The Gatekeepers

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play, and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

"Well you know my name is Simon,

and the things I draw come true,

and my pictures take me, take me

climbing over the garden wall with you." (1)

What kid doesn’t like to swing on a fence gate? Pouting cowgirls will slam a gate when their favorite cowboy doesn’t let them have their way.

Cowboys at the rodeo open and close gates for different events, but imagine if the gate got sticky when an angry bull was loose. Gatekeepers are relied on at the horse show arena, and it is an important job; the gate opens to let the participants in, closing when the last entry goes through.

Gates are even featured in Trail Riding classes at the shows, where the entrant must open, pass through, and close the gate, all while mounted on horseback.

Supernatural gatekeepers were worshiped by the Hittites and Sumerians some 6000BC, in ancient Mesopotamia. Zuul was a demigod and minion of Gozer, and the two were featured in “Ghostbusters,” with Bill Murray. (2)

Zuul, the horned devil-dog, hid in Sigourney Weaver’s refrigerator in the movie, growling at her when she opened the door.

The Cherubim of the Christian Bible were also gatekeepers, guarding the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve got kicked out. (GE 3:24) They also guarded the Ark of the Covenant. (EX 25:18-22;26-1) (3)

Gates also add aesthetic value to flower gardens and yards, with wooden fences or stone walls.

We’re always gonna get around to fixin’ that gate...because it’s always on our list of things to do.

It is always fun when it is someone else’s gate, but when it’s your own, sagging gates or gates that won’t close are no laughing matter.

Open the gate, close the gate, latch the gate. Who left the gate open?

Livestock fencing is serious, their safety depends on it.

I’ve seen loose dairy cows out on busy highways in the past, and horses get killed because of broken fences or gates left open.

Everyone forgets to close the gate sometimes, it’s just human error.

My Shetland ponies ran up Rt. 285 one time when I forgot to close a gate, but luckily they went into the next driveway and back to the barn.

If you have a horse that is handy with his lips, then extra precautions must be taken to keep him confined.

One time our Foxy Morgan let himself out for 100th time, and ran 1 ½ miles away. Old Clem Dickey was sitting on his milking stool next to one of his dairy cows, when unexpected company surprised him.

We got a phone call from Clem, stating he was out in the barn milking when a nosy equine was suddenly peering over his shoulder, during morning chores.

“There was this horse looking over my shoulder at me milking the cow!” exclaimed Clem.

Foxy just wanted to help Clem with the milking and make some new friends.

A well-crafted gate can last for many years. Shoddy material and poor installation will have inclement weather and livestock to stand up to, and probably won’t last long.

Metal gates can be pre-fabbed and purchased at the feed mill. Pipe or tube gates are usually made of steel or aluminum, and can be plain or painted.

Pipe gates come in a variety of sizes, including 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 16 feet lengths. Small wheels can attach to the bottom of the gate, on the latch side, to support the long gates when they swing open.

The little wheel rides along the ground and remains in place, preventing the weight of the gate from sagging and pulling on the hinges over on the other side.

Wooden gates can also be pre-fabbed and purchased at Home Depot or an online site sight, such as “Adjust-A-Gate.”

Cowboys who hand-craft their own wooden pasture gates put pride into their construction, and sometimes the hardware is pretty fancy, with functionality added to beauty.

Remembering some basics during the design and construction phases of fencing and gates is very important.

Braces, cables, and turnbuckles are some of these, along with wood quality and hard ware. The braces, cables, and turnbuckles help to keep the gate upright, swinging freely, and prevent sagging.

Gates often have a wooden Z-pattern running diagonally from top to bottom.

The side nearest the hinges should be the starting point of the brace, at the bottom, running upward toward the side where the gate latch is positioned.

Gravity pulls downward and the hardware helps to hold everything in place.

The weight of the gate itself also pulls downward, and the brace and hardware help to offset these forces.

All materials compress and then settle into where they will remain throughout the normal lifetime of the gate.

Children swinging and sitting on the gate will aggrevate this, with the added weight of their bodies.

The support cables should start should start at the top of the side that is nearest the hinges, and will slope downward toward the side with the latch. (4)

This will now form an “X” shape, with cable and brace.

Cables do stretch, so a turnbuckle can be placed in the middle, so that the cable can be tightened over time. Twisting the turnbuckle and stepping back to view the gate from a distance will keep the gate up straight and aligned.

Adding wooden “stringer braces” on the horizontal can add to the bracing support, and gives the gate a “Z” shaped appearance. These must be accounted for in the design phase. (5)

Aligning the hinges properly is important, because if the pivoting points are not accurately plumbed, they will stick, creak, and be difficult to swing when you open and close the gate.

Sticky gates won’t open at all.

Strike a chalk line to view straight and plumbed edges on items, such as posts and hard ware positions.

If pivoting points on the hinges are mis-aligned, the gate might swing back open, or closed, when you let go of it.

Check the edges of the post with a square and level, so that the alignment of the hinges fits with the post at the gate.

Leave a small gap between the gate and the post, for freedom of movement.

Testing by turning the hinges at 90 degrees at full opening can show you a nice, straight edge to line up to the item that you are securing them to. (6)

Not enough space and the gate will only open so far, thus impeding movement.

The gate post where the gate hangs should be of proper thickness to support the gate, and sinking the post down in the earth can help to anchor it firmly.

I prefer setting posts at least 4 feet deep, with concrete, and make a note of the weight, height, and width of the gate you wish to set.

Well-constructed, heavy gates require an addition of gravel and concrete down in the post hole, for more secure anchoring of the post, especially if the fencing is made of wire. (7)

Gates can be as fancy or plain as you like, and they are essential to farm and garden life.

Closing the gate on this week’s edition of Horsin’ Around, to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1: “Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings,” Film Fair Productions, British TV series, Great Britain, UK, 1976

2: Wikipedia/ internet

3: Bible

4-7: Grit Magazine, “How to Build Long-Lasting Gates,” by Troy Griepentrog, Jan/Feb 2011