Sunday, September 13, 2009

How to ride a rope gate

Every fall my friend Trisha holds a schooling show at her parents' farm in Wellington, Colorado. This year's edition (the sixth!) will be next Sunday, and as in year's past, Trish has invited my young riding buddy Cara to borrow one of her horses and participate in the fun. Cara and I spent Labor Day riding at Trisha's, and on the long drive home we discussed the classlist and which classes she should enter. One class we both agreed on was Open Trail. Of course this led to further discussion about the different trail obstacles, most of which are pretty basic. There is one obstacle, however, that trips up almost the entire class year after year. That obstacle is the rope gate.

Rope gates aren't really that hard, but you have to have a strategy. Trisha's show caters to novice and intermediate level English riders, most of whom have never schooled for a trail class. I think in the past five years, only two riders have managed to successfully negotiate the gate. I tried my best to explain how the gate should be ridden, but I could tell that my words were only confusing Cara. Luckily, I'm not limited to words. Just the week before, I'd watched several classes worth of real trail horses competing at the Aurora Horsemen's Association monthly show. I took lots of pictures and hopefully these will go a long way towards clearing up the confusion.

One note to anyone who might want to use these pictures for live show reference--these photos show a nice local level horse successfully negotiating a rope gate. Horses competing at the national level would be expected to complete this obstacle with an added degree of finesse and polish. Still, this should give you a feel for how the obstacle should be ridden.

First the horse rides up alongside the gate so her body is parallel to the obstacle.
When her shoulder is even with the standard, the rider asks her to halt. The rider then opens the gate by lifting the loop off the standard.
The horse takes a few steps back...
and then turns to walk through the gate.
The rider must be very deliberate through this part of the obstacle so as not to lose control of the horse's body position.
She wants to end up so that the horse is once again parallel to obstacle.
Almost there...
The horse stops next to the second standard and begins to back.
More backing.
Still backing.
When the horse is in position next to the first standard, the rider asks her to halt and places the loop back on the standard.
Ta da! That's how it's done! Pictures are definitely worth a thousand words when it comes to explaining a complicated maneuver like this. Hopefully Cara will agree with me, and she and Arwen will do themselves proud next week at the show.


  1. I made Lori Daniels explain rope gates to me at Buccaneer. Now, she's showing at a different level so there's more complex stuff in her explanation (sidepass, haunch/fore hands turns). But, I knew she would tell me how to do it. :D I have the set up to do it in trail with my ISH and wanted to make sure if I tried it, I had it set up properly.

    Flick "opens" the gate to the outdoor arena. Useful knowledge is never a bad thing!

  2. Yeah, I know this is the real basic version of rope gates. I usually aim a bit higher in my performance articles, but since my primary audience for this post is a fifteen year old, intermediate level rider... Well, I decided basic was the way to go!

    I'd love to here Lori's description--there's nothing better than getting info from someone who understands both the real and model side of an event.

  3. Great information for me; I've only heard about this event and have several models that could do it. Thank you!!