Saturday, June 18, 2011

Limbo - Options and how to round pen the snot out of your horse

I've been thinking.

But you know that.

I've been thinking that I owe a little to all the people around me - including the commenters here - so much for helping me on the journey. We are in week two of Limbo and I thought I'd share a little of the one thing I really feel I know how to do well.

Round penning.

I've learned, from spending so much time with horses who behave badly, how to round pen a horse back to a solid place. (I think I've also identified something about my short comings in saddle work too, but I'll get to that shortly).

So here, with a million disclaimers including I may not actually know what the hell I'm doing, are my tips on Round Penning.

I enjoy round penning because it's an incredible place to spend with a horse. Everything disappears. The circle is filled with only what you and your horse bring to it. Granted, your horse can't leave, but if you are working at liberty it's really only the force of your energy that makes things happen.

Smokey and I are starting back, a bit, and I've found a few little holes here and there. It is, as it nearly always is, about taking your time.

When we first enter the round pen, I see what horse I have to work with. A few of the mares are in heat and one in particular is quite... slutty about it. So right now Smokey needs to immediately run out the testosterone.

Everybody gets a couple free laps. Sometimes with Lily she just moseys in and has to give all the poop piles a sniff. Sometimes she has to toss some bucks. It's all okay at the start.

When things are where they were with Smokey, I make my requests for turns big. If he doesn't turn on a dime, I *insist* he do so. If he turns with his butt to me, I get equally big.

But I don't get mad. Okay, maybe a little irritated, but I try to keep all my reactions physical, not emotional. Not turning? Then here comes the big mare.

For those who don't know me, the rope NEVER comes in contact with the horse (although I have accidentally hit myself before. Sigh.).

In the beginning I'm only asking for direction. I don't care about gait. I always care about body position, though. I don't want a hip cocked toward me. This is one thing I was never too conscious of but got better about after watching the round penning videos by Chris Irwin.

Once turns are good and sharp, it's time to work on speed. I use the angle of my shoulders and the energy of my body to bring down the canter to a trot and the trot to a walk. If it doesn't work, I step slightly in front of the horse's shoulder. If that doesn't work, then I turn him. And turn him. As Kathleen taught me, it's his job to try different options till he gets it. It's your job to reward the right thing in the right way. Step back. Drop your stance, folding slightly. Almost a bow. Lead mare happy with Smokey-san.

Generally at this point you'll get this. With some horses, less "testy" horses, this is submission. With this horse this is "whew, can we be done?"

It's fake. You still have work to do. Even if there have been some licking and chewing, you need something much more. You discover just how fake the submission is when you try to send the horse back out.

Smokey: Ah, come on. Do I have to?

Lead mare does not negotiate.

I am looking for one thing. And it has to show up in both directions.

Nose nearly to the ground, while moving, no arch to the neck. That is submission.

Now we are done.

Unless... Unless your horse doesn't come to you and follow you around after the whoa. Because some horses learn the "trick." But I've found that if I wait for this moment, then we are where we need to be. We can begin other work, or maybe this is enough for the day. Sometimes it's 5 minutes. Sometimes it's 45 minutes. But when it's done all the way, this horse is willing to go precisely where I point him, at the speed I request, and turn on a dime with a tiny hand gesture.

Again, your mileage may vary. Best videos online for the subtleties of round penning are Chris Irwin's who, unfortunately, has taken them down.

Darn that capitalism. If I find a sneaky way to find them, I'll let you know. He does have a series on riding collected here.


I have come to the conclusion that while I have some identifiable holes in by leadership with Smokey, more of the issue is very tiny holes like a colander. Big stuff doesn't get through, but little stuff does.

At this age, with this horse, I have to be "on" very consistently. And for me, miles and miles is where can it be hard to be on the whole time.

The trail. So I've been taking Smokey bushwhacking. We aren't riding trails. We are riding through cedar trees. Up rocky hills. Around cactus. In and around big rocks. Things that require me to concentrate and him to concentrate. These have been very much bonding rides, they come after he's had a chance to run and work hard in the round pen or the arena. We go further each time, further from the barn, for longer, we're up to 30 minutes. It's been so much fun. We have been very solid in each case.

Donna has agreed to take him on some long miles to get that trail time in.

And I'm continuing to mull.

Next time: Despooking tips.


Anonymous said...

