Training a Horse in the Round Pen

One of the most effective tools that you can use in your groundwork horse training is to utilize the round pen. There are a few basic reasons for this, but perhaps the most important is that a round pen provides a safe environment where we can establish leadership with our horses. Assuming that the panels are good ones with no sharp edges and the pen is set up so that there are no corners where a horse can become “trapped”, a round pen acts as a small area where a horse can move without restriction.

The first principle when training a horse in the round pen is to do it “at liberty”. What this means is that we take the halter and lead line off the horse. By doing this we set up a situation where the horse will have to submit to us as a leader by his own choice.

When training a horse in this way, we act as a leader for the horse almost automatically. This is because “dominant” members of the herd move the other horses around. So a horse understands control of movement instinctively. By controlling his movement, you automatically become his leader. By training a horse using a language he already understands we can produce better long term results.

In a round pen, you control three aspects of movement: direction, speed, and when and where the horse can come to a stop.

Start by using confident body language to indicate which direction you want your horse to go. To ask him to move to the left, lift and point your left hand to the left. Then put pressure on his hip. Do this with your lead rope, or with a whip or carrot stick. Most horses will respond to this naturally and move out to the left.

Have your horse circle around about 5 times. At first, you want the horse to be moving at a canter. Later you will move between gaits but in the beginning remember that a horse can walk or trot all day long and we want to communicate to him that we are controlling his movement. So ask him to canter 5 times to the left, putting pressure on his hip if he drops his speed. Then get in his way and ask for a change in direction. Repeat the process having him canter 5 times to the right.

At that point you can take some pressure off and get him to drop down to a trot, walk and then come to a stop. You take pressure off by backing away from the horse and breathing out. When your horse really respects you as a leader, he will turn and face you.

Then you can approach the animal. This has to be done in the right way, something we will discuss in a future article.

Training a horse in the round pen is an important aspect of your overall groundwork program.

About the Author

David McMahon is a free lance author who owns 3 horses and writes about horse training issues. For more information please visit Mastering Basic Groundwork (Horse Training).