HIDEAWAY TRAINING TIP
BASIC ROUND PEN LESSON
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OK so you have a new horse who's attention you want to get or an old horse that needs an attitude adjustment. Here is the easy, quick, safe, non-violent way do gain the respect and attention of your horse. In as little as half an hour you can have your horse following your every move around the round pen and giving you his full attention and respect.
A word of caution. This is not an activity for a very
young horse such as a weanling or yearling. And, it is not an exercise
for a horse that is very old or not in good health. The horse will have
to give some significant work and you don't want to injure the horse or
get yourself injured or worse.
First, you will need a round pen or appropriate size paddock. Thirty five feet should be the absolute minimum diameter for safe enclosure with your horse. As large as sixty feet is acceptable and our preference is for a forty five foot diameter round pen. Now for the sake of time and space here we won't go into details today as to why this works, but try it and you will find it does. Take your haltered horse into the round pen with you and a soft rope or lunge line. Take the lead off the horse and place it outside the pen. Now make your horse move off away from you to trot around the pen in any direction. If he doesn't want to move, raise you arms and yell and make fast movements to startle the horse a little to get him moving. It is not important which direction, only that the horse moves out smartly at least at a trot. Your job now is to keep the horse moving around the outer side of the pen, in a circle. If the horse moves into a canter, this is OK as he will quickly tire and slow down. Keep the horse moving in one direction for about 10 minutes. If the horse tries to slow to a walk or come in away from the outside, hold one end of the rope or lunge and throw the other end at the horse's rump to force him to keep moving around the outer portion of the pen. If at any time your horse appears to look like he wants to go over the top of the rail, you must back off a little to keep him moving without frightening him so much that he will actually attempt to go over.
After about 10 minutes, cut the horse off by moving well in front of him and raising your arms in an effort to get him to change to the opposite direction. Now keep him going at least at a trot in the new direction. If he slows down to a walk or moves to close to you inside the pen, throw the rope at his rump to get him to keep moving at the appropriate speed.
You want to observe the horse's reaction to you. At the beginning, he may buck a little or kick out at you to let you know he is not pleased with the deal. But eventually he will give himself over to you as leader of the pack because he will know that he will not be able to rest until he gives in. Pay close attention to the signals that the horse will give you. After a few trips around the pen, you will notice that his ear closest to you is focused almost entirely in your direction. The next sign to look for is the horse smacking his lips and opening and closing his mouth. This is a good sign of respect and the first sign of submission. Now you must keep him moving.
The final sign that you are looking for is for your horse to begin lowering his head as he moves around the pen. Don't accept a token drop in elevation as that will likely be his first attempt to see how little submission he has to give to get you to let him stop. Instead keep him moving at a trot until he lowers his head nearly to the ground and will keep it there most of the way around the pen. When he does this, you have his undivided attention and his acceptance of you as leader of the pack.
All this time you should have had your complete attention on the horse, facing him all the time. Now you will tell him whoa and turn away from him and look at the ground. Stand still and wait for your horse to stop. At this point be patient and wait to see what the horse does. Many horses will immediately walk right up to you. If he does, wait to see if he touches you with his nose. After a few moments, whether he touches you or not, reach out and scratch his head or rub his neck and tell him in a calm voice how good he's done. You will find that this horse will now follow you all around the pen. If he doesn't come up to you that is OK too. Give him a few moments to calm down and then walk slowly up to him and rub his head or neck. Walk toward his rear and he likely will turn to see what you are going to do. Walk around his head and toward the rear on his other side, again he will turn to you.
Now start to walk away from him kissing to him as you
do to see if he will follow.
This is a great exercise to repeat from time to time to remind your horse that you are in charge. Remember to use common sense. Make sure your horse is mature enough, fit enough and young enough for this amount of work. Don't push your horse over the rail and don't let him get away with half an effort. Always keep your attention on the horse and don't let anything distract you. Be safe for yourself and the horse.
The round pen is an invaluable tool for working with horses. If you don't have one consider buying one or building one if you have a place for it.
Please be kind to your horse. They are loyal, social animals that give themselves over to us in total and just thrive on attention and affection. Whatever you give to them they will give you back double.