How to Use the Round Pen to Help a Horse
To Latch On At Liberty
And How to Then Desensitize
A Horse to Human Touch if Necessary
Round penning work designed to teach a horse at liberty to latch onto the human voluntarily, taught properly, does some remarkable things to help a horse to get past a variety of issues – often fast, too, if done correctly! In natural horsemanship we follow the tenet that if you fix the inside of the horse, the outside will follow. This round pen exercise serves exactly that purpose. In proper round penning, we are working on the inside emotional side of the horse to help the horse to learn new behaviors, new expectations and also to help the horse to trust us as competent, fair leaders.
I use this form of "training tool" in a
variety of horse cases, such as, but not necessarily limited
to: very serious trust issue horses, extremely fearful
horses, horses no one can get a hand on, a formerly
abused horse, some wild horses, a horse with very big,
over-the-top take-over issues, overly aggressive horses,
hard-to-catch issue horses and sometimes simply just-starting-out
green horses. Not all horses necessarily need or have
to be round penned, but it is indeed a handy "tool"
to have in your "tool belt" for when needed.
The more tools, or techniques, you have in your
training "tool bag," the more you have to
draw upon to strengthen the effectiveness of your
natural horsemanship training program.
I have studied round penning methods in great depth from
all the natural horsemanship masters out there
for many years. And what I discovered early on was: via
taking only the best aspects from all
the best round penning methods and philosophies "out
there," and merging them, but keeping only
the most important and effective features, discarding
any least effective or unnecessary downsides, a highly
effective round penning method emerged! Here
I will teach step-by-step that method: how to achieve
the at-liberty latch-on from the horse,
how it works in detail, why it works. And, beyond that, I will show
how to then subsequently desensitize a horse
to touch when necessary, if the horse cannot preliminarily
be touched by humans (caused by fear, past trauma, abuse
or simply a new-to-humans wilder horse) so that foundational
training can truly begin! A great many clients I have
taught this to, and even hundreds of emails begging
me to explain better how to perform natural horsemanship
round penning most effectively, had me realizing
we truly need to take the mystery out of this form of
"horse whispering" training!
Below, I will break down, step-by-step, how
round penning the natural horsemanship way can be done,
accomplishing quite great things – even begin permanent
healing, and instilling greater trust, in so many
horses who might need it. We all can learn from each
other, so let's begin!
But First: The Round Pen Itself!
Why a round pen, you might ask?
Simple: It has no corners, therefore, no beginning and
no end. A horse cannot get stuck "ostrich-like," unproductively in a
corner (i.e. the horse stuck in a squared area with
head buried in a corner, hind end out, feet planted
firmly in place), slowing down lesson progress
– a circle has no corners! Therefore, in a round
pen the horse can be moved around at liberty more easily.
For much of horse training, especially to teach a horse
to latch-on at liberty, we need horse movement.
In a round pen, the horse therefore stays more focused
on you, the human director, in the middle, and can be
progressed along the learning curve far more quickly
The ideal round pen size for our natural horsemanship
training purposes here is: a 50-foot or 60-foot round pen.
To remain safest throughout this exercise, you really
shouldn't attempt this in anything smaller than a 50-foot
round pen. And it is not as effective in anything
larger than 100 feet. Height should be ideally six feet
to discourage jumping, but you can get away with five-foot-plus
heights with non-jumper-prone horses. It is best to
have an easily opened gate as part of your round
People often ask: Should you have a (see-through) pipe
corral panel type round
pen or a solid panel (completely closed-off) round pen?
The argument that is often defended for
solid panel round pens usually follows the line of
thinking that: solid means the horse cannot see
out, therefore, will make it easier for the horse to fully
focus attention only on the trainer, with no outside distractions.
I have used both and I have a definite opinion
about that issue choice. I prefer the pipe corral panel
where the horse can see out everywhere; I want
the horse to get accustomed to distractions
all around, even during lesson times, and that allows
me the opportunity to help
the horse to get past that and learn to remain focused
no matter what is going on around the outside of the
The problem with training
a horse in only the closed-off solid panel round pen is: the minute
you take the horse out of that round pen, distractions
the horse has not become accustomed to during lesson times
hit, and you are back to base one with a sudden over-stimulated
horse who forgets that what we learned inside the round
pen also applies outside! Better to desensitize the
horse to ongoing outside activity during lesson times in a visually
stimulating pipe corral round pen, and work with the horse
to learn how to still remain focused at all times,
no matter what is going on outside. This more accurately
simulates what we will be doing with that horse later,
when riding/working together in the "outside world."
