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Roundpen Screwup
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cdodgen
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 Posted: Wed Dec 12th, 2007 08:52 pm
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Hope that someone farther up the path than myself can help me get some insight before I get my head kicked off, literally.

Just a brief narrative:  I come from a background where horses were handled without much, if any, thought on the process, just get the job done; ride from point A to point B and back without getting thrown.  If the horse didn’t like the process, that was his problem; he just better not show his displeasure with you/the process or it was off to the sale barn to find a horse that would submit.  So when I found myself faced with yet another horse that “had issues” I went in search of answers instead of another horse.  I wish I could say that the beginning of my search brought here first, but it didn’t. I was looking for what was wrong with the horse, never even crossed my mind that I was the one with the problem.   Therefore, I followed the trail with the most footprints, which led me to the crowd pleasing; “magic working” gurus of horsemanship that worked with “problem horses”, and like so many before me I threw down my money, bought their “wealth” of knowledge; ran out, caught my horses and followed their round penning, yielding “games”.  My second wish is that I could be a fast learner but I’m not, so it took me awhile to realize the look in my horse’s eyes were the same as before.  My “words” may have changed but the message was still the same: submit or else! 

 

So all this leads me to the reason for this post.  My gelding has forgiven me for most of my recent mistakes but one: the round pen.  He in no uncertain terms lets me know that to ask anything of him inside the round pen is totally unacceptable to him (head tossing, ears back, cow kicking, aborted charges; in other words “I could hurt you if I really wanted to; so get the message, already!”) and why shouldn’t he!  For over 2 years I had been screaming, cussing and insulting him every time we went into the pen.  Does not matter that I never raised my voice audibly, my body language communicated LOUD and clear:  “I’m the alpha, you’re the lowly herd member; now do what I say or I’ll run you ‘til you do.”  Sound familiar?  I've done my best to dump the garbage but it still appears I've got a long ways to go.

 

Our work outside the pen, for the most part, is good (thanks to Dr. Deb teachings) and we both are able to spend our times together calm and ok with each other.  However as he is just coming on 4 yrs, he has not been ridden and will not be for at least another 6 months to a year but when it does come that time, in my mind, the most logical place to begin the under saddle training is in the roundpen.  So do I try and work on the roundpen “hatred” now and if so, how do I address this issue I’ve created or do I just keep on working on our communication outside the pen and hope that in time our communication is to the point that it does not matter where we’re standing when the saddle work begins?

 

But then again maybe the real issue is that I’ve not really divested myself of the “roundpen attitude” and my body is still communicating the wrong message; now there’s a thought! 

 

Cheryl

Ailusia
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 08:15 am
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Hi, my horse will be 4 soon, too :) I personally never used the roundpen for "roundpenning", for the "join up", I mean. And I'm not planning to do so with any horse. I believe that I don't have to dominate her to ride, I only have to communicate with her, and teach her how to carry me (so, how to move efficiently, so, how to collect). Your horse is tossing his head and bucking - could it be, that he wants to play with you? I know, that horses are big and scary, but think how would you react to the same behaviour if it was a little puppy. Probably you would just say "how cute" and go to play with him. Of course you would have to teach him not to bite, not to jump on you, etc. As for horses, the most important thing is to teach them how to keep a safe distance. But this is something completely different than chasing them aroud the round pen ;)
To teach my horse to accept saddle, I used clicker training, now I'm teaching her how to approach a mounting block, and then I will teach her to accept weight. All this is possible to teach without punishment.
in my mind, the most logical place to begin the under saddle training is in the roundpen.It sounds logical, although here the roundpen is generally used for lunging ;) if I were you, I would begin the saddle work in a manege, where he can walk away whenever he wants. This way you will make sure that you're not pushing him too much. He's stronger anyway. And when he wants to play - I would play with him, like I do with my horse, after teaching her some good manners. Probably he would enjoy it. By the way, in the summer I had only the roundpen to work with my horse at liberty, and then she had some problems with straightness, because we have spent most of the time there. So if you are training him in hand, remember about some straight lines too :)

cdodgen
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 12:45 pm
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Ailusia,  I wish he were just wanting to play, but he's not.  He's mad and he's making sure I know it loud and clear.  Your right, horses are big and can be scary.  I don't "fear" any horse, but I sure do respect what they are capable of doing to the human body and try to keep a clear view on just what my ability is to handle any situation that arises when I'm around a horse.

