This exercise is excellent for teaching or reminding your horse just exactly who is in charge in your relationship. It’s great for teaching your horse to come to you and to respect you and is an invaluable lesson for those horse’s that won’t let you catch them when they are out in their paddock. Remember though, for a horse that is not easy to catch, it takes a long time of this repetitive training to get him to come around. Even if your horse is super easy to catch I still like to teach them this particular lesson in the round yard because it is fantastic for gaining their respect and showing them who is in charge.
Training and spending time with your horse in a round yard is like a think tank for your horse. The round yard seems to sharpen up your horses focus on you, it gives you lots of opportunities to stop, stand and wait it out knowing you and your horse are in a more confined, safer area. Using a round yard encourages your horse to listen to you more.
You can use a round yard to teach your young horse to be responsive, submissive, and patient. Working your horse young and old not only helps build your relationship, but creates a foundation for training.
If you’re not sure how to get your young horse started and teach him to be attentive and responsive to your cues try working him in a round yard. I have always found that using a round yard initially always moves your program along faster than if you were trying to teach your young horse out in an open space or even on a lunge line. It’s not that you want your teaching to go faster and get the job done. What I mean by moving your program along faster is when teaching your horse new information in a round yard is like I stated above – like a think tank – they catch on so much quicker when in that think tank.
Working in a round yard is also important to teach your young horse to accept you as his leader—you are the boss, he’s not. I start all my yearlings in the round pen and have found this method very successful in getting them accustomed to humans, teaching them to move away from pressure and then allowing them to come to relief. Your horse will quickly become a “yes” horse who enjoys his job, not a “no” horse who doesn’t respect your leadership.
Round yard training will also prevent your horse from avoiding you and will force him to focus which will ultimately increase his attention span, his learning to respect your space will eliminate dangerous problems such as him crowding you through gates and stable doors or having him bump or walk into you while you lead him.
Here are some of the things your horse will learn
• Respond by moving away from pressure.
• Become submissive and responsive to your body language.
• Engage with humans rather than wanting to escape.
• Learn to demonstrate patience by standing still.
• It will help develop a willingness and ease to catch in the pasture, ideally, your horse will learn to come up to you on his own.
• Mentally prepare for more difficult lessons. Round yard work initiates his thought-processing skills.
• He should stand, follow, and lead at your command.
Before you bring your youngster into the round pen, make sure your pen is safe.
Use protective boots on young and older horses to protect your horse’s legs from injury while he’s working in the pen and trying to figure out where his legs are going. I like to use protective boots every time I’m working on any lesson whether I get on them or I am ground working them as you never know if and when he a step on himself or clip his lower leg on the side of the fence especially if he’s a little fresh and if he doesn’t have experience working in a round yard. Always be alert and put safety first. Be aware that your horse may kick out at you or try to run into you. Don’t assume that he would never do that as sometimes when you let a horse loose into a round yard they can become pretty playful and frisky so always have your mind on what your horse is doing. Pay attention to his body language. If he looks agitated, like he’s going to kick, get out of the way and then use your rope that you will have in your hand to keep him moving. If you keep him moving away from the rope, he’s not going to be able to kick or run into you.
Before you head into the round yard…
Put a halter with a lead rope on your horse (I recommend using a nylon rope with knotted nose piece as opposed to the thicker nylon “paddock” type halters), some horses have an absolute zero response to the thicker halters. Now is the time to put his protective boots on as well. Some people bandage their horses legs before exercise rather than the neoprene protective boots, this is ok too. I recommend using
a nylon rope of approximately 30 to 50 feet long rather than a lunge whip because you’ll have a better range of motion with a rope. I am not opposed to using a lunge whip in the round yard and I do, however, for this exercise you don’t want to use one.
