Round pens are a common sight for training horses in and they certainly have their uses. However, I often use them a bit differently to how they are normally used – the handler is inside, but the horse is on the outside…
I developed this technique because I was teaching my young Warmblood, India, to canter on the lunge. The problem was that whenever she tried to canter, she would often fall in as well, making the circle much smaller and therefore much harder to balance. Although she could maintain a large circle in walk and trot, when she was concentrating on arranging her legs into canter (very difficult to do when you’re being shaped with the clicker, rather than chased into it and running away from something!!), the large circle went out the window. So, I put up a round pen made of rope in my arena and put her on the outside of it. Bingo! The rope stopped her falling in, leaving her free to work out the canter transition.
I have since used the Around-a-round-pen technique (thanks to Elaine for the name, who came up with it when we used it on a course she attended!) with loads of horses and owners for a wide range of reasons. The most common is lunging and it’s a great way of introducing working your horse at a distance without having to chase them away or spend a long time shaping them to move away from you. It’s calm and stress-free, and once they understand it, it’s usually really easy to transfer to liberty lunging without the pen.
It’s also great for youngsters and bouncy horses on the lunge, as you can ask for more forward movement while staying safe and not having to tell your horse off for coming too close to you. They can safely express their horse-ness as they learn to move forwards calmly (this is often hard for horses as they only ever canter naturally when they’re scared or excited, and asking for this forward movement often evokes these emotions. It can take some time to teach them calm forward movement, which is of course what we want in a safe ridden horse).
I also use Around-a-round-pen with horses when leading. It’s super for those who are disinterested or anxious – how are you going to get and keep your horse’s attention on you when you can’t chase them or up the pressure?? This often leads to some really creative training sessions which work so much better for building a long-term relationship and bond.
Because you have protective contact (where there’s a barrier between you and the horse) on the move, it’s a perfect set-up for training nice leading and calm, polite behaviour. You can safely ignore the behaviour you don’t like such as rushing off, barging in front of you, putting their ears back, throwing their head etc and reward the behaviour you do want – moving calmly, softly and politely by your side.
There are tons of uses for it, the video only covers a few – so give it a go and get creative! Please let me know what you find and what you use it for as I love hearing about what others are doing with their horses 🙂