Horse Illustrated – Julie Goodnight Q & A

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Cheating the Circle During Round Pen Work; Following the Herd Hierarchy at Feed Time

Q: How can I get my horse to longe or round pen in a complete circle? He keeps cutting in to the middle and making his circles too small. –Amber Verbena

A: This is a common occurrence in the round pen and your horse may show the same “cutting corners” behavior when you’re riding. Your horse is only obedient if he goes on the path that you choose. If he is veering off course—no matter how you’re working him–he isn’t paying attention to you and he thinks he can go where he wants.

When you work in a round pen, it can be intense for the horse and it’s possible that he’ll have an emotional outburst. Because of that, make sure that your round pen is made of a solid material that won’t bend or shift if he moves toward it and that it is at least five feet tall. Also make sure you have a tool (such as a stick and flag) to defend your space and direct your horse.

Ask your horse to trot in the round pen and be aware of when and where he starts in to the middle. He knows that he is cutting in and h finds that he benefits in some way. Is he being lazy and wanting to make the circle smaller? Or is he chopping off one side of the circle so that he is closer to the gate or to the herd? Watch his path closely. Either way, the fix is to take away the benefit for him and to teach him that it will be easiest to follow the path you dictate. You’ll change his direction to get him working harder at the moment he was choosing to go off course.

As soon as he comes off of the track, take a step to cut him off (using your body language and position to change his direction while staying safely out of his way) and use your stick to cue him to turn toward the fence then let him continue in the opposite direction. Watch again for his feet to come off the path and at that point, turn him into the fence again. Turning is difficult for the horse—it’s not easy to stop, roll back to his hocks and turn toward the fence.

Soon, he’ll learn to take the path of least resistance and stay to the outside of the pen instead of cutting in because it’s physically easier. When he turns toward the fence, it is the opposite direction from what he wanted, so you have taken away his benefit. That means he loses ground and realizes that you are choosing the direction and that he is not in charge.

If you’re working on a longe line, you can’t turn the horse away from you, but you can move more aggressively toward your horse’s shoulder and point your flag toward that point. You’ll drive him forward and make him speed up any time he steps in toward you. Your new posture and cue to move out and forward takes away the benefit for him. He no longer finds it easy to cut in to the middle; in fact, he’ll have to work harder if he tries that again.

 

Q: Knowing my horses and which is more dominant— should I feed in a specific order at feeding time and turn them out in a certain order? –Sherry Patron

The pecking order of your herd matters and it’s helpful to observe the order and note any changes. That’s great info to know, but it shouldn’t dictate everything that you do.

I want to know the hierarchy in my herd so I can watch to see if those at the bottom of the pecking order need help. Those horses may need to be separated for the night (to have a rest from a dominant or bully horse) or for feeding time (to make sure that they have access to food). Plus, if you see a change in the pecking order, it may indicate a change in health. If a horse that is usually alpha is suddenly lower in the order, it may mean he has a health issue and needs attention. I have seen a dominant horse move from the top to the bottom of a herd in a matter of hours and it was indeed a sign that he was getting very sick fast.

With my own herd of horses, I want to make sure that as soon as I step into the pen, they see me as the leader. The pecking order should change as soon as I step in– and suddenly I am the one they should be paying attention to. And my horses gladly obey, because they are happy to be in the herd and want to stay on good terms.

We train horses so that they don’t get to display herd behavior when a human is around. That’s a safety rule. I don’t want a horse to treat me as a new horse when I enter the pen or attack another horse who then runs over the top of me. That’s not a safe way for horses to act around humans.

I don’t want herd hierarchy to dictate how I go about my horse chores. If I want to feed them in an order that goes against the pecking order—by walking down a barn aisle and feeding in order of the pens—I want to be able to do that without making my job more difficult. I wouldn’t feed the alpha horse first if his pen was halfway down the row. He’ll need to be patient and have manners, just like everyone else.

