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Using a Round Pen

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Round Pen: the Great Equalizer
Jeffrey Rolo

Although many horsemen and trainers extol the virtues of the
round pen to develop or maintain a relationship
with a horse. This is a shame because it is truly what I call the
Great Equalizer in a horse-human relationship. Perhaps that bears
some clarification…

I've found many horse owners to be concerned about their physical
strength as opposed to that of their horse. They fear they simply
cannot firmly establish themselves as the alpha, or leader, of
the relationship because the horse is so much stronger. Thus when
their horse displays poor ground manners or commits an
inappropriate action they are more prone to ignore it and hope it
doesn't develop into worse behaviors. After all, what choice do
they have? The horse is just too strong.

The reality is that, except for the youngest of foals, a horse
will always possess more raw strength than a human. Any attempts
to overpower a horse with sheer strength are doomed to fail.
Techniques such as raising your voice towards or slapping a
misbehaving horse do not rely on strength – they are
psychological. The horse does not want the conflict to escalate
as it is uncertain exactly what your capabilities are, therefore
it submits.

Of course there are exceptions, and truth be told such techniques
are best used on already-trained horses or in situations where
you cannot properly establish your authority due to lack of time
or proper surroundings. The best way to instill respect and
discipline into a naughty horse is by incorporating the Great
Equalizer: the round pen.

Whereas many people view a round pen as a means for exercise (and
it is true that it's a great exercise tool), the true power
behind the round pen is its ability to establish dominance in a
completely non-forceful method. In the round pen, physical
strength means very little. It is a quick and easy (as opposed to
other methods) technique to make your alpha status known.

Allow me to share an example that will better illustrate why a
round pen will serve you better than strength.

I once owned a willful young colt raised by a first-time mother,
so unfortunately the mare wasn't all that familiar with the need
to discipline her colt. In fact although the colt was really
quite a nice horse, he was unruly and tended to do whatever he
wanted from day one. An experienced mare would not have permitted
such antics, and had she "laid down the law" better from the
first day the colt would likely have been a little less

Soon it came time to provide halter and lead training to this
young upstart, and true to his form he made sure the task was
trying. Although more than willing to walk with you, he felt
there was little need to do so in an orderly fashion. If he
"accidentally" bumped into you, or strayed so far from your side
that you had to cling to the lead line with an iron grip, so be
it. Snapping or jerking the lead line didn't impress him much.

Even worse, as a colt develops into a mature stallion they often
can become very "nippy." This one was no different at first. Just
as he did with his mother, he would sneak tiny bites and nips
when you weren't watching, and although there wasn't mean intent
behind them let's face it – they hurt!

Anytime a horse strikes at you (and a nip should be considered a
strike) it's important that you retaliate with conviction so they
think twice about doing so again. But when I would give this colt
a fairly light slap he would almost smirk to himself and try to
nip me again! Was he being mean-spirited? No! This colt grew up
with no significant discipline from his mother and no fear of
humans – we imprinted him from birth and thus he trusted us.
Since he did not fear me, he thought I was engaging in some
horseplay as any other colt would do.

A slap, as harsh as it sounds to us, is not always about force.
It generally does not cause a horse much pain, but rather it is
intended as a shock technique for a horse that already recognizes
you as an alpha. Since this colt saw me as a playmate and equal,
he possessed no fear of my slaps – my choice was to either
escalate the physical force (which is generally not my first
choice) or establish my dominance in a gentle way via the round

Once I established that slaps or verbal growls would not have any
effect on this colt, anytime he would nip at me or try my
patience with his rebellious ways we would march straight to the
round pen or enclosed paddock. While this colt found the notion
amusing for the first five minutes or so, eventually the round
pen will drain the "oats" from nearly any horse and he was no

With consistent round pen work, this colt soon learned that I
wasn't a simple playmate – I was his leader. Although we could
still enjoy each other's company, it had to be on terms that were
agreeable to the both of us (no more black and blues!). Due to
consistent round pen work, the leading, nipping and general
disrespect issues became a thing of the past.

I hope my example of this young colt showed the folly of
depending upon physical force to achieve your goals –
"outgunning" a horse is not easy, practical or desirable. Never
accept poor behavior and do not feel your authority is measured
solely by your raw strength; both are mistakes that are all too
commonly committed by horse owners. Instead consider the use of a
round pen (or in a pinch you can use a longe line) and find out
how easy training and discipline can be when using the Great

Jeffrey Rolo, owner of AlphaHorse and an experienced horse
trainer and breeder, is the author of the above article. You will
find many other informational articles dealing with horse
training and care as well as games and other horse fun on his

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