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Equestrian Design Guidebook for Trails, Trailheads and Campgrounds--Continued

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Chapter 10--Securing Horses and Mules--Continued

Cattle Guards, Gates, and Latches

Perimeter fencing by itself is not enough. To complete the continuous barrier around the recreation site, install gates at trail access points and roads. Within the recreation site, provide appropriate gates and latches for corrals, arenas, and round pens. Often a cattle guard is required by land management agencies, but most riders do not like them.

Cattle Guards

Many agencies require cattle guards on access roads to keep cattle out of recreation sites. Cattle guards are dangerous for horses and mules--whether they are loose or under saddle. They may try to walk or jump over the cattle guard or walk around its ends. They can trap a hoof or leg in the cattle guard, severely injuring themselves. Figure 10-11 shows a cattle guard that has objects and barbed wire in the angled side wings, creating hazards for all users. If a cattle guard is required, install a vehicle gate between the recreation site and the cattle guard to contain loose stock. If a gate is not feasible, consider painting bold, white parallel stripes on the pavement between the recreation site and the cattle guard. Some horses and mules are reluctant to cross these highly visible markings, and the sight may temporarily distract a fleeing animal. Cattle guards generally are subject to the MUTCD or the governing agency's sign requirements.

Photo of a cattle guard that has wood stuck in the wings of it to prevent animals from passing through, but this turns out to be dangerous.
Figure 10-11--Some stock attempt to go around cattle guards.
Pieces of wood stuck in the wings of this cattle guard discourage
passage, but are safety hazards for all users. Find another
solution. Cattle guards must be marked according to the MUTCD

Road Gates

A gate provides a safe barrier that will be respected by loose stock. Provide gates at entrances to campgrounds and trailheads and at each loop road. Even though the loops may not be fenced, gates can help if access must be restricted for any reason, including maintenance and renovation. Entrance road gates should remain closed except when a rider opens and closes them for vehicle access. Plan for turnaround areas when placing gates, so gate closures do not create dead ends. Figure 10-12 shows the perimeter fence and gates in a campground with loops and turnarounds.

Drawing of fences and gates at an equestrian recreation site. In the drawing the text reads, Highway, Entrance station and turnaround, Single-party campground loop road, Turnaround, Toilet building, Perimeter fence, and Trailhead parking.
Figure 10-12--Fencing and gates in an equestrian recreation site.

Road gates commonly range from 16 to 20 feet (4.9 to 6.1 meters) wide. Two-lane roads normally have two gates. Figure 10-13 shows a gate suitable for an area with a high level of development. A standard gate is preferred in areas with low to moderate development (figure 10-14). A farm gate is more appropriate for areas with low development (figure 10-15).

When trails or attractions are outside the recreation site, provide a smaller trail gate beside the road gate. The additional gate is necessary when a cattle guard blocks the exit (figure 10-16). Trail gates are easier for riders to open and close than large road gates.

Photo of a pair of gates at a highly developed recreation site.
Figure 10-13--This pair of gates is suitable for a recreation site
with a high level of development.

Photo of brown gates to a dirt road in a forested area.
Figure 10-14--A gate commonly used by the Forest Service in
recreation sites.

Photo of a green farm gate.
Figure 10-15--Farm gates are used in some areas for horse trails.

Drawings of the Plan View and Elevation View of a cattle guard. In the drwaing the text reads, Cattle guard, Trail gate, Perimeter fence, and 6 ft trail gate.
Figure 10-16--A cattle guard with an adjacent trail gate.

Stepover Gates

A road gate can have a low section--or stepover--that keeps wheeled vehicles out, but allows pedestrians and equestrians to pass (figure 10-17). Gates with stepover bars are not effective perimeter closures because a loose horse or mule may walk or jump over the bars, as might wildlife or cattle.

Drawing of a road closure gate and a horse and rider.
Figure 10-17--This prototype road closure gate allows trail stock
and pedestrians to pass, while restricting many motor vehicles.
This trail gate is not accessible to people with disabilities because the bar
across the opening is higher than 2 inches. See Chapter
12--Providing Signs and Public Information
for sign details.

Drawing of a road closure gate with a rider on a horse. In the drawing the text reads; Nonmotorized trail.


  1. When a need has been appropriately determined, use standard object markers (Type II and III) to mark hazards, such as gates, within or adjacent to the trail.
  2. When a need has been appropriately determined, traffic control devices, such as retrofeflective signs, may be used on roads and trails open to motorized or mechanized traffic.
  3. Retrofeflective signs may be considered for added emphasis on trails that are closed to motorized and mechanized traffic.
  4. All traffic control devices must meet the MUTCD or governing agency standards.
  5. Signs are not shown for clarity.

Trail stepover gates have a horizontal bar or other device placed across the tread to deter unauthorized use. Figure 10-18 shows a rural trail with a narrow V-gate and a stepover bar. Land managers commonly use stepover gates to discourage motor vehicles on nonmotorized trails. Stepover gates are not foolproof. While it is difficult to get an off-highway vehicle (OHV) across them, it is easy to lift motorbikes over them. Recreationists sometimes fill the gap between the ground and the bar with soil, creating a ramp for motor vehicles. One challenge facing land management agencies is designing a stepover gate that allows a person with disabilities to pass through the barrier while excluding OHVs.

Photo of a narrow V-gate on a rural trail.
Figure 10-18--Riders, pedestrians, and mountain bikers can pass
through this relatively narrow V-gate on a rural trail, but ATVs
are restricted. The gate is not accessible to people with disabilities
because it is narrower than the minimum width required for
passage of a wheelchair--32 inches--and the bar across the
opening is higher than 2 inches.

Many horses and mules routinely use stepover gates; others are hesitant to do so. Wrapping the bar with cushioning material will dampen the noise when an animal's hoofs contact the bar. The preferred height for the stepover bar is 12 inches (305 millimeters). The maximum is 16 inches (406 millimeters). When a bar is too high, stock may jump over it, unseating inexperienced riders. On horse trails where riders have limited experience, a bar lower than 12 inches (305 millimeters) may be appropriate. Tread surfaces on both sides of stepover gates wear down or become compacted over time, leaving the bar higher from the ground (figure 10-19). Short stepover bars accommodate trail compaction, but may allow unauthorized trail users to pass. Higher stepover bars may require frequent maintenance because of tread wear. To reduce tread wear at a stepover gate, install a concrete pad below grade and cover it with tread surface material (figure 10-20).

Photo of a stepover at a trailhead.
Figure 10-19--As heavy traffic wears the tread down, negotiating
stepovers may become more difficult for all users. This trail gate
is not accessible to people with disabilities because the bar across
the opening is higher than 2 inches.

Drawing of a stepover gate made for nonmotorized trail users. In the drawing the text reads, Sign:"NO VEHICLES ALLOWED", 36 in max, 60 in, 2 3/8 in dia. pipe wrapped with sun- and weather-resistant cushioning material, 36 in, 24 in, 12 in, 45 degrees, 2 3/8 in gatepost, Perimeter fenching, Finished grade, Concrete footing, Concrete pad 3 in below finished grade, and 48 to 60 in.
Figure 10-20--A stepover gate for nonmotorized trail users. This trail gate is not
accessible to people with disabilities because the bar
across the opening is higher than 2 inches.

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Updated: 4/14/2014
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