How to Round Pen Your Horse Correctly and Compassionately
How to Round Pen a Horse
A round pen is a circular enclosure that is used to train horses to listen to commands. This process of training is commonly known as lunging and can take several years to master. Horses will typically try to escape enclosures, so it's natural for a horse to initially run around the inside of the pen. However, if you use a lead rope, calm your horse down, and teach it commands, you can control its movements and improve your relationship with the horse. Although it often takes a lot of practice and patience, you can train your horse to stop, walk, and turn around with the aid of a round pen and the right technique.
Introducing Your Horse to the Round Pen
Attach a lead rope to the horse’s halter or bridle.The halter or bridle is the harness that fits around your horse’s face. A lead rope will allow you to control the direction of the horse while you walk with it. Hook the lead rope to the bottom hook on the halter or bridle and leave about 1 foot (0.30 m) of slack at the end of the rope.
- It’s easier to train a horse that is already comfortable being around you. You can calm it down by petting it and staying in a relaxed state.
- You should be standing close enough to touch the horse as you walk with it.
Guide the horse to the round pen.Hold onto the lead rope and stand to the left side of the horse. Lightly pull the horse along and guide it to the round pen before closing the door behind you. You should stay parallel to the horse’s shoulder as you walk.
- You don’t need to pull on the rope hard--even a small amount pressure will cause the horse to react.
- Round pens can be anywhere from 30 feet (9.1 m) feet in diameter.
- Lunge trainers will usually use a pen that's at least 60 feet (18 m) in diameter.
- Start getting the horse used to the round pen by walking it around the outside perimeter of the pen. Stop to allow the horse to sniff the pen as often as it wants. This will help the horse get used to the pen.
Lightly tap the rear of the horse with the lead whip if it isn’t moving.You don’t need to whip the backside of your horse to get it to respond. Lightly tapping on the horse will make it move in the direction that you want. It’s imperative that you don’t hurt the horse or it will become scared of you.
- The lead whip is merely used to communicate with the horse, not to reprimand it.
- You could also use a dressage training crop for this. This is a small, medium length firm whip that doesn't make noise. It's just used for tapping your horse for encouragement.
Stand next to your horse and make sure that it’s calm.Stand on the left side of your horse while holding onto the lead rope. The horse may be nervous when it first gets to the round pen, so it’s important that you reassure it. Place your hand on the horse’s rear and pet it to calm it down. The horse should feel comfortable near you.
- It’s natural for a horse to feel stressed at first, but spending time with it in the round pen will reduce its anxiety over time.
- Being relaxed will calm down your horse.
- If the horse bucks or behaves badly, make sure that there’s nothing physically wrong with it. A tight saddle, ulcers, or bad teeth could be causing it pain.
Don’t tire your horse out.The horse’s natural instinct will be to run around the round pen. Most training sessions should last 15 minutes to an hour and should be used to train your horse and teach it commands, not to give it exercise or make it tired.
Starting the Training
Walk around the round pen on the left side of the horse.Walk alongside the horse, guiding it with the leader while your hand rests on its rear. Walk at a slow pace next to the left shoulder of the horse. Continue walking left until the horse is completely relaxed and trotting along at an even pace.
- The horse should not seem frightened or stressed.
- If the horse is nervous, keep walking with it until it gets used to the round pen.
Say “whoa” while pulling back on the leader to make the horse stop.Eventually, you’ll just need to use the verbal command of “whoa” to get the horse to stop moving. For now, though, pull back on the leader slightly while saying "whoa." Stay still when the horse stops, then continue walking again.
- If you’re using a lead whip, you can lightly tap on the front of the horse's legs if it is not stopping.
Start walking in the other direction with your horse after stopping.Say "whoa" and pull back on the leader. Then, take the leader and walk in the opposite direction so the horse turns around. You should still be positioned near the horse's shoulder, on the left side of the horse. Lightly pull on the leader and continue to walk with the horse in the other direction.
Refining Your Technique
Loosen the rope and stand in the center of the pen.Once the horse has the commands down, you can loosen your control over it. If the horse starts moving immediately, say "whoa" to make it stop. If it abides by your commands without you standing close to it, it's a good sign that it's learning.
Form a triangle with your body, the horse, and the lead-line.You can naturally encourage the horse to move forward by standing in the rear of the horse. Your body, the horse, and the lead line should form the points of a triangle.
Practice the commands while standing in the center of the pen.To make the horse move to the left, simply look at its shoulder and start walking left. The horse should automatically move left if you practiced enough. Practice the “whoa” command and make the horse switch directions by looking at its shoulder and walking in the direction you want it to go. Practice the stop and turn commands over several weeks until the horse listens to you every time.
- Each session should last anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
- You can lightly pull the rope in the direction you want the horse to walk in if it doesn't turn around.
- Eventually, you’ll be able to make the horse follow your commands without the lead rope.
Put your head down and slightly back up to have the horse come to you.If you want the horse to come towards you, lower your head, avoid eye contact, and walk back slowly. This will relieve pressure on the horse and signal that he should come towards you. Once the horse gets to you, reward it by petting it on its nose.
Practice with the horse until it listens to your commands.Continue practicing stopping and switching directions, and reduce the amount you pull back on the leader and your body movement each time. Eventually, the horse will understand your body language without any physical pressure and will stop, walk, and turn around without you having to pull on the leader at all.
Reduce your level of movement over time.Eventually, you’ll form a bond with your horse and they will learn your body language. As you reduce your movements over time, make sure that the horse is still listening to your commands. Eventually, even a slight motion towards the horse’s shoulder will give it the signal that it should start going around the round pen.
- If the horse slips back into bad habits, reteach it basic commands with the leader attached.
QuestionHow can I get my horse to turn in instead of turning out so I'm not behind him at that time?
Licensed Veterinary TechnicianLicensed Veterinary TechnicianExpert AnswerYou need to make your horse want to come to you. Use treats and carrots to train your horse to come. You can also use a lunging whip and the lead line to get your horse to learn to come towards you rather than turn its rear to you.Thanks!
QuestionI have a horse that has never been handled; I can't even get close to her most times. She will only eat out of my hand every once in awhile. Where do I start?Top AnswererJust be patient; keep giving her food and she'll eventually learn to trust you. You can round-pen a horse that hasn't been handled much; you will need to herd her into the pen rather than trying to lead, coax, or bribe her in. If you have a corral system set up where you can put her in without having to chase her around the yard, then so much the better. Once she's in the round pen, start working her in the pen for 15 to 20 minutes before letting her out; repeat the next day until she accepts you and learns to trust you.Thanks!
QuestionWhen I am doing round pen with my horse, she backs up and she just stands there. What do I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerWhisper to her and calm her down. You could also entice her forwards by getting off her and standing a few meters away; then when she moves, take a step back. By doing this she will learn that you are encouraging her.Thanks!
Video: Round Pen Basics: Control
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