This response I started on another thread is getting out of hand. The more I write the more I want to write, and it relies heavily on things I've been learning over the last 6-8 months, first with Mia and now with Bandit...and some with Trooper. That isn't fair to the OP of the other thread, so I'll move it here.
It is in response to this post by tinyliny:
...I do not think that ground work or round pen play is all bad, nor is it worthless for a horse who is already pretty good under saddle. a lot of the time, a horse is not as good under saddle as people think, and probably not as good in the round pen, either.
however, I will agree that for most people, working in the round pen is as much for them as it is for the horse.
I can think of it more as a "let's see if . . " sort of place. I want to see if a horse will choose to come in, if he'll allow me to send him away, and how will he leave? on autopilot, or with an ear to me waiting for further instructions? how does he feel about being asked to move, then to move faster, then to slow? is he resentful and sticky, or is he goosing out fearfully?
that reaction will practically perfectly duplicate the reaction you'll get on that horse when you are in the saddle. so, at the very least, round penning gives te human a test cycle to see what sort of horse is in front of them today...
"That reaction will practically perfectly duplicate the reaction you'll get on that horse when you are in the saddle
I disagree. Here is why:
There is an old phrase. "Horse sense" dates back at least as far as 1805 in England. The Cambridge dictionary says it refers to someone with "practical knowledge and good judgment about ordinary life". Writing in modern times, and I suspect with scant experience around horses, they assume it is connected to horses meaning country, and the crude supposed wisdom of county folks.
But after 7 years around horses, I think it means the sense that horses have - a surprisingly practical approach and one that, given time, can see thru a lot of artifice ("a clever trick or something intended to deceive"). It is pretty easy to fool a horse once or twice, but I think horses show, over time, good sense in assessing people and their intentions.
It is one of the reasons I believe you build trust by being trust-worthy. Gimmicks work in an arena for a week-end show, but don't hold up over the years.
And while Mia could not sidepass to save her soul in an arena, she never failed me when I had a reason to ask her to do it on a trail - maybe because the trail provided context and it thus made sense to her.
If I asked her to do 5 Figure-8s in the arena, she became frustrated and irritable. If we did them waiting for Trooper to catch up to us on a trail between cactus, she relaxed.
She also was extremely calm when next to me on the ground. That was not true in the saddle. It is true of Bandit too. If he is very afraid of something, I can dismount, put myself between him and the 'danger', and he understands that I'll be eaten first. When I'm on his back, he's not convinced - reasonably enough.
I was taught round pen work almost before I rode horses. I took lessons in how to do round pen work several YEARS before I took riding lessons. Mia was the last of my horses to work with a professional trainer, and by that time I was getting skeptical.
I understand doing round pen work with an unbroke horse or one who is worried about being near people. I've seen it done, done it, and seen good progress.
But I don't think it has zip to do with "respect", "leadership", or even enjoying a person's company. Since my horses live in a corral, I spend a lot of time in their company in a "round pen" - sort of. You know the best way to do join up with them (other than carrying a bucket of pellets with me)? Just stand near the corral fence and talk with my wife. If the two of us are talking, the horses frequently come over and pay close attention.
An experienced farrier told me he never tries to catch a horse in a corral. He just talks to the owners and lays out his stuff and ignores the horses. Then (most of the time) the horses come to him. That might not work in a pasture, but I've done it often enough in our corral.
But if I want to be seen as the leader from the saddle, then I need to establish my bona fides in the saddle. And it seems to me - and I'm struggling to figure this out - I ought to do it the way Mia did: take charge, but then also establish a track record of taking care of my horses. I need to show them I understand the difference between scary and scary-looking. I need to show them I won't put them in a spot where they will be hurt.
I think tinyliny's thread on Harry Whitney ( https://www.horseforum.com/horse-trai...hitney-619937/
)brings up a good point by Mr Whitney. Horses crave clarity. They do not like uncertainty. So when I ride them, I need to be as clear as possible about what I'm after.
OR - I can let them work on things by themselves. It goes back to Tom Roberts idea of letting a horse go past scary things on a slack rein - giving them freedom, and support, and letting them work out at least part of it for themselves. But when doing that, I need to be emotionally clear - sending a message of "I know you can do it" and total confidence in my horse. If I don't overwhelm him by putting him in a situation he can't handle, then the horse will learn confidence in himself and trust in me - in himself, because he succeeds, and in me, because I knew it all along.
I think THIS is what creates willing teamwork between horse and rider.
If my horse senses something that worries him, I don't tell him to "Shut up and color!" I respect his concern. We look at it together...for 5 seconds. If it is nothing, I tip his head away and cue him forward. In essence, I say, "I see it, it isn't a problem, let's get on with work". But if the horse is too scared to get on with work, then I try to set him up for finding out I was right all along. I limit some options very forcibly, if need be
. We do not spin around. Any spinning WILL end up with us still facing the threat. We do NOT try to run away. I might ASK him to turn 180 and walk 75 feet, and then ask him to turn 180 back to the threat...but we will NOT run away. I limit those options.
But WE then face it together. If it is bad enough, I'll dismount, put myself in between, and then let the horse move closer one step at a time WITH me - and knowing I'll be eaten first. When the horse eventually realizes it is nothing bad, I mount up and we move on - in mutual agreement that it wasn't bad.
If I can do it without dismounting, all the better. On one of our last rides before Bandit hurt his knee, it took 5 minutes for us to go 100 yard in the face of a terrifying garbage can. But I wasn't worried, we did not turn around, we did not run away, I waited, he assessed the threat, I told him it was OK and he could do it...and we eventually got past it. And THEN we walked away. Together.
No one episode will win the battle. And since this is something I started trying with Mia, and am now still working on with bandit...well, it might fail. But it is based on my theory that horses have "horse sense", and that to get my horse's trust I must be trust-worthy.
And that won't happen in a round pen, because the round pen is too artificial and the horse knows it. The principles of "join up" work to convince a horse that something that seems scary is actually something you can relax around. But I don't see how any amount of round pen work will ever show the horse I (or humans generically) deserve his trust.
A horse would need to be an IDIOT to think that - and frankly, it seems to me much of the horse training I read about ASSUMES the horse is an idiot
. I could be wrong on this, but I think building a willing partner requires me to assume my horse has a brain and he uses it with some degree of effectiveness!
BTW - I'm reading Tom Moates SECOND book now. He has, in his second book, concluded traditional round pen work involves dominance rather than trust, and he has a chapter saying "natural horsemanship" is a myth. But he also obviously still values round pen work for experienced horses. I haven't finished the book, but will post here when I do. It is MUCH better than his first book.