Exploring the use of a round pen- an alternative perspective

A FB friend posted an article on anti round pen usage... Here was my in depth perspective/answer:

I find 95% of folks misuse a round pen, whether under the guise of "exercising" or teaching conditioned responses, such as the lesser of two evils is to turn, face the human and be caught; which is a bullying tactic. The problem with teaching conditioned responses and patterns is the day you change the routine, you get a fire breathing dragon instead of your docile horse. 

So what happened? Most horses learn the pattern in order to get the human to leave them alone. There's not a lot of thought or clarity, it is just a form of "escaping" the pressure created by the human. The human in turn incorrectly assumes that because the horse is being so "helpful" by automatically doing something they might ask of their horse, that the horse is okay. More times than not, he is not.

For me the round pen allows an opportunity in a safe place where the horse and I can have open two way communication. It is an opportunity to assess if the horse is mentally available to physically participate with me. If any sort of fast movement or continuous movement occurs, there's typically a brainless-ness and flee to it.

Most horses that arrive with "behavioral issues" (which is often a symptom, not the issue) is a direct result of constant mental and emotional stress. The horse is rarely considered when the human has an agenda. So often the horses are bullied into doing things that really bother them and "all of a sudden" they act dramatic, resistant and dangerous. No, it wasn't all of a sudden. Most folks do not notice, put value to or address if their horse is asking for help, until the person can no longer ignore the escalating dramatic behavior displayed by the horse.

So as I start a colt, re-educate an older horse or fine tune a finished one, the round pen can be a tool. Could the same conversation happen while in the pasture, being led or tacked? Yes. It is not about location, shape of fence or teaching a patternized response. It is about a quality conversation that sets you and your horse up to be successful. But folks are looking for patterns and conditioned, brainless responses. 

If the horse is physically and mentally bothered, fearful, insecure or shut down, why wouldn't I want to address that and help him sort out his concerns BEFORE I get on? There's no need to "wait and see," what the ride will be like; if I see he's bothered now, it'll only get worse in the saddle. 

Imagine if all these amazing athletic creatures were supported to compete without being in the the continual state of stress and duress, then what might their movement look like?

By not offering a horse TIME to sort through his emotions, rather just attempting to physically exhaust him, but never address what he's bothered about, is setting up the horse to be defensive.... 

As with everything, something that can be a safe, confidence building and supportive tool based in how it is presented by one person can also be a horrific experience for the horse if someone with ego, time limitations, and ulterior motives uses it...

Just my thoughts.
Sam

Pressures from others: Making appropriate choices for you and your equine partner

The initial romanticized idea of what equine ownership can be, inspires many people to commit to buying a horse, but it can quickly diminish with the realities and learning curve they experience.  I’ve found that there is a preliminary assumption, that because someone is able to financially “buy” a horse, there is an expectation that horse is “waiting” to do whatever the person asks of him. 

If the focus is solely on what the new owner wants to do, irregardless of the horse’s need’s or abilities, a novice owner may unwittingly be creating a “problem” with their horse. By not recognizing a problem or resistance in the horse until the animal displays enough dangerous, insecure or fearful behavior, the new “owner” may not realize that something needs to be done.  And this is where “it” all gets complicated.

You and your horse are who will wind up having the most one-on-one experiences together, learn together, and endure the “journey” of horsemanship together.  It can be an incredibly rewarding experience, though difficult to navigate due to ALL of the many, many, MANY opinions of those (trainers, horse friends, boarders, vets, farriers, etc.) involved in the horse world around you. 

As a novice, when any sign of conflict arises, there tends to be a LOT of unasked for opinions pushed upon new owners.  If a horse is kept at the owner’s home, there seems to be less outside “intrusion,” but if kept at a public facility… Well, it is a bit like flies on manure.

The horse world can be a harsh, critical and judgmental world- whether or not in the competitive arena. As with most things in life, there can be amazing folks and those whose sole purpose seems to make everyone miserable around them.  Unfortunately, in many cases with folks who attempt to help, due to their own personal issues, they tend to “project” onto the horse, who is a mirror to one’s emotions, energy, stress, confidence, etc. 

Though it may be with the idea that “they” can help, I’ve found the folks who want to push “their way” onto the novice horse person, tend to be quite dramatic and harsh in the “methods” they offer as “solutions”. And the uneducated owner is either bullied (YES, it happens all the time) or their horse is bullied with whatever the “helpful advice” is. 

I’ve seen more damage done in five to 10 minutes of “good” intention, than if things had been left alone. Most novice horse folks have no idea how to “navigate” the horse world, and do not realize they have to really ‘vet’ where and from whom they are learning from. 

But what I wanted to talk about is the amount of stress and pressure that can be induced by dominant, “experienced” horse folks.  Even if they have good intention, they often create such a “chaos” or “frantic” energy about them that it tends to affect others around them- human and horse alike.  In extreme cases, with an insecure novice owner, the “stress” of other boarders ideas and opinions starts to psych them out before they’ve even arrived at the barn.  It can cause so much distraction and defensiveness and a feeling of “invasion” into the inexperienced owner, that it can negatively overwhelm them to the point where they are dysfunctional towards being their horse’s partner.

There are many situations that could be handled with a respectful suggestion or idea, and offered in a way that the person on the receiving end can either “take or leave it.”  Sadly that doesn’t happen too often.

So this blog is written for both those inexperienced folks; YES, it is okay for you to politely say “no” to, reject or ignore “advice” from those folks you feel unsure about.  And for you EXPERIENCED folks, please, unless you see a major safety issue (and you can offer a polite suggestion), please, please, please go about your own business.

Part of the learning curve also involves the inexperienced owner wanting to learn from others.  I’ve been in many situations (trailer loading is the prime example,) where I might be at a facility to work with someone else.  And in the background someone is having issues loading.  (And as a side note- most “issues” are dramatic moments/resistance/etc. are a symptom, rather than the underlying issue.  So with trailer loading, often there is a lack of clarity in communication, a lack of understanding or defensiveness towards “pressure” from the horse, an inability to change or redirect the horse’s thought, etc. which all then affects trailer loading.  IT ISN’T ABOUT GETTING IN THE TRAILER.)   Anyways, whomever I’m working with will inevitably ask, “Why don’t you go and help that person and horse?” And my answer is, “Until someone is ready to ‘hear’ me, and ask for help, I won’t offer it.”

So if you find yourself in any of the situations above, please, for the sake of your horse, feel confident enough to say “No” when the voice in your head is telling you the “advice” sounds inappropriate for you/your horse, or put in the effort to seek out quality HELP to improve your understanding, abilities and communication with your horse.

You don’t need to “do it” like everyone else.  You don’t need to compare what you can do with your horse versus what someone else can do with their horse.  You don’t need to “rush” as you learn, and you certainly don’t need to put self-induced pressures or be bullied into doing things with your horse that you are unsure about.  Sometimes it might take just a nice comment and folks will get the message to back off.  Other times, it may take a very direct “No thank you,” to get folks to quit offering the suggestions, and other times, it may take moving to another facility with your horse. 

Though you may have limited experience, you can still trust your “gut instinct” if something doesn’t seem right about a situation with your horse.  Trust that voice in your head and be the voice for your horse, you’re responsible for his well-being.  Trust me, though it may make you a bit uncomfortable initially, it’ll get easier to navigate the opinions, ideas and personalities of the equine world.  The more pressure you feel alleviated by doing right by your horse, the more comfortable you’ll be to make better choices in the future.

Good luck,

Sam