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What is Roundpenning and how does it work?
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Joined: Mon Apr 16th, 2007
Location: Texas
Posts: 282
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 Posted: Sat Aug 4th, 2007 01:25 pm
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Transferring this topic from another thread, with a mind that is empty and uncontaminated -- at least on this topic.


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Joined: Fri Mar 30th, 2007
Posts: 3253
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 Posted: Sat Aug 4th, 2007 08:28 pm
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Yes, Joe, that's a great thing you know, to have, or to behave as if you have, an empty slate upstairs there. It doesn't really have to be so much empty as simply nonjudgemental in the sense of there is no opinion one way or the other.

A roundpen, called in the British Commonwealth a "round yard", is a circular enclosure generally 40 to 80 ft. in diameter. The best diameter for our purposes is about 60 ft., i.e. about a 20M circle. The walls of the pen are high -- never less than six feet, preferably eight feet or more.

The pen itself can be constructed of a wide variety of materials. The traditional form from Baja California, Mexico, the southwestern U.S., the Caribbean, Central and South America, is made of solid wood, built as a palisade from stripped logs planted next to each other vertically in the ground. But you also, on some very old ranches and in old book engravings, see them made as a palo verde fence, i.e. stout uprights connected by limber branches woven tightly together.

I think this was probably the original design, i.e. the design from Europe and Asia going back many thousands of years. From the Renaissance onward, you can also find roofed halls that were used for this purpose -- a "round manege".

In modern times, we see roundpens very commonly constructed of cattle-panels set up in a circle. These can have an interior lining of plywood panels or boards tightly fixed to each other horizontally for extra weight and stability. Lighter-weight materials can also be used; for a while there was even one guy who was selling portable roundpens made of aluminum posts that you stretched polyester fabric panels between and attached with bungee cords.

So much for the construction -- actually I'm sure you've probably seen some of these examples, as many ranches have them.

As to the use: a roundpen is not necessary to horsemanship, and, as I said in the other thread, is a powerful tool that, unless the person knows precisely how to use it, can and will backfire, which means it not only creates bad effects in the horse, it may also even put the handler in danger.

So first we have to understand what our objectives in using this tool would be. And they are two:

(1) To help unhandled horses understand that the handler is not going to hurt them.

(2) To begin liberty work.

In the first case, the high walls of the pen prevent or at least greatly discourage the horse from jumping out. Confined in the pen with a human handler, the animal is compelled to "relate", or try to. This is the first area, as you can already see, where humans are liable to misuse the tool -- most people have no idea how strong their body-aura actually is.

The round shape of the pen, if you have a wild horse, also helps to prevent him from injuring himself. Because if he can't jump out, he will almost certainly run. If you try off-halter work with a wild horse in a square pen, they will frequently run up into the corner and, being utterly ignorant of "how to use the furniture", they seem unable to figure out how to turn through a square corner -- they don't know to round off the corner. Instead, they run up in there and get stuck, and then no matter how high the wall or fence is, they try to jump or climb over it. You will have seen cattle do the same thing. This is why at cuttings they block off the corners of the arena with panels set diagonally.

The second situation in which a roundpen can be helpful is in teaching a horse liberty work. This begins with the lesson, "come to me when I call you." Of course, when you work with a mustang, or any horse whatsoever, wild or tame, you will be teaching him this same lesson -- "come to me without pressure." The roundpen is a handy place to teach this, because when the two of you are inside of there, there are usually few distractions, the footing is good, and you can alternate between causing the horse to move away from you and causing him to come to you. The 60-ft. diameter is not so big that the handler has to do an excessive amount of walking, nor so small that when the horse canters or gallops, that it is likely to be a strain on his joints.

But the OVERALL MOST IMPORTANT lesson anytime we are in the roundpen is to teach the horse this:

That he is to refer his every trouble and difficulty -- meaning mental, emotional, or physical -- to the handler in the full expectation that the handler will understand what is troubling the horse and will immediately take steps to relieve it.

In other words, we teach him to "come to us" in ALL senses, including the deepest possible sense. You must never misunderstand the purpose of the roundpen as being a place to start colts, a place to get a horse to pack a saddle for the first time, a place where you can teach him snappy turns. There must be clarity on the handler's part that any technique we use in the roundpen is subservient to the above goal -- for example, many people get hung on whether the horse is going the direction in the roundpen that they've asked him to, or whether he stops and turns in to face them. They are seeing only a few superficial things. Unfortunately there are a number of videotape programs out there that teach it this way.

What I would like to see you realize is that when you get the MOST IMPORTANT PURPOSE working, then anything else you might like to do becomes a secondary side effect (and nor is it difficult to do, or any big deal about doing it). Once the mustang understands that the handler is not there to hurt him, and has learned to hook on to the handler and follow, has learned to permit the handler to enter his personal space to stroke his shoulder and neck and the side of his jaw, then we can teach the horse to put his nose in a halter. This expands our options in communicating with him; many things are easier to teach to a horse when he is at the other end of a lead-line.

There are, however, beautiful benefits to working at liberty, and the roundpen, when rightly used, is the best tool for this. It is a good place to develop your own awareness of what the horse is always aware of -- the delicate balance between his space and your space, his movement and your movement, his understanding and willingness, and yours. It's the place where the dance begins and where it can be brought to a very high level.

If you want to know more about specifics on beginning liberty work, just ask, and we can talk about that in this thread too. Best wishes -- Dr. Deb


Joined: Mon Apr 16th, 2007
Location: Texas
Posts: 282
Status:  Offline
 Posted: Sat Aug 4th, 2007 09:02 pm
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Indeed I would like to know more about liberty work.  As you supposed, I am very familiar with round pens or round rings of various types, and have used them or perhaps misused them and seen them used for many things, but you are adding dimensions.

FWIW over the years I have somehow gotten animals to come to me, and to put their noses in halters, and do other things but to be honest, I have never quite known why they did it.  Also, although we never called the space/pressure thing an aura, I suppose that any observant person who spends much time around horses begins to feel it.  You move and the horse will move.  You project certain ways and the horse responds.  You shrink yourself physically by crouching down and the animal often comes up out of curiosity.  I know these things and have played with them, but never really put the pieces together and so I don't know how to use them.

As a side observation, the animal's space seems to expand rapidly when it is fearful or its blood is up.

Anyway, I look forward to learning more.



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