In the third installment from his trail class series, Lou Roper works with the gate. As told to Annie Haresign. Photography by Obi Igbo Photography.Make sure to watch the accompanying video at the end of this article!
In this article we’re going to look at working the gate. It’s a very practical skill to have as you may need to use this while out on trail rides in the countryside. But for the show pen, the gate is an obstacle that demonstrates accuracy and control with an artificial gate - designed especially for trail class. Don’t worry; it’s unlikely you’ll be asked to open a five bar version! There are several ways of going through the gate but for this article we will concentrate on a ‘right hand push away’ as a starting point. The gate is a great test of manoeuvring skills. If you can’t get your horse to move off your leg you’ll find this a very challenging obstacle but by breaking down each movement and practising them individually the gate will become much easier for you.
One of the first tools that you need is to be able to move your horse sideways, or laterally, into the gate. The back up is also an important part of the gate. Your horse will need to be able to side pass, back up, move his shoulder and move his hip. In my experience, if a person has a failure on the gate it’s because they’ve not developed enough leg control on the horse. So let’s assume you and your horse are ready and that you’re able to move your horse easily in all directions.
If you watch the accompanying video to this article you’ll see my European associate, Martin Otremba, demonstrate the gate for you. First of all you must line up your horse alongside the gate but don’t position yourself so close that your horse will feel nervous or too far away that you have to over-reach to touch the latch. It’s best that you make it easy and comfortable for your horse the first time you attempt the gate. Of course, if your horse hasn’t seen a gate obstacle before, take the time to acclimatise him to it. Both horse and rider must be calm and relaxed – it will be more fun that way! When you’re in the correct position, with the reins in your left hand, reach for the latch with your right, undo it and take a few steps backwards while running your hand back along the top of the gate. Keep your hand on the gate and open it wide enough to allow the horse to pass through.
The next part can be tricky but it will test your leg control and ability to move each part of your horse’s body individually – as you want to position the rear end or quarters round to the left. You’ve still got hold of the gate in your hand so it’s a bit like turning the horse round using your hand as the central point. Once you’re on the other side of the gate, you need to finish the obstacle by closing it. Do this by side passing and maybe taking a step back or two before fastening the latch. Remember, your hand needs to stay on the gate. When you and your horse are learning how to work the gate, take your time. If your horse gets nervous it’s ok to let go of the gate and just pass through. Build up to working the gate as a whole movement by first breaking it down into sections to ensure your horse understands what is expected and that there’s nothing to fear.
So, let’s look at the gate from the start again and the common faults that result in low marks in the show pen. When you’re in position parallel to the gate, don’t be in a rush and side pass your horse up against the gate until it hits it. Some horses get very discouraged about this and really don’t like to approach the gate again.
As you reach for the latch to undo the gate make sure you’re in a position that as you move your hand that you don’t have to lean over. If you lean too far, you’ll accidently and unintentionally put the wrong leg on the horse and the horse may move away from the gate.
As you open up the gate, make sure it’s wide enough that your horse can pass its head through, and the rest of its body, and it doesn’t feel like it’s trapped. As you become more proficient at this, you can have a smaller area for the horse to work through and make it tidier but in the beginning make sure to give your horse a lot of room.
You can practise at home even if you don’t have a professional gate by having your horse move over to a solid object such as a wall or even a barrel. This will teach them that it is ok to move next to something and move away. Another method is to take a rope and string it between two solid points (jump stands are good) to simulate a gate where you can take the rope, move it from one point and act as though you’re working a gate.
Make sure you can side pass, back up and move your horse’s shoulders and quarters well before working the gate, it will make it much easier!
Take your time. Don’t rush up to the gate in side pass or rush through the whole gate manoeuvre – you will make your horse nervous
Break down the gate into smaller parts to build your horse’s confidence and understanding of the task
Open the gate wide at first and make it easy for your horse to go through
It’s ok to let go of the gate when practising if your horse is confused or intimidated by the obstacle
Practise, practise, practise; I always say it because it works!
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