You'll also want a gate that's big enough for the horse to easily move through it, but not so big that it's unwieldy for you. Bonham points out that while a bigger gate might seem easier because there is more room for a horse to move through, the weight of a larger gate means it's easier for you to lose control of it. It's important for you to have control of the gate in these early stages because you don't want your horse's first experiences to include the gate banging into his hindquarters and scaring him.
Walk your horse up to the gate on a loose rein and let him look it over.
"I try to relax them and pet them at the gate," Bonham says. "Instead of forcing them to stand there very long, I'll remove them from the gate and go work on something else for a while. Move them around a little bit and then bring them back. Let them stand there and find out that when they're standing there, they can stand relaxed. This is their relaxing place, while away from the gate is where they work."
Working the Gate
Bonham first teaches pushing the gate. She says that it's easier for both horse and rider because of the forward motion through the gate instead of having to back up while pulling the gate toward you.
"When you're pulling a gate toward you, you're pulling it into the horse," she says. "That could potentially scare the horse more than pushing the gate away from you."
Walk your horse up to the side of the gate or sidepass him to it so that he is parallel with the gate. "If you approach it directly, the horse's head will be facing the gate and you won't be able to work it," Bonham explains. "You work a gate from the side. You can't reach over a horse's head and reach the latch."
Once you and your horse are in position, reach down to unlatch the gate. This will unbalance your seat somewhat, which is where your earlier preparation on shifting your weight will pay dividends. Still, Bonham advises that there is a right way and a wrong way to lean for the latch.
Use your legs to keep your body as centered as possible while you reach for the latch with the hand closest to the gate. Bonham recommends keeping your off leg (the leg farthest from the gate) on your horse, not letting it ride up and outward, which would tip your balance too far toward the gate. Keep your gate leg away from the horse.