I don't do round penning and never have. Lots of people seem to find it very useful, and I'm interested to read your post. I suppose my leading work has some of the same purposes - to establish that I'm a reliable, fair, competent leader who is worth being trusted/followed/listened to. I also think there's a lot of bad round penning out there, and I also wonder how much of it really translates to under saddle work - I think Mark would say not too much.

Dan and Betty Cooksey said...

You're the first person outside of friends in Canada who knows Chris Irwin. I had a chance to meet him at our friend's ranch in central Alberta.

Good work.


Anonymous said...

Oh - and your trail "challenges" are a great idea - you have to provide him with lots of direction, which sounds like just what he needs from you right now.

Muddy K said...

For me, this was an incredibly useful post. The barn where I've taken my two mares has a good- sized round pen, though not as big as yours, I suspect, with excellent high rails. I think it might be a really useful tool for my alpha hotty, but I'm not all that familiar with round penning. I want to learn! Could you tell me the first task I should try when starting a horse in a round pen (after reading up on it, of course)?

Shirley said...

Going back to the basics is the best way to find holes in a horse's training. You are making great progress, and I hope you are enjoying it.
Chris Irwin is a very interesting trainer. I used to live a mile from his Riversong Ranch.

Carol said...

I'm impressed with your round pen skills, and also with the way you're getting you and your horse to concentrate when out riding. Great idea. Thanks for sharing your technique.

Breathe said...

Accidentally Deleted From Fantastyk Voyager:

I've never been much for round penning- bad, I know! I've always preferred to chase them around the arena to work out the bugs.

You sound like you have got it all figured out though. That's good!

Taking Smokey 'off roading' may be the best thing for both of you. That way, you are both out of your element and need to work together.

I wish you all the best.

Cheyenne said...

Good to see how others fair, I dont have a round pen, but have a small menage, we work within that. Loved this post!

Gina said...

I like to round pen, however, at all the barns I have been at the pen is to small to do serious work. When we do get the chance one issue I have is turns - how do you get them to turn to the inside reliably?

Cedar View Paint Horses said...

Round penning is a valuable tool, and your description of it is very accurate. I'm trying to teach one of our boarders the how's & why's of it, and I'm finding it's easier to train the horse than the human.

50+Horses said...

This was a GREAT Post. I inherited our daughter's dominant and aggressive (towards me) horse when she went off to college. It was frankly dangerous to be around Champ until I integrated the round pen and ground work into our daily lives. He was also tricky (initially) fooling me into thinking we were finished (when we weren't). I always had to establish what I had in the round pen before I rode. And yes, many times I had to run the "snot" out of him to get him to recognize who was the leader leave his aggression behind. With this particular horse one had to be as aggressive as he was, ground work alone didn't cut it. But what I got was an incredible horse, one that I found doesn't come along often. We bonded, had incredible rides and the sky was the limit for us when I suddenly lost Champ last summer.

The horses I currently have are respectful and not aggressive. I don't find the need to work them in the round pen. However, I still use various levels of ground work whenever I handle or ride them. My tact with these horses is all hands-on leading, backing, and sidepassing. If I lunge it's hands-on lunging and only for a short period as they don't need more than that. Life is much easier these days yet I'll always be grateful for what Champ taught me.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a round pen, so I've had to make do. I had a memorable session with my paint mare a while ago where she finally got the point that I wanted her to move away at the walk, not trot/lope/gallop. I used Kate's "let me help you with that" strategy (asked for more speed as soon as she broke out of a walk) but we were both drenched before she decided she could walk.

Although I wasn't with you on your wild ride (and words never do justice to the emotion after such an event), it sure sounded more like a spook than Smokey saying, "Hey, I don't have to listen to HER today." And by the way, I've seen my two younger mares spook their heads off while my old mare stands there half-asleep. They love her to death and follow her every request--but if they're afraid, they don't care if she's still standing there eating her dinner. They'll take off. So her "lead mare" status with them means nada if they're spooked...they have no interest in "staying with her." They're outta there.

I really like your idea about riding in difficult terrain and having to focus together on a big task. That kind of focus seems absolutely necessary with a horse who's on the hot side...I suspect that's really what helps them start to think of us as partners.

Finding out a way to get our horses to "listen" better in a spook situation is something we all need to work on. Thanks for your great photos of your round pen work--I know they are a pain in the butt to upload.

Wolfie said...

Wow, loved this post. Your examples and routine are great and I want to know how to do this!

Dom said...


Maia said...

This post was just great. You seem to be doing everything just right. Can't wait to read more.