The Benefits of Using a Round Pen – Part II


The Benefits of Using a Round Pen – Part II – By Charles Wilhelm –

Last time we talked about how safe for you and your horse it is to train in a round pen and the different types of training we can do. We also talked about establishing leadership by controlling the horse’s feet and having him go forward.

Once I have a horse going forward consistently in both directions and changing directions, I am controlling the horse’s feet. Some horses will want to stop and change directions on their own. You, as the leader, need to send the horse back to moving forward in the direction you have established. Also, there are some horses that will challenge you several times and you must be consistent in your response.

Round pen work really establishes the handler as the leader. When a horse is starting to look at me, tipping his nose in and I can see that his inside eye and left ear are on me I know he is paying attention. When I stop the horse, I like it to turn and face me, giving me both eves. I do this by stepping away and, in a manner of speaking, drawing the horse toward me by moving away from his shoulders and nose. If the horse is moving along pretty well with a nice brisk forward working trot or canter, you may have to spiral backward quickly as the horse is going to want to catch up with you. This is the first time we are training our horses to do something besides a change of direction. We are asking the horse to turn into us and look at us. I’ve worked with a lot of nervous and skittish horses and it can be done. Some horses just take longer than others. This is raising the standards and being specific with your horse.

It is easy to have a horse change directions, especially when the horse turns to the outside because he doesn’t want to be with you in the first place. And, yes we are motivating the horse using the flight instinct. We are using the herd mentality to control the horse. It only becomes a problem to use the natural instinct when we run a horse into the ground.

Sometimes we think we need to run a horse in one direction for a very long time, twenty laps. The most I run a horse in one direction is seven or eight laps. After that the horse is starting to think about me, it is time to step back and ask the horse to come in. if your horse starts to come in, slows down and is turning the head, that is not the time for you to stop. You need to continue spiraling back toward the inside rail of the round pen. Then if the horse stops just accept that or take another step backwards and leave the horse alone and let him rest.

This may be the first time that you have really connected with the horse. By working in the round pen properly, you can really gain the horse’s trust. Work in the round pen is also a good gymnastic exercise as we teach the horse inside and outside turns. We can actually do figure eights and teach the horse to do lead changes and flying lead changes. We can teach our horses to do curly cues and use the hind quarters by making an inside turn and then quickly making an outside turn within a six-meter circle. This is a very good gymnastic exercise for a horse. Look not only at the application of the exercise but at the end result. A horse should be more calm after a lesson. His neck should be down and relaxed; he should be paying more attention to you. If a horse never gets relaxed, the handler asked too much of the horse or never gave the horse an opportunity to relax (too much pressure). You need to give the horse a chance to drop its head, relax and know that it has done the right thing. The round pen is just a tool it is what we do with it that trains the horse.

Charles’ warm and relaxed demeanor has made him a favorite at regional and national clinics and demonstrations. Charles offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship.  He may be reached through his web site: