Round Penning: A series of training exercises enacted in a round pen with a diameter of around 50’. Within the last twenty-five years ‘round penning’ has become popular as a basic component in horse training.
The only requirement for the horse is that he must move away from the trainer when asked and since the pen is round he must move around the trainer. The trainer’s only tool is a lounge whip or a lariat to twirl around to keep the horse moving. However, the trainer will rarely, if ever, need to touch the horse with either of them.
The following paragraphs describe a typical first session when starting a colt in the round pen from my own experiences, but I have read several books about round penning that offer very excellent and complete accounts of the subject including its theory, uses and methods in great detail. Four books I would recommended are Monty Roberts “The Man Who Listens to Horses”, John Lyons “Lyons on Horses”, Pat Parelli “Natural Horse-Man-Ship” and L.R. Miller “Training Workhorses, Training Teamsters”.
Taking a dominant stance, Marybeth squared her shoulders and faced Echo; looking the mare straight in the eye. She asked the mare to move out by stepping toward her and making the kiss sound, the wild horse was already on the move looking for a hole in the fence or some vulnerable place to bolt through or over. All Echo’s attentions were outside the pen. She was frantic, looking for a friend and hoping for relief. No relief in sight, she raced the perimeter of the round pen as fast as she could.
At the moment Echo was running clockwise. Marybeth was walking a smaller circle clockwise with her lounge whip extended in her left hand pointing it just behind Echo’s right hip (the typical lounging stance minus the lead line). Marybeth switched the whip to her right hand and turned to face the other side of the pen, whip extended. Echo, still on the same orbit, nearly ran into the whip but slid to a stop as Marybeth said, “Whoa!”, and then spun around to run the other way. As Echo started to run, Marybeth made the kiss sound as if to encourage her on her way. Marybeth caused her to change directions in this way every three or four revolutions for the rest of the session.
After five minute of running Echo began to slow down, first to a canter than a trot; she was feeling less afraid and wondering about her assailant. Rather than fear she began to feel defiant. She tossed her head and strutted neck arched, head up and tail flying like a banner. She began a lofty, airy trot. She was no longer looking over the fence, instead she began to keep her inside ear toward Marybeth. She kept an ear or complete attention on Marybeth the whole rest of the time in the pen. Marybeth kept the same posture and attitude. She never touched Echo with the whip but with her body language she kept Echo at a trot. After ten more minutes of intermittent cantering and trotting, Echo began to display signs of submission by licking her lips, chewing and as she trotted she sometimes she lowered her head toward the ground.
It was a warm day so Echo had worked up a sweat but she showed no sign of being tired as she trotted on. Sometimes she showed signs of submission and always kept an ear on Marybeth. Marybeth continued to drive her with the same dominant attitude for more than twenty minutes but she knew it was time for a change. She changed whip hands and said “Whoa!” but this time she did not extend the whip. Instead she lowered it and took a passive body stance by turning her side to Echo and looking down. In the frequent repetitions of the word ‘whoa’ Echo had learned that it meant to stop and change directions. This time Echo responded by stopping and turning as usual to go the other way, and then noticing Marybeth, she stopped and looked at her with all ears and eyes attentive.
Marybeth did not make eye contact and assumed a disinterested posture. She began to serpentine her way to Echo’s side. When she was about five feet away, Echo began to move. As Echo moved Marybeth kissed and lifted the whip as if to say, “It was my idea all along! Keep moving!” They resumed the driving in circles, but this time when she said “Whoa!” and assumed a passive body language, indirectly moving toward Echo, Echo stood firm. Finally Marybeth stood by her side and was able to stroke and scratch her withers while telling her what a good horse she was. After a few minutes Marybeth, without looking at Echo, walked away from her. Echo hesitated for a moment and then followed her across the round corral. Marybeth stopped and Echo stopped beside her, Echo’s nose touching her elbow. Marybeth turned and petting her said, “Good job girl! That was a classic ‘join-up’!”