The Round Pen with Tara

Tara trotting JRLEvery day Tara starts out our session by showing tail and trotting. I put on my most passive body language and walk indirectly toward her in meandering serpentines. She trots in the other direction. I continue to follow.  After five or maybe ten minutes she faces me. She stands nicely for the halter; I lead her to the round pen, take off her halter and turn her loose in the round pen. She trots. It is not a nice trot when they turn tail to you.  Turning a butt to a friend is rude behavior; we should be friends by now. After five or ten minutes of this inappropriate behavior she faces me and stands. I brush her. I walk out of the round pen to get tack. When I come back in she trots. This time she trots for less time, probably five minutes max. I put the saddle on. Thus our session begins with quiet resistance. I must find a way to put a stop to this intrusion.

As I understand it the whole idea of the round pen is to encourage your horse to feel secure with you, not to trot away from you. The revelation of the round pen’s value hit me about 25 years ago watching a video of John Lyons chasing a wild horse around in a round pen. I was training a POA filly that was difficult to catch. I had to get her in a corner and throw rope around her neck as she bolted past. After seeing the John Lyons video I put her in a makeshift round pen and chased her.  After five minutes she started to show submission by licking and chewing and blinking her eyes. After ten minutes she started to turn toward me, taking serious interest in me. In horse body language she was asking “What are you up to?” I put on my passive stance: not looking her in the eye, not facing her directly with my shoulders and then not walking to her directly but in a serpentine. Instead of catching her, I brushed past her,  turned my back on her and walked away from her. She followed me. From then on she was easy to catch. The POA pony had somehow found her security in being close to me by being chased by me.

I spent more time in the round pen with Tara than usual making an attempt to help her find her security in me. It seemed to me that she thought it was her job to trot away from me first thing, every time. This time I stood still and passive with the lounge whip in my hands as she trotted around me. After a while she stopped trotting and walked up to me. I walked away from her and she followed me all over the round pen. I made her go away from me by waving the whip, but never touching her with it. Now that she was standing by me she was reluctant to leave me, even with the whip waving. When she finally started on her trot I stood still and passive again. We did this several times. Finally she would go around me, somewhat reluctantly, once or twice and then come back and stand by me.

We took our trail ride and worked on bitting. When I took her saddle and bridle off she followed me to the gate of the arena. I meandered around the arena to see if she would continue to follow. She did. She looked dejected as I left her at the gate. I suspect that there is some deep philosophical or social truth in this willful, persistent pursuit and then abruptly abandoning pursuit. In hindsight I recall that it was effective when my wife-to -be used these tactics on me.

I’m in unknown territory in this trotting away from me shenanigans. My instinct as to how to work it out seemed to work today. We will work on this tomorrow.

 I can still feel the sting of her scorn.

I can still feel the sting of her scorn.

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3 Responses to The Round Pen with Tara

  1. Joy Hayenga says:

    So interesting!

  2. Cherry says:

    Your description of behaviors sounds like some of the EBD (emotionally, behaviorally disturbed) kids I work with at school. The responses that are effective sound similar too.

  3. J.R. says:

    Thank you Cherry, We are predators certainly more like a bear than a cow. And the horses know it. They can smell it. We have to overcome their natural predator response which is fight or flight. The round pen is a way to do it. Tara likes to trot. She’s good at it. Probably her natural response to any kind of stress is to trot which can easily turn into a full-fledged gallop if need be.

    You can’t be nice enough to alter or talk a horse out of the deep down predatory response it must be taught by a physical experience. The adjustment must be deep down in the soul. I imagine it might be somewhat similar to the emotionally, behaviorally disturbed child. You cannot reason them out of their deep-seated problem. It must be demonstrated in some way.

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