I also don’t want to make my job harder than it needs to be. If I bring horses in from the pasture and they know that they’ll be fed in their pen when they return, I may allow the dominant horse to come in first. It may cause more problems than it’s worth to work out of the herd’s natural order in that scenario.

No matter their place in the herd, horses will learn the routine; they are very good at learning manners and following rules. They can learn to be respectful and patient and learn the process. Make sure that no matter what order you feed horses in, they are patient and acting properly at the moment you give them food. I want the horses to stand back respectfully and wait for the food (even if I am on the other side of the fence).

Horses often display anxious and aggressive behavior at feed time. All horses will nicker to you at feed time—the nicker means come to me and they know you will bring them food. But it is important not to let a horse control your actions or your emotions. Don’t stop what you are doing and feed them just because they are being demanding.

If a horse is displaying dominance and you walk by and throw hay, he may think that his behavior caused the food to appear.Some of my horses are on fee-choice hay access and 24/7 turnout—this is the most peaceful and least stressful feeding situation in the herd because everyone takes their turn eating and the omegas can steer well clear of the alpha/betas and eat without being harassed.

If a horse has learned to display dominant behavior at a scheduled feed time (such as pinning his ears, moving into me, pawing, or even charging) I would approach that horse with a flag and stick in my hand. I would wave the flag at any horse that approached me and encourage him to back up, out of my space. He doesn’t have to act perfectly for long, he just has to pay attention and be calm at the moment that I relinquish the food. If he backs up and stands still, I can give the food and know that he saw me as the herd-member to respect.

After I leave and step away from the food, the horses will go back to their own pecking order. But while I’m present, I want to make sure that no horse is moving into my space and acting disrespectful. Again, the horse doesn’t have to act right for long, he just has to be acting patiently and attentively at the moment you give the food. With a flag in hand, you’ll teach the horse that backing up, moving out of your space and being patient will cause the food to appear.

 

–Julie Goodnight, JulieGoodnight.com

The Difference Between Lead Line Circling And Longeing

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Ask Julie Goodnight:
What’s the Difference in Longeing and Lead Line Circling?

Question: Dear Julie, I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?
Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work, done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.

As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader. Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard.

The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually lightweight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.
There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise.

Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!
Julie
If you liked this article, Julie suggests the following products to help you continue the work with your horse (http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com or call 800-225-8827 for ordering help): The From the Ground Groundwork DVD Series: http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com/DVDs_c5.htm

Starting Over With A Fractious Horse

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In the episode of Horse Master that we aptly called “Starting Over,” we worked with Clare and her horse “Lux” at a farm outside of Portland, Oregon. Our shoot site, Tanz-Pferde Dressage Farms (www.tanz-pferde.com, the name means dancing horses) was a beautiful backdrop. We shot in their new outdoor arena and were surrounded by incredible trees—beautiful back drops in 360 degrees. With six really good episodes “in the can,” I think all of the crew would agree that one episode that really stood out was Clare’s. In the episode, you’ll see a dramatic change made in this once-injured and defiant horse.

Clare is an outstanding rider, partly because of Lux’s crazy bucking temper tantrums. Lux is a huge warm blood who hates to move forward and doesn’t mind fighting. But, the great thing about big lazy horses is that they can only buck so hard before they get lazy and quit. The key to riding horses that buck in a refusal to move forward is to ride them forward through the bucks and only let them stop when they are relaxed in the back and moving freely forward (without any pedaling from the rider). Once they figure out that bucking buys them more work and relaxing gets them less work, they’ll never buck again; at least not with the same rider. Clare did an exceptional job of riding Lux through his temper tantrums and it looked as if she knew his every move. But, in spite of all this, riding was not really what this horse’s problem was—it was far more fundamental than that.

