Trail Lesson Plan 2 & The Gate

Example lesson plan for a trail class.

Arena Setup:

  • 2 cones
  • 4 poles for fan walkover
  • a gate
  • 4 poles for box

Lesson Plan

  1. Mount
  2. Tack Check
  3. Warm Up – 2 tight circles each direction (to prepare for the gate), 2 point 2 walls (prepares for 2 point over poles)
  4. Tack Check
  5. Explain Pattern – trot between the red cones, 2 point over the fan poles, go through the gate, circle inside the pole box (add woah between cones to start and finish, if desired)
  6. Practice Pattern 3x – first take everyone through the course one obstacle at a time while talking them through it then letting them attempt it; then practice the whole pattern, slowly removing verbal prompts so they remember the pattern on their own; give corrections and praises; give hints about steering your horse over fan poles so as not to hit his hooves, and aiming to the side of the box to make room for your circle; give physical help for the gate is needed.
  7. Progress to no leader for walking parts of pattern
  8. Reverse Pattern – see if they can reverse it
  9. Cool Down – balance exercises
  10. Dismount


  • “trot between the red cones” can really be anything: 2 point walking, 2 point trotting, posting trot, 5 steps 2point 5 steps sitting 5 steps posting, etc.
  • walk or trot over the fan poles
  • open the gate via backing and turning, or via turn on the haunches
  • use the pole box for a circle inside, or woah inside, or sidepass inside, or turn on haunches inside, etc.

Example objectives for this lesson:

  • Demonstrate woah, walk on, and steering with correct hand position 100% of the time, no leader, no prompts.
  • Demonstrate backing with correct aids 100% of the time, with leader, minimum verbal prompts (at the gate).
  • Perform a 4 step obstacle course 2/3 times, with leader, no prompts.


The Gate

The gate is one of my favorite obstacles! I think that doing the gate well demonstrates the epitome of riding because it requires a combination of skills, control and patience. If you can open a gate, you can do anything! Or at least, you can ride trails with gates without having to get off 🙂

Note you should only teach the gate if your student has accomplished enough skills to do it. For the Rope Gate these skills include walking, steering, woahing, backing, tight circles, and holding both reins in one hand while using the other for a task. If the student does not have the skills, the gate will be frustrating – we want to set them up for success! In cases where they don’t have the skills, you can open the gate for them and practice steering through it. In cases where they have more advanced skills such as sidepassing and turning on the haunches, they can use these skills to open the Push Gate.

Types of gates:

“Push Gate” (source: Jumps West)

“Rope Gate” (source: Jumps West)

What to use for a gate:

  • buy or make a free-standing gate (like the ones above)
  • use the actual arena gate (if it leads to a safe enclosed area)
  • make one out of two barrels, with a cone on top of each, with a lead rope coming out of one cone that hooks onto the other cone
  • make one out of two cones on the ground, with short PVC poles sticking up out of them, with a rope come out the top of one pole that clips onto the other pole
  • or something similar – be creative, but safe!

Before using the gate with your students:

Desensitize your horse to the gate! Make sure your horses are used to the gate, its noises, the rope touching them, the rider accidentally turning the horse the wrong way so the rope goes under the horse’s neck, and so on.

How to ride through the Rope Gate:

  1. Walk up to the gate so you are parallel to it, passing the hinge side of the gate first.
  2. Woah your horse’s shoulder by the latch side of the gate, with the hinge side by the horse’s tail.
  3. Put both reins in the hand farther from the gate, and unlatch the gate with the hand closer to the gate.
  4. Hold the reins in both hands again, while holding on to the gate’s rope – don’t let go of the rope or the cows could get out!
  5. Back up several steps, until your horse’s nose clears the latch gate or pole.
  6. Make a tiny U-turn through the gate.
  7. Woah when you are through the gate and parallel to it.
  8. Back up several steps, until your horse’s shoulder is by the latch side of the gate.
  9. Put both reins in the hand farther from the gate, and latch the gate with the hand closer to the gate.
  • Talk your student through this, it’s hard!
  • Remind your student to have patience, go slow, take one step at a time, and take as long as they need.
  • Give your student as much assistance as they need. If the student doesn’t woah perfectly parallel to the gait and hasn’t learned how to ask the horse to move its haunches over, have the sidewalker help correct this by asking the horse to move its hips over before or while backing.

Here is a visual I made to help.

And here is a video I found showing how.


How to ride through the Push Gate:

  • If your student has more advanced skills such as sidepassing and turns on the haunches or forehand, they can use the Push Gate, or go through a Rope Gate as if it were a Push Gate.
  • The article “Perfecting the Western Trail Gate”  explains how to maneuver through a Push Gate very well – and with pictures!

Other ways to ride through gates:

And just for fun…look at this crazy trail class pattern!



Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgement!

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