The round pen is a marvelous training tool in your arsenal of horse equipment, however occasionally we find ourselves using it improperly. Here are three common mistakes to avoid in the use of your round pen.
1. Exercising your horse too long. It’s so easy to stand in the middle of the round pen and work your horse in different gaits. It takes almost no physical effort on your part, especially compared to riding or even longeing with a strap. An hour can go by and your horse has been running or trotting in circles for a long time. While an hour might not seem like a lengthy exercise session, you must remember that the horse is constantly bent in the circle. There’s no room in a round pen for any straight work, so the horse has to constantly balance himself and work on the bend. That is far more difficult and tiring. Keep round pen sessions short and your horse will do far better.
2. Using the round pen as a paddock. A round pen needs to be a classroom. When the horse walks into it, class is in session. If at all possible, do not turn your horse out into the round pen and leave him there for any length of time. Many people don’t realize the significance of this, but especially if you have a horse that is a foodie. Once the round pen gets associated with grazing, it’s nearly impossible to keep her attention on you and not on the opportunity to snatch a mouthful of grass.
3. Having improper footing in the round pen. It can be expensive to bring in truckloads of sand to improve the footing in your round pen, but it is necessary unless you’re blessed with a soil that is high in sand. For the rest of us, one round pen session is all it takes to pack the dirt down to an extremely hard surface that is hard on your horse’s joints. Wood chips are not a good idea because when they get wet, they get slippery. When they’re dry, they’re very dusty. It’s best to use a rototiller to till the dirt in your round pen to about four inches in depth, then till in a pickup truck-load of sand. Till it in around the edges first, since that’s where your horse’s hooves will be pounding the most. Don’t get it too soft either. Deep sand is just as bad for your horse’s joints as rock-hard clay is.
Good luck with your round pen and your horse training activities. May the horse be with you!