Don’t Fence Me In

I really didn't think too much about gates ... until my horses got loose! Six horses, 24 pounding hoofs, and 6 tails flagged to the wind! They were the happiest horses in Ohio!

Story originally posted by: Debbie Disbrow

Of course, my immediate fear was injury occurring to horse or human, especially with our busy road, children out playing, or Good Samaritans stepping in to lend a hand. Fortunately, my horses are obsessed with their grain. So with a shake of the bucket, and a little creative waving, and calling, I had them safely back in their pasture with the gate closed.

It can happen to even the most-conscientious horse owner. We get used to the routine, and double-check everything before heading to the house. But once in a while distractions and busy schedules intervene and …

For obvious convenience, most gates are placed at high traffic areas. Horses learn very quickly the access route to the barn where they are groomed, get attention and best of all, EAT. The repetitive positive reinforcement they receive every time they pass through the gate is the reason horses push and shove, or stand and paw the gate area.

With equine friends that pack around 1,200 pounds or more, it doesn’t take much for them to push open or even break through a gate. The only solution is to ensure you have a good quality gate with the best latch you can find.

It may be a worn cliché, but when it comes to gates and gate hardware, you truly do get what you pay for. A gate constructed of 2-inch heavy gauge, tubular steel gate is very strong and does not have sharp-edged slats inserted for reinforcement that can cause injury to your horse. Our draft horse “Fred” has shoes in front and is relentless about pawing our gate at feeding time. Our 2-inch tubular steel gate has held up, without dents, for years.

Think about both current and future uses for any gate area. It is always easier to plan a gate area at the time of fence installation, as opposed to adding one later. The best gate size depends on the intended use of the gate.

Four-foot gates are rarely used with full size horses and will really limit the size of equipment you can maneuver through the opening. If a gate area is going to allow mounted riders to pass through, a four-foot opening does not allow much room for the width of the horse plus the legs and knees of the rider.

Eight to 12-foot gates work well for turnout or catch areas. When in doubt, go with a 16-foot gate. This utility size gate will accommodate most tractors, spreaders, trucks and trailers. For larger equipment, consider installing a double gate.

Remember that the longer the gate, the heaver it will be. Gateposts will need to be set in concrete and braced to prevent leaning and dragging. Use gate wheels on longer gates to help support the gate, keep it from sagging, and make it easier to control. On double gates, install a drop pin so that you can open one side without the other swinging wide.

A good gate is really only as good as its latching mechanism. I think some of the most creative works of art I have seen are homemade gate latches. Ropes, chains, bungie cords, wood latches, baling twine, you name it, I have probably seen it.

A heavy-duty gate latch can make a big difference in the security a gate provides. One-way latches provide extra strength when the latch is installed on inside facing the pasture. When your horse pushes against it, the latch can’t give and the horse is pushing against the post, too.

Two-way latches allow gates to swing both ways, which can be very convenient during the spring and fall. When your horses congregate in the gate area and it becomes muddy, the gate can be swung outward avoiding any mud or frozen dirt that can literally stop a gate from opening.

Locking two-way latches will make them more secure. If you have a gate located near a road or public access area, or if you have reason to be concerned about foul play, locking latches offer a good preventative measure for peace of mind.

A chain with a quick-release latch, which can be operated easily with one hand, work well in frequently accessed areas, areas close to the barn, riding arenas, or at inner barn gates. It is a simple, yet effective latch that is stronger and more secure than a jerry-rigged version.

If you have a boarding facility, work with youth riders, or give lessons, good gates and latches are essential. Choose gates and latches that are easy to use and work well. You may consider using two latches in pastures with many horses: one heavy-duty latch and one quick release latch. You’ll improve your chances that at least one of the two will get used!

So hold your horses, and hold them well. If you want to go out for a jog, let it be on your schedule, not when your horse decides the grass is greener on the other side!