Gate Etiquette on the Trail
Once you teach your horse to work a gate, you'll want to put that new knowledge to use on the trail. When you and your friends go out for a ride, keep proper gate etiquette in mind so that you're polite not only to the others in your group, but to the land owners.
You may encounter gates on public and private property. When you do, remember the #1 rule: Leave the gate as you found it, whether it's open or closed. Obviously, a closed gate may mean that the land owner is keeping livestock in. However, if the gate has been left open, don't assume that you're doing the owner a favor by closing it. He may have a very good reason for keeping it open. Also, obey any gate closures and regulatory signs.
If you and your horse can open and close a gate without you dismounting, you can provide a useful service to your group. It's best to dismount, though, when encountering a wire fence.
Russell True, owner of the White Stallion Ranch, a guest ranch in Tucson, Arizona, requires his wranglers to dismount at any wire gate.
"We have that rule for the safety of the horses," True says. "We tell our wranglers to dismount and pull the gate all the way back so that the group can go through easily. There are a lot of gates that are just barbed wire strung together with a post at the end, and we don't want the horses anywhere near that."
White Horse Ranch has rides for people of all ability levels. The wranglers must look out for the people and horses as well as guiding the ride, so they will dismount and open the gate on foot if they see any difficulty. Sometimes they are riding an inexperienced horse, and True recommends that they or any rider dismount if they feel it would be better for the group's safety.
It's also polite-and safer-to hold the horse of the person who is opening the gate on foot. That way the person on foot can concentrate on opening the gate and letting people through without having to worry about his horse. Be sure that the horse is comfortable being held while you are mounted. If he isn't, then a second person from your group should dismount and hold both horses.
"We want the gate to swing in the direction that we're going," True says. "Our wranglers will push the gate away from them if they have the choice. Again, it's a safety issue. We don't want anyone to catch a stirrup on the gate." True said that his wranglers will usually dismount if the gate only swings toward them simply as a safety precaution, even though they and their horses are adept at both the push and pull methods of working a gate.
If someone in your group dismounts to open a gate, be sure all the riders go through, clear the gate with room to spare, and then wait for him to latch the gate and mount his horse. Horses in a group can be difficult to mount if they see their buddies heading down the trail without them. And if you're holding the horse of the person opening the gate, take his horse through the gate so that he doesn't have to do it himself.
When you're working a gate in a group, whether on horseback or on foot, handle the gate slowly and quietly. Not every horse will have undergone the training that you've given your horse around gates, so some of them may be nervous or easily spooked. Let the gate person know if you're riding a horse without a lot experience walking through gates.
A gate is like any other obstacle you may encounter on the trail. It has the potential to scare a horse, so the more time you take paying attention to the safety of the group, the better chance you'll have of a trouble-free and pleasant ride.