As for why the roundpen:  I don't know where you call home but here in E. Texas if you told someone you had a "manege" they would most likely tell you "you better get that treated before it spreads" ;0}   I only know what one is because of my reading.  I would be using a roundpen for the first rides because it would be a confined area.  The only other choice I have is an open field with wire fencing; not a good or wise choice.

Thanks for your input.  I do appreciate you taking up your time to help me.

Cheryl

Patricia Barlow Irick
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 06:15 pm
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You can modify his perception of the roundpen by doing something really fun there. Do a bit of clicker training in the roundpen. Teach him to stand on a pedestal. Feed him his grain only in the roundpen. His attitude about it will change. If the only thing you can think of doing in there is chasing him, then no wonder he doesn't like it.

Mine started lining up for turns in the round pen once I started using it for clicker training.

Yrs,
Patricia

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 07:10 pm
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Oyy. No clicker training, please. You do not need this.

As to the suggestion that you start him in an arena: that would depend very much upon the arena, and the horse, and your level of experience. One reason the roundpen can have value is that it isn't too much of a wide-open space, and if the horse takes it into his head to run or buck-and-run with you on board, the worst he can get himself into in there is to go a short distance until he gets to the edge, and then go around until he's out of gas. If the walls of the roundpen are as high as they should be too, you can use them if necessary to get either on or off.

In short: there has many a horse been ridden for the first time in the stall. The stall is a good place because it isn't big, so there's no real place to go, and yet there's no restriction on the animal's ability to MOVE HIS FEET, which is all you really have to guarantee. You don't tie him up in the stall for this any more than you would tie him up in the roundpen or in an arena.

The horse generally feels very good and OK with himself in the stall, so that new experiences that happen there are likely to be absorbed without upset. If the stall has rails, you can use them to help you on or off. If the stall is inside of a barn, then (unlike most roundpens built today) the horse will also not be able to see into the distance. This can help a young horse very much -- old-type ranch-style roundpens were "pickle barrels" with the walls 10 or more feet high, and built of solid wood. So you'll close the barn doors and windows if you can.

You will recall from having read (I hope you have read, in past issues of "The Inner Horseman") my essay on "the true purpose for starting young horses" -- that before getting on the horse you need to have a number of other things already in place. Of particular importance is that the horse will willingly come to you or follow you at liberty, and that you can easily untrack the hindquarters (i.e. have the inside hind leg step under the body-shadow). If you have started him on understanding what it means to "follow a feel" offered by the lead rope, this would also be good.

You then need to do some specifics preliminary to mounting, the most important of which is that the horse needs to be OK with you operating a soft flag over his head, over his neck, over his back, over his butt. You need to get this working while you stand on the ground, and then again you sit up on the top rail of a fence, holding the lead rope and work with him from a position where you are higher than his eyes. He needs to be totally OK with stuff moving around up there and stuff appearing "as if from nowhere" into one or the other of his visual fields.

There needs to be no mistakes made in this part of the business. I am happy to notice that you do know that the approach you previously took to roundpenning was, indeed, a huge mistake. It is the kind of mistake we notice very often in the students of the well self-advertised gurus, and indeed in these self-styled "experts" themselves. They do not know what they are doing, and they are a danger to all students and all horses.

The horse is not in the roundpen to either obey or "run until his lungs scream for him to stop." He is not in the roundpen to OBEY at all. What he is in there for is for you to teach him a few things. Making him run until his lungs scream for him to stop is not a teaching methodology.

Roundpenning, at root, is merely an aid to calling the horse in. And this he must learn, to come when you call, every time and eagerly, just like a dog.

And you do this by showing him HOW to come. This begins with understanding that untracking the hindquarters, i.e. causing the inside hind leg to step under the body-shadow, is how the horse steers. He does not steer from the mouth, and in the beginning, he also does not steer off the outside hind leg (which he will do as a finished horse). So when he steps under with the inside hind leg, this causes his body to arc and his forequarter to come in toward you or incline toward you.

