Good Horse Latches Keep Horses Safe and Secure

Gate latches are a serious issue at barns, paddocks and stalls. Latches need to be easy to open for humans both horseback and afoot. Latches also need to be safe and secure to keep horses in and injury free.
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Gate latches are a serious issue at barns, paddocks and stalls. Latches need to be easy to open for humans both horseback and afoot. Latches also need to be safe and secure to keep horses in and injury free.
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Whether it's your horse barn, horse paddock, horse pasture or horse stabling facilities, you need good horse latches to secure all areas where horses are kept. We'll look at wire gates, pipe gates and wooden gates to find the most secure horse gate for your ranch.

The ideal horse latches and horse gates should allow entry and exit free from impediments, so you can lead a horse with one hand and open and close doors and horse gates with the other. But keep in mind that your horse should not be able to perform the same tasks with their muzzles.

Some horses can and will open gates. I know because I have owned more than one who have been able to use their lips like fingers. They've learned to open stall doors, gates and even grain boxes-a somewhat amusing but very dangerous ability not only to themselves but to their stablemates as well.

The latches around your farm or ranch should be human-friendly and horse-secure. Let's look at some common gate types and consider the fundamentals for securing them.

The gate types we will be focusing on are wire, pipe and wood. Simple is nice, but function is everything. You'll want to be able to operate most gates one-handed because 90% of the time, if you're not leading a horse through one, you'll be carrying something. It's very convenient to be able to use one hand to get the job done.

Wire Gates
As usual, there are always a few exceptions. One in particular stands out-the wire gate.

Wire gates have been around forever. They are often used to divide pastures for grazing or to allow large vehicles access. Wire gates generally require at least two hands to open and close.

The gate is hinged by wire to an H-brace and generally will have a top and bottom loop as the latching system on the other side. When closed, the gate should not sag and the wires (usually a minimum of four strands) should all be tight from post to post. The lower loop is used to secure the post and give you leverage for closing. The upper loop is the most important and should have just enough play in it so that you can get it over the gatepost.

The variations in tightness of these gates has challenged marriages and created a right of passage for many a youngster. Suffice to say, wire gates should be snug enough so an animal cannot nudge it open or push it over.

The need for assistance in securing wire gates has spawned a variety of homegrown devises. A company called SpeeCo has a nifty mechanical type upper gate closer on the market for posts up to 5 inches in diameter. They also have a cable that adjusts to most post sizes. (Check it out at www.speeco.com.)

Fit the Latch to the Gate

• One-handed latches allow you to lead your horse through a gate easily.
• Wire gates are the exception and almost always need to be opened with both hands.
• To keep horses in with a pipe-gate chain, wrap the chain through twice or hook the chain with a two-headed snap.
• A spring-loaded, side-pull latch works well for shorter wooden gates without a lot of weight.

If you will be moving horses through any area with wire gates, it's essential to use smooth wire, never barbed wire, to avoid the possibility of serious injury to you or your horse. It only takes one second for a young foal, or any horse, to rip themselves up on a single strand of barbed wire.

It happened to my 4-day-old colt when I was leading him and his dam out to the turnout. I had laid the gate back flush with the fence, sure it was out of harm's way. But he was off halter and running for the joy of it when he stopped suddenly, turned on a dime, and hit his hip on the top wire. He ripped his hip open, which was not life-threatening, but did require stitches. Doc still has that scar on his hip, and it's a reminder every time I see it.

Pipe Gates
The pipe gate is one of the most common stock gates on the market today. Pipe gates should be hung on a solid post using hinge pins. It is extremely important when mounting these gates that the hinge pins are not both facing up, as this will allow animals to lift the gate off the hinges, should they put their head between the bars and raise up.

I've seen it happen. This time it was a yearling. It was feeding time, and he could hardly wait to get hold of that hay. Fortunately, I was right there when he stuck his head through and lifted the gate off the hinges. The chain latch secured the gate on one side, giving me just enough time to get a hold of the other side so that he didn't end up galloping off into the sunset with a gate on his head. We got lucky that day, but hopefully you can learn from our experience and understand how important little things like that are.

The gate latch on a pipe gate has to secure the gate closed, but cannot prevent it from being lifted off the hinges if it is free to do so. Some hinge pins do provide a notch on the side that will prevent the gate from lifting off when closed. But if yours does not have this notch, then you will need to reverse the hinge pins so the top hinge pin is facing down and the bottom hinge pin is facing up. The hinges on the gate are adjustable, so as you hang it, line it up with the hinge pins and tighten them down as you go.

As for the latches on pipe gates, some will come with a chain attached, as well as a notched vertical bracing to secure it. These generally work fine, provided you run the chain from below the notch and/or go through the pre-drilled hole provided in the bracing (necessary steps to secure the chain from loosening up).

Also be sure that your horse doesn't figure out how to work that chain. For one of those talented types, you may want to wrap the chain through twice or purchase a two-headed snap that can hook the chain together.