Lux’s sordid history includes winning championships in the hunter ring as a five year old, when Clare was only ten; although he was already displaying some naughty behavior then, it wasn’t until he broke his hind leg that his behavior spiraled down. With a long recovery period, Lux was sound within a year, but he had become spooky, fractious and aggressive—with no resemblance of the former show champion. Clare’s parents spent thousands of dollars on vets exams, acupuncture, chiropractic, calming supplements, new saddles, therapeutic pads, bits, shoeing and three years later, the trainers were still stumped at what they could do to resolve Lux’s fractiousness. Now a mature 16 year old, Clare sees that her beloved horse is not getting better so she pulls him out of training, thinking it’s time for a break and she turns him out to pasture in a large herd. In the pasture, Lux immediately takes over as alpha. Now, a year and a half later, six years after Lux’s injury, Clare is ready to try again to resolve his behavior and she has studied natural horsemanship and is certain that’s the answer. And she was right.

It only took a fifteen-minute session in the round pen before Lux was hooked on and followed me around the pen like a puppy. Of course, that was after he threatened to jump out of the pen, bucked, kicked, snorted and tossed his head in defiant gestures. At first, he was very determined not to acknowledge my presence, but being out of shape got the better of him and his head started dropping. Soon he was giving me great head bobs in a deliberate gesture of submission. Again, once lazy horses figure out the path of least resistance, they take it.

I showed Clare how to correct his ground manners and develop a larger perimeter of space around her so that the big Lug, uh, Lux isn’t walking all over her. Clare turned out to be an exceptional student and absorbed what happened as I round-penned the horse and made the necessary changes in her handling of Lux. My assistant trainer, T Cody, did a little more ground work with Lux and watched carefully as Clare work him to make sure Lux maintained his subordinate demeanor and respected his boundaries.

The next day Lux was still a changed horse– respecting Clare’s authority, keeping his focus on her at all times and keeping his head down and relaxed. With a great sense of accomplishment, we wrapped-up Clare’s episode and as I was leaving the round pen to go change into clothes for the next show, I told Clare she should take advantage of the work we’d done in that round pen over last 24 hours and saddle him up and see how he rides. When I came out 10 minutes later, Clare was cantering figure eights in the round pen, doing beautiful flying lead changes with each turn as her mother shouted with glee into her cell phone, sharing the success with Clare’s dad.

I’ve had one update from Clare, in the past three weeks and she asked an astute question and immediately put the answer to work on Lux with great success. I think Clare will do great things with this horse. It takes two to maintain this kind of change in a horse—both the horse and the handler/rider need to change their ways. With horses, it always boils down to the human stepping up to the plate and showing some leadership—either you are the boss of them, or they are the boss of you—that’s the way it works in a horse herd. Horses are much happier when there is a competent leader in charge, so that they can relax and not have to think.

Be sure to watch the “Starting Over” episode of Horse Master with Julie Goodnight on RFD-TV. Plus, watch a clip online now: http://www.youtube.com/juliegoodnight
–Julie Goodnight

What’s The Difference In Longeing And Lead Line Circling?

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Question: Julie,

I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?

Thanks,
G

Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work , done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.
As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader.
Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard. The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually light weight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship-building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.

There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise. Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!
Julie

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Issues From The Ground: Round Pen Revealed

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Why should I use round pen work with my horse? And why is round penning so synonymous with natural horsemanship?

Answer: The round pen is one of the most commonly used tools of Natural Horsemanship (NH). NH is a generic term for a style of training that considers the horse’s natural behavior and attempts to train him in a language he understands. Round pen work is quite a bit more complicated than just chasing the horse in a circle; it involves a systematic process that brings the horse to a respectful, trusting and willing frame of mind.
In this article we’ll explore the purpose, the process and the techniques used for doing round pen work with your horse.

All horses speak the same language and have the same set of behaviors, so in that regard, all NH is the same, with the same end goals, but not always the same means. Not all NH techniques are identical, even though all horses speak the same language. In every area of horse training, there are many good trainers that employ a variety of techniques and unfortunately, there are bad ones too. Not everyone has the feel, timing and understanding it takes to truly communicate with a horse.