At the moment you see this, you back up so that he will draw. At first, he may only be able to just turn his head. Later it will be the shoulders and the whole front half of the body. You balance the "drive" against the inside hind leg with the "draw" you exert on the forequarter. It is a delicate balance at all times.

You prevent him from running. Never let the horse run around the perimeter of the roundpen more than three times. After that, you cross the roundpen and you get enough in his way that he will either stop or stop and turn and go the other way. Then you cut him off from that, and you keep doing that until he does stop. From there, you can start the lesson again. You need to teach them that "running is not why we are here."

You NEVER longe in a roundpen. This is the practice of the crude and ignorant. The primary purpose of the flag is to draw, not to drive, and this is also true of whips or any kind of stick or baton. If you have enough draw from just your body, then don't even use a flag. This would be particularly true on a horse that is mixed up as yours is.

I would not, however, if I were you, persist in even trying to use a roundpen. You need to change the context. What I would do if I got your horse in my care would be to halter him in the stall, lead him out to the arena, and then teach him the same lessons he should have learned in the roundpen in the arena with the halter on. I would endeavor to lighten my touch on the halter until it was almost like he was not haltered. Then, when I felt that this was pretty well together -- he would come weightlessly, turn weightlessly, back weightlessly -- then I would put him in the stall unhaltered and on a WEE TINY SCALE I would ask for the same responses. WEE TINY SCALE.

If he got confused in the stall, then I would go back to halter lessons again, but even lighter, then back to the stall until he makes the connection. YOUR actions need to be on a WEE TINY SCALE. In other words: do half of what you have been doing. And then when that improves things a little bit, cut what you're doing in half again.

Best wishes, and let us hear how this works out. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

 

Pam
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 07:31 pm
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I used to do all of that round pen stuff too because that was what I was taught - to chase my horse around.  It took me a few years to figure out he hated it.  So then I just stared hanging out with him in the round pen, just moving around without an agenda.  He started to be more relaxed and then I moved to the outdoor arena and played with him in that large arena.  Sometimes I send him away, which is very different than chasing and terrorizing him - and sometimes I put the whip down and just use body language to get him listening to me.  I also play games. I stand next to him and start trotting and then his trots right next to me in a circle.  Then I stop and he stops, so on and so forth.  I've even tried cantering, but once he gets to doing that I can't keep up with him, so I just send him off.  He always comes running right back to me now for a head scratch.  My attitude is that of a buddy when we play and I believe that is why he has so much fun and gets some beautiful movement going when we do this. This process allows us to feel of each other, not push each other around, and it is not perceived of as work either.  He is never sweaty when we finish playing either - he is more energized than anything else.  It is not my goal to make him sweaty and tired like so many of those round pen people do.  I think that is abusive.

 

Ailusia
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 Posted: Thu Dec 13th, 2007 07:55 pm
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cdodgen wrote: As for why the roundpen:  I don't know where you call home but here in E. Texas if you told someone you had a "manege" they would most likely tell you "you better get that treated before it spreads" ;0}   I only know what one is because of my reading.Haha, it seems to be different than here, indeed! :) cultural context, isn't it...
In my current stable I'm lucky to have a small, but very regular manege, surrounded with trees, in a quiet environment... perfect to start a horse ;) but in your case, I would probably use the roundpen too!
As for first mounting in the stable - here it's done in racing stables. I think that it isn't very safe, because the horse can push them against the wall. But they usually don't prepare their horses too much, so this can be a reason too.
Pam, I like your description of playing with your horse! I guess that I'm doing something similar.

cdodgen
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 Posted: Fri Dec 14th, 2007 06:32 pm
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Dr. Deb and to all who responded to my inquiry

 

Thank you!   By being able to put MY problem in “black & white” I was more able to see that my horse does not have a roundpen problem, he still has a Cheryl problem.

Dr. Deb you saw straight through to the problem; I’m still way to loud, big and confusing in my communication. 

