To Round Pen, or Not? That is the Q
Today a popular training method includes round penning the horse, however before using these or similar techniques there are some thoughts I’d like you to consider.
The smaller the space, the more the horse will feel trapped and forced into action. There are some trainers that believe these small spaces and round pens shouldn’t be used in horse training, due to the mental stress it can cause. Here is an example of how working a horse in a round pen can make a horse feel; if someone where to take you to a very big city, to the bad part of town, in a dark alley at night, and tell you that you have to learn calculus- how focused could you be on learning? One most likely would be so worried about their surroundings that not much, if any learning could happen. What would you remember most from the night spent in the alley? The first thoughts would probably be about your feelings of anxiety about the situation, rather than the math lesson. These feelings of anxiety are how the horse can feel while trapped in a small space and forced to work. If the horse is looking to the outside of the pen, moving around nervously, and hasn’t become confident in their surroundings - they are not ready to learn by round penning yet.
Not all training programs are the same and not all horses are the same, so in deciding when to round pen a horse their previous training, temperament, and health should be taken into account. Some horses have had bad experiences in small spaces. Before putting the animal back into a similar situation, learn what triggers they may have and what type of positive reenforcement they like the best. The more timid a horse, the more confinement and separation will cause anxiety. A timid horse is lacking confidence in themselves, their surroundings, their handlers, or all of the above. Before placing a timid horse into round penning, the horse should learn confidence in the handler at a minimum. The horse should feel they have a safe space in the round pen and be allowed to visit there. A horse not in proper condition can easily be over-worked and injured in round penning training. Many horses are not use to the vigorous work out that can be used and not have enough stamina to safely work for extended periods of time. Many times horses bodies are not used to working in such tight, small, and fast paced turns and circles. Damage to hocks, muscles, tendons, and ligaments are found often among round penned animals.
With round pens becoming so easily accessible, many people mis-use them. If the handler doesn’t understand the earlier mentioned thoughts about the horse, this would lead to mis-use of the round pen. However, if the handler doesn’t understand how to properly communicate in a round pen situation, this can be a problem in itself. By watching others, people often feel like they can do the round penning themselves. Unfortunately, round penning techniques should be subtle for the most part - and picking out the important parts without being told what they are, is very difficult. If you are wanting to use round penning yourself, you should go to a clinic, take a round penning lesson, or watch a training recording - all of which should be from or by trainers that have been specifically trained to do so. Don’t be afraid to ask what type of training someone has received or look into their training certification.
I myself use an indoor arena for my round penning needs. It is a good size arena with plenty of room for the horses to easily move around. I also evaluate the horse (and handler/owner) before deciding to do so. If I’m working with a timid horse, I use ground exercises to gain cooperation and confidence from the horse first. But there are some overly aggressive or pushy horses that I use round penning first to regain respect and cooperation, before working in hand.
For any horse that I’m working with I’m always careful to not over-work their mind and body. I want happy, confident, and healthy horses to greet me for our work together. Causing pain, anxiety, and etc will only cause the animals to want to avoid me and the work.
In the end, each person can decide if round penning is a good idea for them and their horse. I agree that not all trainers or all horses should be put into a round penning situation. I hope that these thoughts have helped you better understand the thought process behind round penning.