Here is what you do
Once inside your round yard try not to remove the lead halter and lead rope as soon as you latch the gate because in no time, your horse will work this out and before you barely have the halter undone he will be off like a racing greyhound! As I have said many times and even though I religiously work on “repetition”, do not make that part of the lesson repetitive. Change up when and where you are going to release that halter and lead. So remove the lead rope, you can keep the halter on, or take it off. I personally take the halter off, because when your horse is learning to walk to you in the pen, you may be tempted to grab the halter and pull him to you. That’s not what we want, he should walk to you. If your horse, young or old is especially frisky or insecure about the pen, let him check the pen out on his own for a little, he may tear around bucking and snorting, don’t get in his way, let him get it out of his system. Definitely don’t coax your horse to do this, however, if he chooses to hoon well then, let him get it out before you begin your lesson.
Stand close to the center of the round pen, encourage your horse to move forward using your arms and a cluck, if he doesn’t move, throw your coiled rope with a loop at the end (holding on to the other end, of course) towards your horse’s inside hip and belly area. Make sure you’re using clear and concise cues by stepping in a dominant manner as you toss the rope. You should be standing up tall with your shoulders back and maintain eye contact with your horse. Make sure you don’t inadvertently throw the rope towards the front end of your horse’s body that will block his space to move forward. You want to keep the “door” open for him to move away from the rope. If your horse doesn’t move off immediately, throw your rope again towards his hip and back end, being careful not to get into his kicking range. He should move forward around the pen at a trot or lope. If he still doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to move forward, give him a little “pop” with the loop end of your rope to let him know you mean business.
At first, it doesn’t matter which direction you begin on, but as your horse advances and becomes more responsive to your cues, you’ll want to ask him to move in one direction or the other. While moving forward at a walk is acceptable, the energy created at the faster gaits will make your horse more reactive to your pressure and will help you get your horse to come to you because he won’t want to be loping around for too long. But don’t be sucked in by your horse when he begins to show sines of stopping and showing signs he’s had enough, don’t let him stop on his behalf, it has to be your idea that he stops so when he begins to show signs he’s ready to stop – keep going for a little more, making sure you give the cue that he is allowed to stop. To convey that you would like him to continue at the trot or lope, maintain your position on a smaller inner circle, keeping the front of your body at his hip, and holding the rope slightly out.
After your horse has successfully gone around the pen for a while, moving off
of your pressure and not trying to stop, take a step back from wherever you’re facing him, bring the rope down to your side, relax your body, standing in an overall submissive position, back towards the round pen fence. The fence will bring him right to you. Don’t let him come to you, though, until you’ve asked him to with your passive body language. If he walks away from you or has diverted his attention to something else in or outside of the round yard, throw the rope again, repeat the same moves by tossing the rope at him to get his attention and move him off.
He’ll ultimately learn that he has to work harder if he walks away. Eventually, he’ll reach the point where he won’t leave you, and will duck his head down or lick his lips. These gestures indicate that he’s accepting you as his leader. When he does come to you and stand, reward him with verbal praises and stroke his neck or face to let him know he’s done a good job.
For those that are shy about the halter being put on take the loop end of the rope and put it over his head, slowly and carefully, making sure that you don’t startle him.
Remove the rope and put it over his head again, letting him get used to it around his ears as you put it on. This is an excellent technique to get him used to human contact and willingly hold still as you’ve asked him. If, however, he tries to run off on you at this point, throw the rope at his hip again and move him around the pen even more, that is his punishment for darting off on you. He also learns that you’re in control of the rope, you can use it to make him move forward, or he learns you’re the boss, and he should trust you.
Keep repeating the steps I’ve outlined here in a calm but dominant manner, and he’ll eventually understand your cues. Watch your horse carefully for signs that he’s tired, nervous, or stressed. When young horses get too frazzled, they won’t be able to focus on what you’re asking them to do. If your horse does appear to be overly stressed (signs may include pinned ears, a swishing tail, or repeated attempts to run too close to you), take five minutes unofficial. Let him relax and regain his composure, ask him to do a step he can easily accomplish, and then quit on a positive note.