round pen training

What can a young horse learn in a round pen

Reposted from 2018

Today is day one for this pretty boy.  He is coming 3 and it is time to start a little bit of work.  It will help him in so many ways.   He is as smart as he is pretty and gets into trouble when he gets bored.  So rather than watch him constantly antagonize the rest of the herd, I decided to spend some time putting his energy and curiosity to work. 

Starting young horses in a round pen is my favorite approach.  Back in my younger years, I spent quite a bit of time watching and learning from some of the original “whisperers”.   As with everything, I took what worked for me and not what didn’t. I have never been one to join the religious like cults that follow the clinicians around preaching their methods like the gospel.  I believe in being open minded and always looking for a better way.  The concepts that really worked for me are still just as valid today.

I like to go through some of them with many of the horses I work with, no matter what age or experience level.  There are benefits that go far beyond what most can see.  These benefits can become more apparent once you get in there and experience the process.  Although, being a trainer for many years makes the subtle nuances much more obvious.  And I know that it does not work for everyone. But like any skill, when you practice it often the level of refinement increases exponentially. The dance becomes much more intimate.

I prefer to start with no halter or leads, just me and the horse.  I do carry a rope of a length that I can reach out and touch my horse if I need to.   In a free unrestrained state, I can ask my horse to move around the pen.  Both directions, all gaits, sometimes slow and easy, sometimes more enthusiastically.  This gives me an opportunity to learn his personality and what responses to aids will potentially be like.   Does he challenge, or is he willing, is he nervous or distracted, and which direction is he more or less supple.  These are only a few of the impressions I am making note of.   It also gives me a good indication of the quality of his natural movement.   Once under saddle the goal would be to only make his gaits better.   If they start to get worse than his natural way of moving, then I need to address something in his physical conditioning or my approach.  

My goals are not to run them to exhaustion, strap a saddle on, and be riding, all in one day.  My goal is to introduce concepts, slow and meticulously, one step at a time, until one day we are riding around like we have always been a team.   This builds a clear understanding of what you are asking for, and in turn confidence. The lessons that need to be worked on materialize as he shows me what he can and cannot handle.   I lead the way, but always while listening to him.   Sometimes the dance gets more intense, and I will have to make the point that it is easier if he works with me.  Job security for him means a more certain future.   I am passionate that he becomes the best he can be, so he will not end up in any unhappy circumstances.  

For today I am happy to see that he is as lovely a mover and exceptionally athletic, as I suspected.  I can also see that maybe he is a bit sensitive, and easily distracted.  I question that maybe his confidence is a cover for insecurity.  I make note that he prefers left to right and has a great canter with lots of self-carriage.  He is able to use his thinking brain and figure out what I want.  He does not have a mean bone in his body but does challenge my authority at times.

My goal will be to work with him on confidence in himself and in me.  We are in no hurry to be saddled and riding, best to have a sensitive trusting horse, then a sensitive fearful one.  I know he will get there, because I am there with him, making sure he takes all of the right steps on the path.