork and focus are essential to tackling obstacles similar to those found in the fields. Where there is a horse, there is usually a gate.

You can practice with any gate, but you will need to train with the rope gate as well. Use jump standards and attach a rope, to be technical, the distance between the standards should be 6.5 feet wide to make your gate. Training your horse to properly open and close a gate is actually simple if you use the correct prerequisites. I will explain them here.

  1. Turn on haunches – this is basically a pirouette, the horse turns the forehand around the haunches, while the hind legs continue to step in a regular rhythm.  

    Turn on haunches
  2. Turn on forehand- the haunches move laterally,  keeping the inside foreleg nearly stationary. This inside foreleg, while remaining in almost the same spot, will continue stepping up and down in rhythm as the hind legs move sideways; the inside hind leg crosses in front of the outside hind.

    Side pass

3. The Leg Yield- a lateral movement in which a horse travels both forward and sideways at the same time.

4. Side pass- moving directly sideways with no forward movement. Although this move does not produce athletic value, it is very important in teaching horse to move away from pressure with seat and leg alone. There is no flexion on the bit except to keep horse from moving forward. It is so important that your horse can side pass from quiet communication, as this is key to control at the gate.

5. Halt- Always practice a square halt which comes from a balanced horse.                               

6. Rein back- Very important in all aspects of Ease of  Handling.

It is also important to have steering control over every part of the horse with quiet body nuance (communication).

If you only depend on your rein, the horse is not completely on task. You only have control over the shoulders. This creates problems if there is an unexpected distraction or poor approach to the gate. You do not want to appear as if your horse is a drunken sailor; to score well, your horse’s movement needs to appear effortless, with no hesitation.

Another important factor is that you need to be sure when you reach down to unlatch, that your opposite leg does not swing backward. This can distract the horse’s focus and send a confusing signal.

A great exercise to help keep your leg under you when you lean over is: Starting with your right or left hand in the air, touch the opposite toe (start with your knee if you can’t reach your toe safely yet), maintaining your opposite leg at the girth (cinch), right hand to left toe, right leg stays under you; vice versa.

It’s tougher than it seems to be aware that your leg stays under you, not swinging back

Preparation and coordination is what will create your best teamwork at the gate.

Practice getting your horse aligned with the gate, this is not technically wide enough but it works. My leg should be lined up with the latch but my horse is pretty square and content.


By training my horse to wait for my direction and listen to my seat and leg communication, we are able to maneuver through my homemade obstacle.


Here is where the backing up straight comes in handy.
This time we are a little better aligned with our latch.  Once again, I am happy with my horse standing square and waiting for me.

Article written by Kristie Cotton, Colorado WE United member and Chair of the Publications Committee


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