Tips on Gates and Latches

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As a life-long farm manager, I have learned that it is very important to consider what pasture or paddock gates to use when developing a horse farm. Always remember to keep in mind safety, durability and cost. Following are some key points to consider.

Size

It is important to keep in mind that your fields will not be used for horses only. To maintain your pastures, you will need access for field maintenance by mowers, fertilizer trucks, aerators, chain drags and so on. I recommend a 14-foot gate. That size will allow enough room for any equipment to pass through. You will find 12-foot gates too small to allow access for most trucks, and gates that are 16 feet or greater tend to be much heavier and you might have problems with sagging and stress on the hinges. 

Location

You always want to place gates within easy access of your barn. This decreases the time and effort required for bringing in or turning out horses from that barn. But you need to keep several things in mind. Gates should be located in an area where water does not stand or drain to. I would discourage placing gates in corners as horses running along the fenceline may crash into or try to jump gates if they come up to them suddenly. Also, corner gates decrease the handling area and horses can cause injuries fighting for their “place in line” to come in to eat.

Material

Generally in Central Kentucky, where I have spent the majority of my time, field gates are constructed of metal. They can range from lightweight aluminum to heavy steel construction. Gates in large cattle pastures can be of simple wire construction with simple chain or metal wire latches, but I would not recommend this for most horse pastures. There are exceptions. Huge pastures in the west (I operated ranches in Colorado at one time) with horses raised with wire fences can be safely confined with wire gates, but for this discussion we are considering developing facilities that are as cost-effective and as safe as possible for high-dollar horses.

Square steel framed gates with mesh interiors are my gates of choice. They are pricey and can be quite a bit heavier than most gates, but since the mesh does not allow a horse to get a leg through the rails, they can prevent a lot of accidents.

My preference if you can't do the mesh gates are the rounded tubular stock type of gate. Five or six horizontal bars are best, and ideally I like to add mesh to the bottom half of the gates.

Care should be taken when hanging gates. The post the gates hang on should be heavier and set in concrete so there isn’t any sagging of the gate over time. The spaces between posts and gates are an important consideration. On the hinge side, keep the distance as small as possible. Horses standing around at gates anxiously waiting to go into the barn like to paw gates. If gaps are too wide, they might get a hoof through and not be able to pull it out. Not a pretty picture. 

Also a trick I have learned is to place the hinges so the gate sits on the bottom hinge, but the top hinge points down. It is harder to hang a gate this way, and it puts more weight on the bottom hinge, but this prevents the gate from being lifted off the hinges. I have seen numerous wrecks at gates. Horses getting their heads through and hooked on the hinges or latches, running into and over gates, or breaking legs after getting them stuck. They all can’t be prevented, but you have to try.

Latches

For gate locks I like a simple Kiwi Latch (see top photo) that can be easily opened and shut with one hand and a safety chain for added security. There are other latches that are fine, but I find this to be the simplest and easiest, and even the most clever ponies or horses can't get them open.

Ron Wallace is the owner of Equine Farm Management, a consulting and farm management company that works with all types of farms around the world. You can contact him at Ron@EquineManagement.com.