Trail Class: Working the Rope Gate
Learn some horse-showing hints to “keep the cows in” during your next trail course.
By By Cynthia Cantleberry in The American Quarter Horse Journal | December 19, 2018
When you think about stepping up your form for the gate obstacle in trail, try thinking of why the obstacle is one of the required maneuvers for the class in the first place.
Trail began as a stock horse class. Why would you be on your horse to open the gate? Usually, it was because you were working cattle, and it was more efficient to open a gate horseback when you could. Of course, it also meant you needed to make sure the cows didn’t get out when you opened and closed the gate.
We use rope gates these days because it helps to speed up a class. But you don’t want to lose your correct form opening a gate, and I think it’s easy to do with a rope gate. There’s still a correct way to open a gate, and it’s not only about not hitting the post or a ground pole; you have to pretend the gate has to hold cows in.
It is bad form when riders have to reach too far to pick up the gate, and when they back up too much before riding through: I see a lot of riders letting cows out.
I have my riders and horses learn how to open a real gate, and it helps them to maintain correct form when they show with a rope gate. You’ve got to remember the reason behind why you are opening a gate while you are on a horse.
To open a real, right-hand gate, ride up parallel to the gate, and stop when your leg is at the latch. Reach over and unlatch it; you shouldn’t have to reach very far.
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Back up to where your horse’s head is just past the post. He might even have to duck his head in a little bit to get by the post when you open the gate to ride through: That’s OK; you’re blocking any cows from getting out.
Holding onto the gate, sidepass and push the gate open just wide enough for your horse and your legs to get through - you don’t want it all the way open. When you ride through it like that, you’ve got the gateway blocked, and a cow can’t get out.
Ride through until the end of the gate is behind your leg, turn around the end of the gate (still holding onto it) to where your leg is at the end of the gate, and then sidepass to shut it.
It’s important to remember if you let a horse get his head into the gate, it’s his gate and you could lose control of it. When I ride up to a gate, I always ride with my horse’s head tipped away from it, in just a slight counter arc. You just want his hip slightly closer into the gate than his shoulder, never the other way around. If he gets his head into the gate and his rear out, the horse is in command of the gate - and I see that happen all the time when people ride through a rope gate.
Step It Up
When you show with a rope gate, of course, it’s different - but thinking about riding it to keep the cows in helps you maintain correct form and really ride the obstacle, and even “plus” your maneuver score.
Ride up parallel to the gate, and stop so your arm is right at the “latch,” where you pick the rope up. You should not have to reach far to pick the rope up.
Back just a few steps, so his nose clears the gate post, and guide him through the gate.
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After you go through and turn - thinking about blocking the gateway as much as you can - you should only have to back up a few steps and you are right at that post to hang up the rope and close the gate. If you go through correctly, you should be pretty close to the “latch;” you should not have to back or sidepass very far to do it.
There is a pole that’s typically in the gateway of a rope gate, either on the ground or raised a little - I think a lot of people back way up and get almost perpendicular to the gate because they’re worried about hitting that pole.
I still try to ride it the same way as when I open a real gate: I back up just far enough so the horse’s head can get through it. I let him get his head through, and then ask him to walk on through and step over any pole.
Horses tend to be more careful when you do it that way, because you’re challenging them. You’re saying there’s a pole there and if you don’t pick up your feet, you’re going to get crossed up in it.
If you have him too tucked up underneath, yes, he’ll hit the pole. But if you back up and head forward, he’ll come right through and over clean. I have babies that do it.
There are circumstances in the show ring in the way a rope gate is set up where you just have to figure out the best way to get through it - with a really high pole to step over or if there are cones or bushes in odd places. You just need to get your horse through the gate however you can make it work.
But with most gates, you shouldn’t have to back up all the way to Nebraska and reach halfway out of your saddle to get through it. To maintain your proper form riding any gate, just think about trying to keep the cattle in, and plus that score.