The horse has to
get used to distractions sometime! Best to go ahead
and flush that issue out and fix it within the safe confines
of a visually open round pen. This route nips potential future training setbacks
in the bud when you do later have to take the horse outside
the round pen to work.
Other perks of the visually open round pen:
1) The working area doesn't get as hot inside
on higher-temperature days. The openness of the pipe
round pen style allows for breezes to come through.
This helps keep the horse – and us – remaining more
comfortable during training sessions.
2) If we are going to use the round pen also for
turnout, you can see inside more easily from the outside,
to keep an eye on the horse – or horses, if more
than one is in there during turnout. Also, if using
it for turnout, horses get more bored and even
anxious if left alone in a closed-up round
pen than they do with the open style. And when bored
or anxious, they then turn to other abhorrent behaviors,
like biting or chewing on the walls or wood. Open pipe
corral round pen allows them to see activity outside
and not feel so alone or anxious.
3) It has been my experience that horses will try
to "climb" when under pressure the sides of
a solid pen more often than with a see-through pen,
because they feel more trapped. And in natural horsemanship
training we do not like a horse to feel trapped.
Those are just my own opinions as they apply to my
own program, however. In the end, move in the direction
that you feel works best for you, your horse(s)
and your own situation. There really aren't any right
or wrong answers there. Just: opinions and preferences.
Don't have a round pen? Round pens can be bought from a variety of places,
or panels can be bought separately to easily assemble
together to construct one
yourself or you can build one yourself out of wood,
etc. See below for more information:
- Here's a link that gives good advice about
- what to
look for in a round pen:
To check out places you can buy
or panels to make a round
pen, get round pen roofs, and
TO GET THE ROUND
PEN ENDORSED BY SYLVIA
you ever wondered how to
your own round pen?
your own round pen yourself can
be just as simple as buying
metal round pen panels. Most
of the time, it's a lot less
The book, "Building
A Round Pen," by E. Landers, shows you step-by-step
how to build your own custom round pen.
And you don't need a construction crew
or a fully stocked workshop!
sturdy and beautiful Round Pen plans
are built with Wood fence or Wood and
Vinyl fence - you pick. You'll end up
with a gorgeous round pen in the color
of your choice that actually matches
your fencing and barn. This Complete
Guide to Building A Round Pen
has over 100 pages of step-by-step
instructions, material lists, architectural
plans, layouts, and tons of recommendations
and helpful hints.
to build your own round pen begin at
around $400. You get to choose what
materials you use and you can even build
it in stages if you are on a budget.
Pen Plans & Designs: Each
of these plans comes with measurements,
post placement, gate spacing and rail
specifications. Now don't worry,
they're really easy to build - you don't
need a degree in engineering to have
your own custom round pen! You can even
build your round pen by yourself or
with help from friends. Each Round Pen
Plan comes with a detailed material
lists. That means you won't forget about
screws or string at the last moment.
Everything you can think
of that you need to build your round
pen is listed…down to the washers!
To learn More About and order
A Round Pen"
Guidebook, by E. Landers
- For less-detailed instructions
on how to build a
- wood round pen yourself,
If you absolutely cannot afford to buy or build a round pen
immediately, but you still
wish to do the round penning exercise, though it's not
ideal yet workable, try constructing
one as best you can out of a similar dimensioned 50-
to 60-foot square
pen or paddock area by cross-boarding off the corners
to remove the corners altogether. This way, though it's
not perfectly round, at least the corners are slightly
curved and the horse cannot as easily find those spots
to hide into. Remember, though, to clear out everything
from that pen, all obstacles, feeders, water tubs,
everything. You want an empty pen for this! And walk
the fence line and grounds examining every inch of the
space to make sure there is nothing there to harm
the horse as you move them around at liberty.
Beginning the Round Pen Exercise