You’ve been spending time and money getting your farm just the way you like it. Stalls are bright and well ventilated, the horses perform beautifully on the arena footing, your pastures have just the right mix of grasses, and your fencing is immaculate. That paddock gate, however, is another story. Over the years the side posts have become crooked. As a result, the gate is sagging and the far end sits in the dirt, so you have to hoist the gate up to close it. It is definitely time for a replacement.
Any number of prefabricated gates can quickly come to the rescue (see “Commercially Available Gates and Materials,” below). Or, you may decide that you’d like to design, build, and/or install your own gate. Either way, it pays to do your homework first. Greg Nielsen, sales manager at Classic Equine Equipment in Missouri, offers this advice: “Choose materials that can stand up to the rigors of both your environment and your horses. Examine gates or gate plans with an eye toward safety. The old adage, “you get what you pay for” applies here, and it makes sense to purchase or build gates made of quality materials that feature safe, durable hardware—even if it means spending a little more up front.”
There are many types of wood to choose from when building your gate. According to Aimé Fraser, wooden boat builder and master woodworker at Taezo Studios in Ansonia, Conn., the choice of wood is not too important for the gate. “Because it’s suspended in the air and not standing in water, a gate is not prone to rot. However, it’s not a bad idea to choose a rot-resistant wood, since the gate is exposed to the elements. Cedar, yellow pine, cypress, redwood, and black locust are common species. Some of the tropical woods used for decking—ipe, meranti, and cambara—also work well, but they tend to be heavy. Avoid the really rot-prone woods, like poplar, birch, and red oak. Pressure-treated wood is unnecessary, since the gate is off the ground,” she notes.
This is not the case for the gateposts, which must be rot resistant. Here, it makes sense to choose pressure-treated posts, which can last for 10 to 25 years, depending on preservative treatment and soil conditions. Other good choices for posts are cedar, black locust, redwood, Osage orange, or a local species of hardy wood. Fraser recommends checking with your local lumberyard to see which rot-resistant wood is most readily available in your area.
To build the gate, you will need 2 x 4s for the frame, 3/4-inch thick boards for the cladding, and circular or square posts that are at least 8 inches across. It is very important that the 2 x 4s be straight and dry. “Taking the time up front to choose good ones will save you a lot of aggravation down the road, so don’t buy just any old 2 x 4s,” Fraser cautions.
The Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension offers some general recommendations about paddock gate design (available at: www.pubs.cas.psu.edu/freepubs/pdfs/ub037.pdf).