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Horse Problem - Round Pen Footing - What's the best footing to put into a round pen?



To learn more about
Round Pens
and the science of

Natural Horsemanship
Round Penning










QUESTION: I really like your round penning section on your site. It is a great help! My training area is a 100ft by 60ft oval. Is it possible to work in this size area? Also the ground is a little bit rocky, pebbles about the size of the end of your thumb. Should I put sand or something else in this area, or grow grass?
REPLY: Thanks. I'm glad my round penning tutorial is benefiting you. Round penning is a "tricky NH science" and I work hard to take the mystery out of it, so that more people will get it right and be helping more horses out there.

Yes, that 100X60 oval area will work just fine for round penning! Trick is not to work in something smaller than 50 feet diameter, or it can get potentially dangerous. 60-foot round pen is my ideal, but 100X60 oval will work just fine for your purposes.

As for footing inside the round pen: I'd put sand in. I don't want the horse hurting her feet on rocks. No to grass. What I've found when I indeed come upon people's round pens to work in, & they have grass in there, I groan inside; it's a terrible distraction to the horse. I explain to people it's like putting a chocolate sundae in front of a child on his desk in a classroom and saying, "Pay attention to me only; by the can't eat that sundae! Don't touch it!"

Because one of the things you're going to be rewarding the horse for (at liberty) there in round penning session, with pressure off instantly when you see it: horse lowering the head (which is a relaxed horse, submission at liberty). And when they do that, you don't want them lowering their head and then going, "Cool! Grass, munch munch." I don't let them eat during a lesson, so that they keep their full attention on me only. So...a real pain in the neck when I come upon round pens with grass, and I groan silently inside. Because then...I have to keep disciplining the horse with a "shhhhh" sound when they do drop their heads & then suddenly try to eat there; they must keep their attention on me -- you can't teach a horse that is not paying attention to you!  I do want the head drop, but I don't want them eating! See the problem if there's grass there? :-) How does the horse separate that out? Not easy! And is an extra problem I just don't need there. It interferes with "the dance." I tell those folks to kill the grass in there, get it out & replace it with sand. Sand is the best footing you can have in a round pen, because it wicks off water/rain instantly, much like you see on a beach, as waves roll in; water wicks away from the surface, leaving firm, but soft footing. But don't have it too deep though! I see that problem out there a lot! People putting much too much sand in a round pen. You don't want their legs overworked there, especially the young ones and too-deep sand will do that! Think of it this way: If it's hard for you to move around fast in a round pen with too deep sand (picture trying to run in sand dunes!) I assure you, it's too hard for the horse, as well. I'd rather see you err in the direction at first of not enough sand, and then add a little more later, than having too much sand.

Also, make sure that your round pen is placed on a highest point on your property so that rain/water doesn't run downhill and pool in it (if it's set too low). You want a high, very level spot to place your round pen for ideal working conditions.

Out here in Virginia, the standard best footing I see/recommend is crushed bluestone then covered with sand. The bluestone (which is kind of like teeny tiny rock granuals) works it's way slowly up thru the sand over time to make a nice footing blend. If during hot summer months with no rain, it gets too dusty, just toss a sprinkler in the round pen for some wet-down time, and that will reduce the dust.

At my training center here, we have in our round pen 2" of bluestone dust, with 2" of sand on top of that. Over time, they blend together nicely to make excellent footing. You can scroll down this page (below) and see detailed pictures of our round pen construction, from beginning to end, including the putting down of the base foundation.


    Our excavating contractor created a raised bed of shale,

    for a strong round pen foundation with good drainage.

    In this first picture, the footing arrives
    -2 large truckloads of bluestone dust for the next layer,

    then 2 large truckloads of sand for the top layer, creating soft, but firm footing.

    Watch the process....


First truckload of stone dust goes down on top of raised, packed shale foundation



Spreading the stone dust



More stone dust layers



Daryl levels first layer with his tractor



Still leveling first truckload of stone dust



2nd truckload of stone dust arrives and begins the spreading

Second truckload of stone dust continues spreading
Still spreading 2nd truckload of stone dust


3rd & 4th truckloads with next layers, now of sand, arrive & start spreading



Last truckload of sand continues spreading



All done distributing final layer of sand on round pen base



Daryl levels the round pen footing foundation -

2" of bluestone dust and 2" of sand make the perfect soft, but firm round pen footing


Round pen footing is now spread and level and ready for round pen placement

(It's completely level there - this angle shot is an optical illusion because of forest line valley in background.)




The 60' wide 6' tall Noble Round Pen (with two gates 8' tall),
is put together in about an hour.

Read more about Noble Round Pens and why we chose this Round Pen




Daryl tightens all the connecting brackets for final completion



Almost done!



The round pen "classroom" is done and ready to go for training horses the natural horsemanship way!



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