The techniques covered in this article represent my personal techniques in the round pen, because that is what I know best. You will get a slightly different perspective on NH techniques from each trainer that you work with, but all of the techniques should have the same consideration toward the horse’s natural language and behavior.

The purpose of round pen work is to bring the horse through a natural process that starts with subordinance, and progresses through focus, respect, communication, trust and ultimately results in the leader-follower relationship that indicates that the horse accepts you as his herd leader. I try to teach people a very systematic approach to the round pen process, with five clear steps:

1. Drive the horse away (subordinance)

2. Control his direction (focus)

3. Control his speed (communication)

4. Establish a dialogue (trust)

5. Following behavior (leadership)

The round pen itself is simply a confined area, at least 50-60 feet in diameter, with a high rail at least 5′ tall, excellent footing and preferably a solid kick board around the bottom, to prevent the horse’s feet from clamoring through the rails as he skitters about. The confinement simply levels the playing field between you and your horse and allows you to use herding type behaviors on the horse, without chasing him all over the north forty.

It is imperative to have good safety awareness in the round pen. Just as horses naturally behave in the herd when the pecking order is upset, the horse may kick, charge or bite in the round pen. You must accept this possibility as a probability, especially in the beginning stages of round pen work, when you are challenging the horse’s dominance. It is a good idea to wear your helmet in the round pen and you must always have a tool in your hands to defend your space and communicate to the horse. Generally, a lariat, a 12-15′ rope or some sort of stick is used. Personally, I prefer to use a lariat, but this tool requires some practice to handle effectively. A longe whip could also be used, but I find it to be a little awkward to use in a communicative manner, because it is too long.

Whichever tool you use in the round pen, you will use it as an extension of your arm, to help direct the horse away from you or to make him go. You cannot safely walk right up to the horse and spank him on the butt to get him to move off, because it would be very natural for him to kick out and you would be right in the danger zone. The lariat, rope or stick allows you to contact the horse if needed, but from a safe distance.

Since your ultimate goal is to have the horse respond to your simple and subtle hand signals, you’ll want to use the tool in a communicative way. Use gestures that have a clear and consistent meaning. I like to use my hands to point toward the body part of the horse that I want to move, the nose, the shoulder or the hip. If I point at the horse’s nose and signal him to move off with the rest of my body language, I expect him to turn his nose away from me and take off in the direction I pointed him.

Now that you have a general idea of the philosophies and tools behind round pen work, let’s take a closer look at exactly how you and your horse will move through this five-step process and emerge at the other end with the perfect horse.

Driving the Horse Away

The first step in the round pen involves driving the horse away from you, just like what would happen to a new horse if you turned him into an established herd. The more dominant horses would drive the horse away from the herd, as if to say, “You cannot be a member of our herd. We do not want you.” The new horse knows he must be accepted into the herd for his very own survival, so his instinct is to try and try again to be accepted back into the safety of the herd.

Remember, the dominant horse in the herd controls the herd resources and controls the space of the subordinate members. In driving the horse away, you are not only moving him out of your space, but you are positioning yourself as the herd leader. It is not about chasing the horse in a circle until he gets tired and wants to stop. It is about the horse changing his attitude. For a very domineering horse, this may take a while, for a more subordinate horse, this could happen immediately. At some point, maybe a few minutes, maybe after numerous sessions, the horse’s attitude will begin to shift from defiant to contrite. Watch closely for these signs; the horse will tell you when he has accepted your authority.

There are several signs you are looking for that indicate the horse is becoming subordinate. The first sign you’ll see is that he will focus his inside ear onto you, instead of looking outside of the pen. That is an indication that the horse sees you as a worthy adversary and one worth keeping any eye on. That is what we want him to think right now, because he has to respect our power and authority before he can move through the other stages. Other signs include a lowering of the head, increased relaxation, licking and chewing and deep sighs (see part 1 for more details on the language of horses).

