By E. Landers
In recent years, natural horsemanship trainers have brought round pen training into forefront when it comes to training horses. This type of training employs the round pen to build a basic foundation or to re-train an older horse instead of using traditional methods.
What’s the basis of this type of training? Well, round pen training is actually derived from behavior modification principles used in training any type of animal, including horses. On a side note, these techniques also work with people.
Round Pen training uses rewards in the form of body language that mimic the horse’s natural herd instincts to encourage the desired behavior. Results are usually seen very quickly and a strong bond is often formed between horse and human through these training methods.
A study at Michigan State University shows that by the seventh training session in a round pen, horses react with a predictable response in as little as six repetitions rather than the 60 it took in the first session (Nielson, B & A. Zanella). Once the behavior is learned, it is embedded for life as long as the horse receives the same consistent human responses.
Round pen training is an invaluable tool to teach a basic education for beginning horses or remedial work for older horses.
Horses have a natural instinct called “fight or flight”. Using a round pen, a handler can avoid the dangers of the fight response and maximize the benefits of the flight response.
Round pens allow the horse to mentally escape from the pressure of the human, giving them time to think over what response they should be giving. If the handler were to use a lounge line in a pasture or arena, the scene often appears to be a struggle, while in reality, the horse is simply trying the flee.
The design of the round pen is yet another advantage in that it maximizes the horse’s thinking capacity. There are no corners for the horse to hide in which limits his options for controlling the situation. This focuses the horse’s behavior on the trainer.
By having enough room to move away (flee) and think about what is being asked, the horse will learn that cooperating with people is the easier decision to make. The trainer must keep in mind, however, that there should be specific lesson plans for each session since mindless running of laps will actually give the horse time to tune out the human.
Using round pen training with a calm focused plan, can afford a trainer and horse a safe environment for establishing a line of clear communication. Of course, every horse is different, but round pen training consistently produces positive results in a relatively short amount of time.
Learning the appropriate techniques and working your horse in a properly built round pen are the keys to fast results and long term success.
© 2006 E. Landers
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