ROUND PEN WORK
I had used the round pen as a training tool since 1981 when I was first introduced to it by a trainer who would later become my husband.
The pen was used to exercise horses he was fitting for shows and sales as well as for horses he was preparing to train to be ridden.
So much could be accomplished in the round pen and he taught me how to use it to my advantage psychologically as well as physically. It was a tool. Control was so easy to gain over the horse in the confined area.
However, the most important lesson I would learn about the round pen came not from a horse trainer, but from a lion tamer.
The lion tamer never enters into the lions cage expecting the lion to bend to his will.
The lion is always invited into the lion tamer’s realm wherein he does as he is asked.
I began to ask myself what the similarities might be between lions and horses and indeed all animals and what came to light is the acknowledgement of territory.
Territory means little to most human beings, at least not with the significance it has for animals and our First Nations Peoples.
When an animal enters another’s territory he does so with great ceremony. Usually skirting and asking permission, retreating and approaching until permission is granted.
I made it my mission to watch a variety of trainers working in round pens and what I noticed is that the horse acknowledges territory. The horse gives in to the owner of the territory and begins to learn the rules. The more people outside the round pen watching the quicker the horse in the pen will yield.
Horses are prey animals.
People are predators.
No matter how vegan your diet, no matter how big your heart, no matter how much you love horses you are and always will be a predator.
When you enclose a prey animal (round pen) and surround them with predators (people), and show them a hint of softness or safety they will cling to you for survival.
On the other hand I watched a trainer walk in to a round pen that had been being used as living space for a horse over a week or so. The horse kept insisting his rules needed to be followed and obeyed and when the trainer failed to get the horse to comply he turned to the audience and said the horse must have a brain injury and would never be suitable as a safe horse to handle or ride.
There are many more stories to be told about the psychology of the round pen but today I would like to focus on the use of the round pen as a tool to show how little pressure is required to connect with a horse, any horse.
This is Wit.
Wit has had many years of solid daily training.
So much so that he became quite sick of it and when placed on a lunge line would ‘check out’.
His eyes would go blank.
He would obediently walk trot and canter reminiscent of a robot.
On this day I decided to talk one of my apprentices through the process of stripping off pounds of pressure with the ‘freedom’ of the round pen as a tool.
With prior knowledge of some of the tools Wit had been trained with we started by using a whip with a small plastic bag on one end to send him off around at a trot.
Using quadrants and the opening and closing of invisible doors we worked our way down to more and more subtle tools…..from the plastic bag, to a cloth flag, to outstretched arms, to no arms….all the way down to no movement from the ‘trainer’ and simply using thought form energy.
All was accomplished in less than 20 minutes without turning a single hair on Wit’s body or causing him to become insecure or confused.
Nearing the end of obvious physical work Jen is using her arm and position to drive Wit to turn to the outside. (step to the right and forward closing those doors tells the horse to move away rather than turn in)
Wit is calmly and quietly staying with Jen as she moves around the pen.
He yawns expressing past experiences and releasing energy long held from same.
With lots of float in the lead Jen and Wit walk toward the barn practicing stopping and starting, not through force or body language, but from thoughts.
Some thorough conscious grooming followed which serves to bond the relationship further.
I would still use the round pen for exercising horses, however I have stopped using it as an area to gain control over……
Think about it…..