There is a very important technique you must understand in order to keep the horse moving forward in the round pen; it is known as working the balance point of the horse. All horses have a balance point, which is more or less at the girth area. If you position yourself behind the horse’s balance point, he will move forward and away from you. If you position yourself in front of the balance point, he will stop or turn around and go the other way. You must always be aware of the balance point and make sure you are not blocking your horse’s forward movement by getting in front if him. You can work the balance point by moving closer to it or in front if it, to push the horse to the rail, turn him around or stop him. All horses have very good spatial awareness, but not all humans do. Round pen work requires the handler to have very good spatial awareness.

You will be using your body language and your round pen tool of choice to communicate your wishes to the horse. At this stage, it will actually be more of a demand than a wish, but as we progress through the steps, your wishes will become whispers, then mere thoughts.

It is important that you are cognizant of what your entire body demeanor is saying to the horse; they are far more perceptive to body language than we are. You will also very intentionally use your eyes, your shoulders, your arms and your feet to communicate to the horse. Direct eye contact is a sign of aggression to the horse; looking away is non-threatening and releases the mental pressure caused by direct eye contact. Therefore at this stage, when you are “aggressively” driving the horse away, you’ll want to look him square in the eye; when you want to give him a break, turn around and walk away from him.

Your shoulders also communicate to the horse. High square shoulders and an out-thrusted chest show assertiveness; low, rounded shoulders will assuage your horse and slow him down. Use your eyes to look away from the horse at the same moment you drop your shoulders and turn away and he will be drawn toward you. Along with the shoulders, you can use your arms by waving or pointing as another sign of assertiveness; low and quiet arms are less alarming to the horse and will allow him to relax.

Finally, horses communicate a lot with their feet; so it is important to use your feet both to communicate where and how fast you want the horse to move and to communicate your emotions and determination to the horse. Horses stomp their feet when they are mad, they paw when they are frustrated, they are defensive with their hind feet and can use their feet to communicate kick threats on many more levels than most of us recognize. You can use your feet to add emphasis to your demand to move off by stomping your feet, just as a horse would. You should be walking in a concentric circle with the horse to drive him away; as long as your feet are moving, his should be too.

You may also have to throw your rope or use your stick on the horse in the beginning to convince him you mean business when you say, “Hup to!” There are two types of horses: ones with too much go and ones with too much whoa; pull to slow or push to go. If your horse is lazy, this may be the most difficult stage of your round pen training. If your horse has too much go, this stage will be simple, but the third step will be tough.

At this stage, the horse may not respect you at all; in fact, it is quite possible that he feels dominant over you (to find out, see the reader’s quiz in my first article). Combine this attitude with laziness and you may be in for a real battle to drive your horse away from you. Be sure you keep a safe distance from the horse, use your tool to pressure the horse (constant irritating pressure is better than hard pressure) and do not back off until he is moving away. At this stage, I want the horse moving away from me with deference, not just a nonchalant, “Okay, I’ll do it if you make me.”

A few caveats are worth mentioning in this stage of round pen work. First, the horse may not just roll over and let you take the dominant position. If he is accustomed to being in charge, he may be reluctant to give up that power and so he may kick out or otherwise threaten you. It is critical that you use your tool to keep a safe distance and stay out of harm’s way; do not give the impression that you are scared or backing down. Backing off at this point will only serve to convince the horse the he is, in fact, in charge.Once the horse is moving off and away from you upon request, he is subordinate to you and you are ready to move on to the next step.

Control Direction

This step happens almost simultaneously with driving the horse away. You must convince the horse that you not only control when he moves, but you also control the direction that he goes. Drive him assertively around the pen in one direction, using direct eye contact, raised shoulders and fast feet, keeping well behind the horse’s balance point. You will be waving and driving at his hip, not at his front end, because that would make him turn around. Your horse may try to turn around on you, just to see if he can challenge your control. But if you are having trouble with your horse constantly turning and getting frustrated, chances are it is because you are getting in front of the balance point and blocking his way.

