The style of your pasture gate, the portal to your horse’s turnout and grazing space, depends on many things: your budget, the style of your pasture fence, and where on the property the gate is located. While these factors all matter, the most important consideration is the safety of your horses.
Horses tend to congregate at the gate, especially when it gets close to feeding time. Some horses will lean on the gate, others paw at the gate and risk getting a foot caught in it, and young horses in particular will sometimes run up against the gate while playing. The curious types like to play with the latch until they undo it, and then there are the ones that graze under the gate and lift it off its hinges by raising their heads.
For these reasons, pasture gates must be made of safe and sturdy materials, free of any projections like nails, screws or bolts, and the gate must be Houdini horse proof. Ease of use is another important point to consider. Gates must be wide enough to drive the tractor through so the pastures can be mowed, but a wide gate can be unwieldy to handle. And, how about location? If the gate is located at the front of the farm and visible from the road, appearance is more of a concern than for a gate located at the back of the farm. Luckily, many safe and attractive gates are available. Cost varies according to the materials, whether or not you have the expertise to build it yourself, and whether or not it will require frequent maintenance.
Wooden gates are inexpensive, easy to build, and can be painted or stained to match the fence. But, wooden gates are heavy, and some horses will chew or crib on them. Coating the wood with an anti-cribbing concoction or covering the edges of the rails with a metal edging will discourage chewing and cribbing, but add to the cost. Wood will also rot in time, but some species are more rot-resistant that others. The best choices include bald cypress, cedar, redwood, juniper, and black locust. But even these hardy woods need to be coated with a preservative or painted to give the gate a long life.
Metal gates come in a variety of designs. Aluminum gates are lightweight and don’t rust. They are easy to install, easy to open and close, and are inexpensive. However, some aluminum gates have sharp edges at the corners. A horse can injure itself if it rushes through and catches a shoulder or hip on the corner. Painted or galvanized tubular gates resist rust, are lightweight and strong, and come in a variety of sizes. Look for the ones that have rounded corners for added safety. They are available with wire mesh inside the frame to prevent horses from getting a leg caught through the rails. Tubular gates are built of either round or square tubing, in different gauges and a variety of sizes, from four to twenty feet long.
Solid steel pipe gates are another option. They are strong, easy to install and will last a long time if treated for rust prevention. They are heavier than tubular steel, and more expensive.
Iron gates are attractive but also heavier, and therefore will need more support. An iron gate must be painted to prevent rust. They are more often used as farm entrance gates for security and for eye appeal, rather than for pasture gates.
PVC gates are usually used to match fences made of the same material. PVC is lightweight, making it easy to handle and fairly maintenance-free. It will last indefinitely and comes in several colors and designs. PVC fencing and gate products can be either rigid or flexible. Rigid PVC is more expensive, but more suitable for gates. Some PVC products are made to resemble wood and are in fact very realistic. These products come in a choice of colors including white, green, brown and black.
Gates made of PVC do not rot, but may show mold or mildew. While they never need to be painted, they might need to be cleaned with an anti-mildew agent. Ramm Fence recommends washing PVC with soap and water, and using a pressure washer to remove mold or mildew. The soap recipe: one cup laundry detergent, two cups household cleaner, and one gallon of water. Ramm says denatured alcohol can also be used, but warns against using acetone, because that will deteriorate the material.
There are also reports that gates made of PVC do not hold up well with normal farm use. Ramm Fence, which supplies PVC fencing, sells tubular metal gates, both galvanized and painted in 6’, 10’, 12’ and 16’ lengths for those who distrust PVC?gates.
The heavier the gate the tougher it will be, enabling it to stand up to the abuse horses can inflict on it. But a heavy, long gate will be more difficult to handle and will need extra support to prevent warping and sagging.
One solution to that problem is to mount a wheel on the bottom corner to keep the gate from dropping to the ground. This will also make opening and closing it easier. Another solution is to attach a cable from the upper corner of the opening end to the top of a higher post at the hinged end. A turnbuckle placed at the center of the cable will allow you to take up any slack in the cable due to stretching.
The gateposts should be heavier than regular fence posts in order to support the weight of the gate. To mount the gate, set a six- to nine-foot gatepost in a concrete footing at least 24 inches below ground level. Attach the hinges leaving about six to eight inches of clearance from the bottom of the gate to the ground.
Some horses have been known to lift a gate off its hinges while grazing under the fence or sticking their heads through the spaces in the gate. A hinge guard placed over the hinges will prevent this from happening.
Some horses have a real talent for opening gates and can manage almost any sort of latch. Keep this in mind when choosing a gate latch. The slide stick latch is a commonly used closure. The problem with this latch is it is as easy for horses to operate as humans. Most aluminum farm gates have this standard latch, and most horse owners use a chain latch in addition to the slide closure. A strap iron latch locks automatically when the gate closes. The hook and chain latch is another common gate latch. Wrapping the chain around the post and the gate then securing it with a snap is usually enough to outsmart most horses.
Co-Line Welding, Inc., makes a gate latch designed for standard pipe gates called the Surelatch. The Surelatch can be opened with one hand, but is difficult, if not impossible, for horses to maneuver. The best way to prevent the horses from tampering with the latch is to position it where the horse cannot reach it, making sure it fastens on the outside of the pasture.
An automatic gate is more expensive, but can be very useful when driving a tractor or truck through since it can be opened with a remote control. These types of gates also work well in general entrance areas. With a little time and effort when installing gates, as well as some attention paid to security, barn gates can do exactly what they are meant to do—keep the horses safely confined.