 

Also Dr. Deb, thank you for your kindness to me in your reply.  When I “hit the send button” for this post, I took a mental deep breath and instructed myself to stand tough and open mined no matter what the feedback was from you and others.  Correction can often be painful, especially to tightly held habits/beliefs.  It has been a somewhat painful experience to realize that although I have literally been around horses all 47 years of my life that I know very little CORRECT information about them when it comes to their inner workings.

 

I will be working on “getting smaller and quieter” away from the roundpen.  I know for a fact that I have a very big presence/aura; my family and fellow co-workers have shared that fact with me on several occasions ;0}; if my body language is too intense for humans I can just imagine how it appears to a horse.  I have been and will be continuing to work on our communication in-hand with the halter and lead, this is where we both are the most comfortable.  I believe it is because this is were I “feel” I have the most control and therefore can allow my body aura to tone down and get quite and soft.  Also the movement of the lead gives me immediate feedback on just how intense my movements come across to the horse. 

 

When it comes time to mount up; it will have to be in the roundpen as I have no access to a stall or any other reasonably confined area other than the roundpen.  I have been working on getting him comfortable with seeing me from above: climbing up on the pen railing; standing on a mounting block, etc. I have viewed Buck Brannaman’s Ground Work and First Ride Series and have worked some following his “on the rail” work. 

 

On a positive note, I am happy to report that my gelding is very low on the spook scale.  Things  (lead ropes, saddle blankets, flags, etc) moving around, over and under his body cause him no concern, even a saddle blanket draped over his head while standing on a slack lead was tolerated without a flinch.  His first saddling caused him almost no concern; one good sniff then an easy, fluid move out to the end of the lead line with just an occasional ear flick back to id the noise of the saddle.  So this tells me he has a good, untroubled mind between his ears; he is just not going to tolerate any “half-A” communication on my part.

 

So it is my hope that as I get my communication skills correct and his trust restored in my leadership he will be happy to fall right in beside me and go where I lead.  If he doesn’t I will have no one to blame but myself.

 

Best Regards

Cheryl

cdodgen
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 Posted: Fri Dec 21st, 2007 08:46 pm
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I have one other concern regarding my communication with this particular horse.  A horse is a horse of course, however just like people I believe that they are born with a bend toward a certain temperament and differing levels of intelligence. 

 

Having never competed with any horse that I have owned or had the care of, “what they were bred for” has never been of a concern to me.  I have also never been concerned with their “papers” aka registration.  So in other words I know very little about the nuances of the science of horse breeding. 

 

However I have read/been told that Cutting horses are bred with an eye toward a higher degree of aggression/higher level of dominance because of the need of the horse to dominate the cow; is this statement correct?  If this is the case, can it be playing some role in my communication difficulties that I am having with my gelding, as his top-line breeding is loaded with quality cutting horse stock.   

 

Cheryl

 

Tasha
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 Posted: Sat Dec 22nd, 2007 01:36 am
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If cutting horses are more aggressive/dominant how will that change anything for you and your horse other than allow you to put the problem(s) you're having into the too hard basket? (After all, a horse's breeding can't be changed, therefore if the problem is because of the breeding the horse cannot be changed, and hey you're now off the hook!)

I swab harness racing horses on occasion. You would be amazed by the number of trainers who blame the ill behaviour of their inyourface/steponyourtoes/kicking/biting horses on the horse's breeding. Those trainers have decided to accept such behaviour as normal because the horse's dam/sire was like that rather than teaching the horse that it isn't acceptable to bite, kick, step on toes or be in a human's space. BTW I'm not saying your horse is like the ones I'm describing.

Don't go looking for excuses as to why your efforts of communication aren't working as well as you want. Address the problem that is in front of you rather than focusing on the origin of the problem. That way it won't matter if the problem arises from breeding, bad handling or some other reason, you will be dealing with where the horse is in the here and now.

cdodgen
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 Posted: Sat Dec 22nd, 2007 12:54 pm
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Tasha, Thank you for your response.  But for the record "getting off the hook" with this horse is just what I'm trying not to do! 

All things; people, horses, circumstances and beliefs; can be changed, however if you refuse to look closely at all facets of anything then you run the risk of your efforts doing one of several things: breaking it, changing nothing or changing it in a way not expected which could be better but is usually worse.

