When many people think of round pen work, they think of young horses.
After all, many a horse was started in a round pen. However, round pens can also be useful for even the most seasoned of horses. It works especially well for improving ground manners or strengthening the bond between the horse and the rider.
Here are a few exercises you can do with any horse in a round pen:
Follow the Leader
With this exercise, you’re reminding the horse that you are the leader. Walk roughly 3 feet in front of your horse and slightly to the side. This will allow you to keep an eye on the horse. The goal is to establish trust and respect and get your horse to follow you as the leader. If the horse tries to pass you or stops, change directions immediately. If the horse pushes into your personal space, create space by swishing or tossing a lead rope his way.
Practice this exercise until your horse stops when you stop, turns when you turn, and even backs up when you turn around and move toward him. For backing up, however, you may need to start by using a halter and lead rope and place pressure on the noseband to help your horse to understand the cue. In time, they should learn to do this with no contact at all though.
Every horse can benefit from going over an obstacle course while you direct him from the ground. Place ground poles, cones, a tarp, etc. in your round pen and work to get your horse used to going over or around them. You can do this as part of your “Follow the Leader” exercises or simply place the obstacles around the outer edge of the pen and free lunge your horse over them.
Note: never use tarps or anything that might create dangerous behavior in the round pen. Only use obstacles and items your horse is somewhat acclimated to.
Free Task Work
Another great exercise to do in the round pen is grooming, picking up your horse’s feet, and even saddling, all without a lead rope or the horse being tied. The horse should learn to stand still and allow you to do these tasks without moving away. If the horse does move away, have him trot around the round pen several times and then return to standing so you can finish.
If you have other suggestions regarding round pen exercises for seasoned horses, feel free to share them in the comments!
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