Once you can keep the horse moving in one direction, you must turn him around and make sure you can also make him go in the other direction. The horse can turn around two ways: toward you or away from you, an inside turn or an outside turn. In my opinion, you should never let a horse turn toward you at this stage. You are in the midst of establishing dominance over this horse and if he is feeling reluctant to give up his power over you, it is quite possible that when he turns toward you he could charge you. When a 1200-pound raging horse is coming straight at you, with teeth barred and ears flat back, the round pen gets very small. At this stage, I always want the horse turning away from me to reinforce him moving out of my space. The horse must be very contrite, respectful and subordinate before I will allow him to move into my space to make an inside turn.

To turn the horse away from you or to make an outside turn, you will step in front of the horse’s balance horse to block his direction and then wave toward his nose to move it away from you. This may be a rather abrupt turn for the horse at first, but as the horse becomes accustomed to your signals, he will be turning in a controlled maneuver, rolling back over his hocks. Be careful not to over do it and ask the horse to turn too often, because that may make him tense and irritable at a time we want him to start calming down and focusing on us.

When your horse is maintaining a steady speed in both directions and is making smooth and responsive outside turns, you have your horse’s subordinance and focus and you are ready to move on to step three.

Control Speed

By now your horse should be calm, relaxed and maintaining a consistent and respectable distance from you as you move him around the pen and it is time to work on controlling his speed. If you back off of him, he will slow down to maintain his comfortable distance. If you speed up and move closer to him, he should mirror you and speed up and move off. This is when a keen spatial awareness is useful; your horse will find a comfortable distance to keep from you when you are working him and he will be very conscious of it. You can open or close this space to control your horse’s speed.

Directing your eyes toward the horse, lifting your shoulders, waving your arms and speeding up your foot steps will cause the horse to speed up. Deflecting your eyes, lowering your shoulders and arms and slowing your feet will allow him to slow down. By asking for numerous transitions from your horse, slow trot to fast trot to slow trot, walk to trot, trot to walk, you will be establishing a line of communication between you and your horse; you are beginning to speak the same language.

Gradually the horse will become more and more dialed into your signals and will begin to match you step for step. At this point you can also start working on the stop cue. To ask the horse to stop, simply take one step in front of his balance point and stop your feet and drop your eyes, shoulders and arms down. Basically, the horse will learn that when you stop, he can stop, and by now he is eager to rest. If the horse does not immediately stop, just hold your position and wait. He’ll stop eventually. If he seems to be totally ignoring you, you may want to squat down closer to the ground to make yourself even smaller. Usually this change in landscape will make him take notice.

This step may be difficult with a hot-blooded horse, or a horse with too much go. It is easy to drive him off, but a challenge to make him slow down, relax and stop. Even a very forward horse does not really want to run around in a circle, so eventually he’ll figure out your signals, if you are consistent and patient. With a hot-blooded or highly sensitive horse, you’ll need to really slow down your signals and make them extremely subtle. For instance, you can control the speed of most Arabs with just a shift of your eyes away to slow down and toward them to speed up.

With enough practice, you will be controlling your horse’s speed just as if he was your dance partner and you were the lead. Once you can do smooth transitions, you have gone well beyond subordinance and focus and are operating on respect and trust. If the horse is obedient to you, he respects you and your wishes; the trust comes as he learns that if he is obedient, he won’t get in trouble and will in fact, is rewarded.

It is important to release the pressure and reward the horse constantly as you work him, whether you are riding or training from the ground. In the round pen, the pressure you put on the horse is mental, or indirect pressure (as opposed to physical or direct pressure). To release the pressure, simply turn and look away from the horse. This will make the horse want to turn and face you and perhaps even come to you and hook-on, which is the ultimate response we want. You can further reward the horse by letting him rest and occasionally strolling up to him (with eyes diverted and shoulders low) and rubbing him on the withers in a friendly gesture.