The down side to this type of latch is that it generally requires two hands to operate. These latches are probably best suited for use in stall runs or areas not used frequently. Avoid using them in alleyways or heavy traffic zones. In those cases, you might consider one-handed latches.

One type of one-handed latch is called the Two-Way Lockable Gate Latch, by www.SpeeCo.com. The company offers one that can adjust to tube gates, sizes 1 1/4" to 2", and can be mounted on a flat wood or a 2" metal post. These offer the added design of securing the gate in a stationary position when closed, which helps prevent sagging.

A similar design, called a Sure-Latch, is also available through various outlets. There are subtle differences in models, one with a locking option, one without, plus two different widths to accommodate your gate and post. So be sure to measure your gate and post before purchasing to assure a tight fit.

One big advantage to both of these gate latches is that they can also be opened while horseback, provided that you mount the latches high enough and have ample room around the latch area. Ample room means you can ride your horse right up to the latch, either directly or by sidepassing, and reach the latch without standing up or leaning over in the saddle to do so.

Sagging gates can also be prevented by placing either a wooden or metal pedestal next to the latch post that is equal to the height of the bottom of the gate. If you are really industrious, you can mount a bracket with a wheel on the gate to perform the same support, but it can be cumbersome in some environments.

A relatively simple option is the hook/snap and chain latch. This is a proven design and simple to install if you have a few tools (drill, socket set and/or wrenches), and it accommodates a myriad of posts and gates.

The basic design requires a length of chain long enough to secure the gate to the post. You can use a carriage bolt with washers, or you can use a lag bolt to secure the chain to the post. If using the carriage bolt, you will need to drill a hole through the latch post. Place the snap with strap-end straddled between washers on the carriage bolt, run it through the post (being sure the bolt extends past the post far enough on the opposite side that you can place the chain between two washers, plus a lock washer), and bolt to tighten it down.

The chain length can either encircle the gate and the post or just the gate, but be sure to leave yourself enough length so that you have extra links to work with. This will help especially if you're wearing gloves or carrying something, and cannot see the latch clearly.

If you prefer, you can skip using the snap on the post and instead run the bolt through the chain, leaving enough length to join the chain using a carabineer, double-headed snap, or a hook with eyelet. The eyelet should be screwed into or bolted to your post or gate at a height that is easily reachable on horseback. This will also reduce the likelihood of a horse playing with the hook and freeing himself.

One advantage to hook-type gates is that they are quick and easy to open on horseback or on foot. They are also excellent choices for alleyways or for heavy wooden gates. However, never underestimate the strength and persistence of horses. Be sure to use heavy gauge chain, not lightweight dog chain, for all your gates and latches.

HiQual offers some of the best ride-through latch options on the market today. These latches may be accessed from the ground or on horseback. The Cowboy Latch is a heavy duty 1" rod that can be mounted on both metal or wooden gates with an allowable 28"-span for mounting. This will require a 1" diameter hole or opening set at approximately a 45-degree angle to match up to the rod end that will secure the gate.

If you are drilling a wooden post, it is a good idea to drill the hole slightly larger and hammer in a pipe sleeve to keep the wood from hollowing out, or provide a metal strike plate with a hole drilled through it for the rod. If it is metal fencing, you can weld or bolt a metal housing for the rod end to slide into or simply drill a large enough diameter hole right into your pipe post.

HiQual also has a ride-through latch that mounts on the post, which leaves the end of the gate smooth and reduces the chance of anything getting hung up on the latch. To open, you press down on the spring rod and push open the gate. Once through, simply swing the gate and it will latch itself shut. This latch also offers a locking mechanism and will work with any gatepost up to 2" in diameter.

Wooden Gates
Wooden gates and fences are a kind of vanishing breed these days, due in part to the maintenance factor. But they have a place, and the Gallagher company offers a couple of latches worth mentioning.

One is the JP Long Chain latch, which is similar to the hook and eyelet mentioned above, but a lighter gauge. It is easy to install on a wooden gate and post. The hook with a locking ring secures the closure over a large staple (eyelet), and as long as your horse doesn't figure out the key to opening it or decide to scratch his hindquarters on the gate (dislodging the staple), you should be good to go.

The other latch for a wooden gate that Gallagher offers is called the Lone Wolf Gate latch. The Lone Wolf is a spring-loaded, side-pull latch that works well for shorter gates without a lot of weight. You will need to lean over and access the latch from the off side in order to open it easily. For that reason, its use should be primarily for small stock like miniature horses or for securing an area where access is only from one side.

For more information, go to www.gallagherusa.com. The company also offers clinics and free downloads for layout and planning.

If you have access to a computer, you'll be able to do a little bit more home-based research, and most farm and ranch supply stores will be happy to assist you, too. A little preplanning and going equipped with accurate measurements in hand will make the job much easier.