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Tools of the Trade

- September 3rd, 2019 - Trainer Tips, Training

By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

The round pen: A great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

The round pen has been an invaluable training aid for me over the years. It offers a confined space (60 feet) to safely start colts as well as to resolve dangerous behavioral issues like rearing, bucking and bolting. It has its purpose, it is a training aid just as the snaffle or driving reins are training aids.

But, just like any aid, it isn’t meant to be overused or lived in. If you stay in there too long it can work against you.

I have a program for starting colts, and once a youngster calmly goes through each step, then it is time to ride. I don’t do anything on the ground that I can’t duplicate in the saddle.

The round pen also helps reveal any behavioral issues such as disrespect, aggression. or fear. The confined space allows me to safely resolve these issues and establish my leadership role. Once behavioral issues are addressed, then training begins. There is always a progression, a forward movement, with my program. If you aren’t moving forward, then you are actually going backward with your training. I don’t belabor any task once the horse has accomplished it. I move on to stops, speed control, emotional control, yielding the hindquarters, and softly giving to the snaffle. When the horse clearly understands and can calmly perform each task given, then it’s time to ride.

I may only have one ride or a handful of rides on the youngster before it’s time to leave the round pen. It depends on the horse. I want to make sure the horse carries me at all gaits and that I have a stop. Those are generally all the requirements I need to be in place before I leave the round pen. Some youngsters have no forward movement, and if they do move, it’s at a snail’s pace. Getting them to move takes extraordinary effort, and I need forward movement to train. This is where the round pen becomes a hindrance. The small space provides no motivation for the youngster to move. They can become sour, resentful, or just dull. For these situations, after the first ride I head out on the trail. I have access to hills and flat stretches with soft footing in areas where I can get them trotting and loping without much effort. The new environment tempts their curiosity and they freely move forward.

Just as the round pen may become a hinderance to the less-energetic colt, it can also work against you with a more sensitive, dynamic colt. In a smaller space, the more reactive or sensitive colt is fixated on what you are doing in the saddle. Even though they may be well prepared by your ground work and they have calmly performed each task, when mounted it may be a different story. They jump at the use of leg or the feel of shifting weight on their back or the sound of the rein slapping against the saddle. Trail helps these colts, too. Riding up and down hills, through tall brush and maneuvering a variety of footing, allows me to use my legs while working around natural obstacles such as trees, shrubs and fallen logs. I can shift my weight as we ride down into valleys and over the hills without the same level of concern from the colt. Several rides out on trail and around the ranch build a stronger foundation. It also makes training in the arena easier and less bothersome to the colt or troubled horse—again, the focus returns to the rider and what is being done in the saddle.

Several times, an outside horse or colt is brought in for training, and they become unruly or disconnected from the owner. The owner is surprised and remarks how the horse doesn’t do this at home. This is also a by-product of too much time in the round pen. They may perform all that you are asking in a sanitized environment but lose concentration when their attention is directed to new surroundings. All that you teach in the round pen must be tested outside. Once you graduate college, it’s time to take your newly found knowledge and skills out to the real world. Mistakes will be made; new issues will present themselves. This is how you put your education to the test and acquire new skills that can’t be found in books.

The round pen is a temporary space to train, but you must be the master builder. It’s been instrumental to my training program, I visit it often as the need presents itself. But with each horse I pay close attention and I am aware when it is time to move on.

Variety is the foundation to a solid training program.

–Sheryl

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