Establishing a Dialogue

Once the horse is moving obediently away from you, doing smooth outside turns, making fluid upward and downward transitions and halting on cue, you are ready to ask the horse for an inside turn and teach him to be more discerning of your cues. By now he has shown enough respect and deference that you should be comfortable asking him to move into your space.

The inside turn is much more difficult for you and the horse and it should be executed slowly and methodically. Bear in mind that the horse must have some way of distinguishing between the signals for the inside and outside turn; that is how you build a dialogue with your horse. For the outside turn, you stepped in front of the horse to block his motion, then waved toward his nose, moving toward him to move him out of your space. Now you want to draw the horse’s nose toward you. In order for the horse to move toward you, you must back away so he is not invading your space when he turns.

You’ll ask for the inside turn in slow motion, by moving slightly in front of the balance point, so he knows he will have to turn around, but then turning your back away from him (a movement much like preparing for a backhanded swing of a tennis racket) and drawing him toward you. Once his nose comes toward you, you have initiated the inside turn ; gently follow though with the swing and use your arms to gesture toward the nose to keep it moving in the direction of the inside turn.

Most horses will not immediately cotton to the inside turn, especially since by now you have done lots and lots of outside turns. Two things will help him learn this turn: consistency and repetition. If he turns the wrong way (outside turn), immediately turn him back around and ask again for the inside turn. Keep asking for the turn by giving the same clear signal, until he gets it right, and then give him a break and copious praise.

You’ll have to make sure you are asking for the inside turn slowly and that you are moving out of his space to allow him to turn in. It may help to have someone watch you to make sure your cue is distinctly different from the cue you used for outside turns and to make sure you are giving your horse enough space to turn.

You’ll have to teach the inside turn on both sides of the horse and you’ll want to stick with inside turns until he is turning consistently on your signal. Then go back to outside turns. He’ll be a little confused at first but in short order, he will learn that he has to pay really close attention to you and focus on taking directives from you, in order to know which way to turn.

Once your horse is turning both inside and outside in both directions and responding to random signals to turn this way or that, your work is just about done in the round pen and your horse is now obedient, respectful, focused and you have established a dialogue between your horse and you and he has come to trust that you say what you mean and do what you say. Your horse is now ready for the final step in the round pen.

Following Behavior

The horse is said to be hooked-on, in your hip pocket, joined-up or teamed-up with you when he comes to you, stands submissively behind you, is totally relaxed and follows wherever you lead. Your horse make hook-on at any tie during the round pen process, but you should still go through the entire process in order to build a string foundation on the horse. Once the horse hooks-on, you should lead him around, turning circles in both directions, so he becomes habitually hooked-on. This reinforces you as his leader.

Your horse may be reticent at first and reluctant to hook-on, especially if you have had to work through challenges to your authority. Be patient and give him all the time he needs and he will eventually give himself over to you. At first, you may have to approach your horse rather than him coming to you, in order to make friends with him and make him want to be with you, by rubbing him on the withers and whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

If you sense the horse wants to come to you but his feet are stuck in one place, try criss-crossing a path at a perpendicular angle to the horse, moving slowly with your eyes and back turned away from him. As he follows you with his eyes and head, he will gradually unstick his feet and come to you. Be sure to turn your back to him to allow him to come into your space. Give it time and be patient; horse time moves much more slowly than human time.

Once you have moved through all five round pen steps, the relationship between you and your horse will be totally different and much more meaningful. Generally, once I have established this kind of relationship with a horse, one based on respect, obedience, trust and leadership, I will discontinue round pen work; it is no longer needed. Any time we hit a bump in the road, we may go back to the round pen to remind the horse of his place in my herd. The round pen experience can be useful for horses both young and old, trained or untrained, whenever the leader-follower relationship needs work.

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