Clare has asked me to talk more about my gate-friendly program with Cricket. So Clare, here you go . . .
I have had serious issues with opening a gate from horseback. It's my fault entirely.
When I first began taking Cricket out of the arena, my biggest fear was that she would run away with me. So as soon as we'd clear the gate, I'd get her on grass and allow her to eat. What I didn't realize until the pattern was well established is that I had created a "runaway." I no longer had true control of Cricket when it came to gates.
As Linda says, "not one moment longer." But the question was how? Last fall I watched Carol Coppinger demo some awesome gate friendly using a savvy string. Looping the string around the top rail of the gate gave Carol more drift and control to help Legend understand what she wanted from him. So this gave me a tool to help establish a new pattern with Cricket.
We have just started working on this. Yesterday was day three.
There are particular mechanics to safely opening a gate from horseback. This can be - and in some cases, should be - taught first from the ground. Cricket is not a skittish or nervous horse so we've done almost all gate training from the saddle. For an excellent article on the method for maneuvering a horse around opening a gate, check out Cherry' Hill's article here.
I have broken down the steps that will result in a successful gate opening and closing. Each step requires relaxation and Cricket's willingness to stay in close proximity to the gate, not moving until requested and directed.
- Walk up to or sideways over to the gate, my leg/torso lined up with the latch.
- Stand quietly while I unlatch the gate.
- Back a few steps to line up with the gate opening, staying close enough so I can keep my hand on the gate.
- Sideways out the gate, close so as not to loose contact with the gate.
- Yield HQ to swing around to the other side of the gate.
- Sideways back in order to shut the gate.
- Stand quietly to re-latch the gate.
- Wait for the cue to move off.
Cricket will line up and allow me to unlatch the gate. Our issue lies mainly in what happens right after I unlatch the gate. As I return upright, she backs up and pushes it with her nose before I ask for anything. Not safe. Not savvy.
The first part of our program was to cause her to stand still while I sat up and swung the gate. So with gate unlatched and savvy string in hand, I sat up. Cricket pushed the gate and backed up to exit. I used the string to close the gate and then I repositioned Cricket. We repeated this until she could stand still while I swung the gate out and back. Re-latched the gate, gave her a cookie and moved on.
The next session, I played with wiggling the gate, rattling the latch. Then I opened the gate and swung it a few times. No reaction. Totally casual rein. Re-latched the gate, gave her a cookie and moved on.
Yesterday we put it to purpose. I had my string ready, just in case. Did all the same things - rattled the latch, gate in and out a few times and then I asked her to move with the gate and out of the arena.
The only hiccup is in swinging her HQ around. She backed away from the gate. I held the string and asked her to come forward. No worries, back in position. She moved sideways to close the gate and stood still while I re-latched and sat up. Still relaxed, we paused for a moment before heading to the paddock.
This whole process moved pretty quick with her. Mostly because she is calm and relaxed and not at all claustrophobic. Also, controlling her emotions from the very beginning and not proceeding until she accepted the open gate with out moving. The rest will come from practice. And well timed cookies!
There are lots of ways to safely take a horse through a gate. The above sequence seems to be a very safe approach for teaching a horse to partner up for opening and closing a gate. The big thing is to remember it's a game and it's like anything else we've taught - safety and confidence are more important than actually opening and closing the gate. If you have to leave the gate swung wide, make sure you're in a situation where you can do this. Not in your neighbor's cattle field; not in an arena filled with beginner riders.