Perhaps my thought process is very wrong in this situation, if so please feel free to give me your opinion, but if a high degree of dominance has been bred into this horse then my need to have an equally high degree of CORRECT communication is a must. To not give consideration to this part of his makeup could risk ending up with a horse that may do as I ask but resent it to an extreme. 

In a nutshell, I'm sick and tired of screwing horses up! I've 40+ years of doing that and I refuse to continue on that path.  Just as diamond cutters are not given the highest quality diamonds to learn on; perhaps I should not be learning, unsupervised, a new way of communication with a horse that NEEDS a high degree of correct communication. I simply do not know the answer to that question, that's why I come here and expose  my short comings.  You guys are my only supervision.

Cheryl

Last edited on Sun Dec 23rd, 2007 12:31 pm by cdodgen

LindaInTexas
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 Posted: Sat Dec 22nd, 2007 05:08 pm
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If you have 40+ years of experience with horses, you're way ahead of me.  I suggest you take the horse you love to an experienced natural horseman (there are a lot of good ones listed here), and invest in as much one-on-one time with them as you can afford.  They'll be able to direct you toward the strengths you already have, and let you see things in a new light.  You'll also be able to witness first-hand what "dealing with the horse at this moment" means. 

 

 

jwheeler
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 Posted: Sat Dec 22nd, 2007 09:05 pm
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Cheryl:

As I write this there are 4 dogs at my feet - an austrailian cattle dog, an aussie, a black lab and a golden.   Although the cattle dog will retreve a ball - it doesn't even compare to the fanaticism that the lab has... and the golden looks a little perplexed at the aussie's desire to herd the horses... Still, they all sit, stay, come and walk nicely on a leash.  But on to your question - (and this is just my own experience) Over the last ten years, some friends that I start colts for switched their breeding program from pleasure to cutting horses.  All were quarter horses.  I wouldn't call any of the cutting bred horses aggressive.  They have, however, taught me to be more aware.  Ray Hunts "smallest try" comes to mind.  They are quick to learn and need a job to be happy.  I don't believe they would adapt as well to the mundane life of a pleasure horse - they seem to think more, are less likely to "shut down" -  And their athleticism adds another facet.  That said - I also have attended numerous clinics over the last ten years, my thoughts and focus and my philosophy have all changed and I'd like to think that has had something to do with it... 

My final opinion (and you know what they are worth) - Yes, breeding has a lot to do with it - or there wouldn't be breeds... BUT a horse is still a horse. 

cdodgen
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 Posted: Sun Dec 23rd, 2007 01:26 pm
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LIT and JW, 

First, thanks for your time and willingness to respond.  Second, to all that read my last post and wondered if I know the difference between a faucet and a facet; yes I do; it's just my fingers that don't. ;0). Another skill to work on – proofreading!

LIT, your suggestion is my greatest hope; that time and means will allow me the opportunity to visit with and learn from Harry Whitney.

JW, Your opinion is worth a gold nugget.  I see clearly what you are saying.  Aggression is a wrong term to apply to this horse or for that matter any cutting bred horse; frustration due to boredom is a better description of his behavior.  Your statement of having “to be more aware” is dead on; I rarely think twice about where and what my mare is up to when I’m out in the pasture with these guys; but I ALWAYS keep a close eye on where he is and what he’s doing as he can be up in your business or off with/destroying your tools/ATV (yes, if I ever taught him to sit he would probably hi-jack the 4-wheeler) in a blink of an eye.  His high degree of intelligence/curiosity is what drew me to him in the first place.  Just as with yours dogs puzzlements of the other’s obsessions, so also I see that same puzzlement from my mare (more often irritation, for he bears a many of her bite marks) when the gelding is continually harassing her to play or just do something other than stand there and eat.

So I guess my next step is to come up with things for this horse to learn that allows him to use the great brain that God gave him.  He learned to step up on the “drum” very quickly but I had to laugh at his expression after he had stood there a few moments – “Okay, interesting view but now what? Surely you mean for me to do more than just stand here!”  Sitting in here typing I can laugh about his behavior; I’ve just got to make sure my humor follows me outside.

Wishing Y’all a very Merry Christmas.    Cheryl


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