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Round Pen 1
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Home>About Sylvia>What is NH?>Round Penning>Round Pen 1



Effective Round Penning Techniques




Beginning the Round Pen Exercise

It is very important to understand, as we begin the round pen work, to grasp that:

    Proper natural horsemanship round penning is not about mindlessly longeing a horse around and around a round pen at all, but is about the opposite: it is direct one-to-one very precise communication with very specific cues and instructions.

We're not there to wear out or over-exert the horse more than necessary! The round pen should be considered a classroom, not a gymnasium! We are there to show horses the open avenue for voluntarily joining with the human and be at peace within themselves about that. What we are going to be doing there is a communication "dance," with precise body language on your part and knowing when to release the pressure there for certain responses in behavior. All horses learn from the release of pressure what it is you want, not from the pressure itself! <---very important to memorize that in natural horsemanship training, because it will apply to everything you do with the horse when teaching them here in this round pen exercise, as well as in all other lessons you give the horse.

It is also crucial to remember, and I'd be remiss if I left this out even before we begin here: when you are performing this round pen work, never take a negative attitude or emotion whatsoever in there with you.

    The only emotions one should ever bring into the round pen or any training arena are: infinite patience, endless empathy and a grand sense of humor. Negative emotional routes, such as anger or impatience or brutality have no place whatsoever in horse training.

This is about being calm & assertive, but not aggressive; there's a difference! Be patient, be kind in demeanor, even be empathetic to fears, but be strongly directive. Be a kind, compassionate, patient, competent, confident leader and the horse will begin to trust far more and will start the journey to becoming a more attentive and trusting student.

As you begin, start right off in the round pen positioning yourself as the leader (or "lead mare") in your "herd of two." Have at least a 12-foot rope to toss in the direction of the horse's back feet to drive the horse off and away from you.

Toss rope toward back feet to achieve forward movement

You don't even have to make rope-to-back-leg contact I rarely do. It's just the point being made that the rope being tossed back there (in their minds) is indeed driving them forward. Only if a horse gets stuck, refuses to move, do I climb that pressure scale by allowing the rope toss to touch the back feet.

Follow a policy there, however: the more wired or frightened or tense the horse's nature, the softer you toss the rope. Frightened or wilder horses already put enough pressure on themselves in the beginning, all by themselves; we don't need to be adding more than necessary. The rope toss is simply your directive to move and in what direction. You're the leader! The horse from hereon is the follower in this exercise. From that point forward, you decide where the horse goes and when i.e., the horse is not to make any turns in the round pen without being at your full direction from the get go.

You do not need to get vocal along with your directives. It's much more effective to let the horse simply read your body language. Horses are not as attuned to words as they are body language it is how they communicate to one another. I also find when teaching this exercise to novices, that if they allow themselves not to use vocal commands, then their body language communication becomes more heightened and accurate. And horses read body language, follow that, far more than they do vocalizations.

Keep the horse circling the round pen in one direction to begin. Keep your shoulders squared directly facing the horse at all times, and keep full eye-to-eye contact. Those alone are pressures to a horse.

Shoulders squared on horse, direct eye-to-eye contact

And that indeed is what we are doing in the beginning of this exercise: pressuring the horse, to teach the horse first that we are the director, the leader, and they are expected to be the follower in this new "herd of two." Horses are prey, herd, pecking order animals, who are born fully understanding this language naturally, in the wild, as well as in our domesticated pastures. We have to have movement and pressure here to establish our directing leadership and also so that the horse has something to compare the non-pressure spot to as we progress in this exercise.

To get the horse to turn to go in the opposite direction, next, you are going to block the front of the horse with your arm closest to the horse's nose (your other arm is your "driving arm" as you drive the horse from the rear forward with the wave of that arm or a rope tossed toward the horse's back feet with that arm). To do this properly, mentally divide the horse in half via this invisible dividing line: Anything in front of the horse's shoulders will turn the horse the opposite direction; anything behind the horse's shoulders will tend to drive the horse forward.

The arm behind horse's shoulders is the driving-forward arm

To turn the horse, wave your forward arm or twirl the end of the rope (overhand) in front of the horse's shoulder, or more ideally: toward the direction of/even with the horse's eye (but never connecting the rope up to the face or eye!), to facilitate that turn. Towards the eye tends to turn the horse's head. Where the head goes, the body follows. Generally, just your forward hand and a tip of your head easily indicates to the horse the turn request.

Forward hand and tip of your head directs the horse to turn


Horse moves away from head/eye directing pressure and makes an outside turn

I don't care at this point whether the horse makes an inside turn (toward me) or outside turn (away from me) as long as the horse makes the turn. We're in kindergarten here. The horse is allowed to find which turn works best for them, at their own individual trust level; they just have to make the turn. Generally, the more trusting they are feeling, they will make the turn towards me; the less trusting they feel, they will make the turn away from me. And that's okay! I'm not here to demand too much too fast, but am simply showing the horse: I direct your feet from hereon, as lead mare in our little herd, get comfortable with it.

For The Round Pen Exercise (Continued)






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