How many of you who use a round pen have taken the time to slowly introduce the pen to your horse? Have you made it a pleasant relaxing place to be? Does the horse associate the pen with punishment? Many trainers advocate the use of the pen and run the horse until it is conducive to approaching the handler. Is this really the best way to do it? Has anyone ever considered working with the horse at liberty in a large area first and when that is working well, then moving on to the round pen? When done this way one can get an incredible connection with the horse because it is relaxed and is watching the handler. Just something to think about.
I use a round pen in my training program, but I don't go and make an introduction about it. I bring them in, turn the horse loose and go to work. Any area I train in, whether it is in the round pen, the arena, the trail etc is pretty equal parts rest and work. However i'm careful about where I rest my horses in any area I work them in to balance things out. If I have a buddy sour horse, the side of the round pen closest to the barn i'm going to work them a bit harder and rest them on the other side facing away from that buddy. If I have a horse that doesn't like you being on the right side I love a round pen because thy get used to you. I'll work them a bit harder out of the left eye and offer a rest when i've turned the horse and i'm in their right eye. I don't use the word punishment personally, but none of my horses think that the round pen is a place for that. Again it's all about balance. I want the round pen to be a good place so I rest a good amount in there. However I don't want being near a buddy to be thought of as a nice place to be so i'll offer the horse to choice to go there but make it a difficult choice and being away from the buddy easy. Making a training area be associated with something negative would be incredibly counter productive.
The reason a round pen is an easy place to start training is that you are not going to tire out the horse or yourself while teaching new things. A 60 foot diameter round pen is plenty of room for a horse to lope a circle but small enough that I can back up a suggestion. Even in the Houston summers here in Texas I rarely work a horse into a sweat (unless they're fat as a hippo, but any horse in decent shape isn't going to be sweaty) because it's not the point. I'm teaching the horse to move off pressure and for those first few sessions it needs to be to the point. If I worked past the point of sweating in those few sessions it wouldn't be easy for the horse, at that point what I wanted (moving forward) would be difficult not easy. I personally don't teach a horse to come in toward me for a few sessions. I want the horse moving forward off of just a point to the next gait, turning into me for direction changes, stopping to face me for a rest and disengaging the hindquarters when I walk toward their butt. Only after all of that is excellent do I get the horse to draw in towards me at all, because at this point i've got a much more respectful horse than I started with and even if the horse DOES try and get pushy I can easily send them off again. Again, the horse isn't tired and needing a rest and having to face me to get it. Each step leading up to this has prepared the horse to do as I ask and the horse always has a choice. If I got a horse so winded it had to come in, it wouldn't learn the lesson nearly as well because the choice was taken away.
The round pen should not cause any anxiety, if a person is doing something to cause anxiety in their horse about being in the roundpen it's going to show up other places as well.
Any horse I am working is expected to follow my direction, no matter where we are. I'll grant a green horse a few minutes to get used to new surroundings, but I feel getting right to business without babying works better for most horses - whether it's a solidly broke horse, a completely untouched horse, or a previously abused horses. If you confidently proceed, with compassion, the horse will generally follow your lead. If you cautiously tiptoe around, the horse will be nervous, because your body language is telling him the scary boogie man could jump out and get you both at any time.
I will rarely give a horse liberty when training. I have also been known to rope a horse in the round corral. To me the point of a round corral is so the horse has no where to hide, it has to deal with the trainer. If the horse keeps it head and doesn't panic I work it, if it does get squirrelly, then I make it bring its mind to me by pulling the lead, or if it is a rare liberty session I rope it and pull it into me.
punishment is never the objective, learning to submit and listen is.
I use the round pen when starting a young horse get in first few rides in the round pen. Then after that i get them out on the trails.
I trained quite a few horses this summer without a round pen works just as well. Only time i ever turned young horses loose in round pen was first few saddlings.
I can do all my training with the horse on line dont need a round pen.
All I have to say is 'yes' to all you say Saddle ;-)
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