Round Pen Basics and Becoming the Boss Mare
How To Gain Your Horses Respect
If you have not gained your horses respect you have some work to do. Your horse looks at you like a horse in the herd and you need to establish where you are at in the herds pecking order. Make sure you are at the top and you are commanding that position when you are around your horse. If your horse thinks she can push you around follow this lesson to elevate yourself to “boss mare” status.
Begin With Ground Work Before Getting In the Saddle
Respect has to be gained on the ground and once established transfers to everything you do with your horse. If you feel you are sneaking around your horse you are sending the wrong message to your horse with your body language. Remember that body language is something your horse is always watching. Make sure you are conveying the right message to your horse.
How to Gain Respect
If you have a round pen or the use of one, the best way to gain respect is here. I like to train them by free lunging. Get a lariat (the best tool for this but a long rope will do) this will be an extension of your arm so that you can correct your horse without getting in a place where you can get kicked. It also serves as a way to quickly correct her. Now is where your body language is really going to come into play.
Body Language Basics
Body language is the first thing your horse reads. Get your horse to move around the circle by keeping your body tall and square shouldered with your focus and concentration on the top of the hip. You might step toward her, clicking or kissing to get her to move forward. Make sure that you are concentrating on the hip. (In the beginning you might want to take a piece of masking tape and place a piece on each hip bone, each shoulder and each side of the nose) The tape will help to keep your focus.
Moving Forward in the Round Pen
Now once you get her moving in the circle she will probably try to cut it off. Push her to the wall or outside of the circle, again with your body language. Don't get within striking distance, which is a little over 6 feet. If your body language is not working take your lariat or rope, coiled in one hand while hanging on to the end in the other and throw it at her. Quickly coil it back up and get it ready to throw again if you need it. Now she is moving around the circle on the outside.
Changing Your Horses Direction
Once you have done this and she is going well, you want to change direction. When she is half way around step toward the rail and as she comes around you will cut her off. Eventually we will demand her to make the turn to the outside but for these first couple of times we just what her to change direction. Work her the same way going the other direction. Expect it to be like starting from the beginning, we have to train both sides of the horse in everything we do. Just because they learn it on one side it does not transfer to the other side. When you cut her off on the circle you want to change your focus to the shoulder once she starts to turn push her all the way around by focusing on the nose. This may sound strange but you will be surprised how tuned into your body language your horse is. Keep your shoulders square, your body tall and confident.
Turning Your Horse in the Round Pen
Next start on refining the turn. If you are cutting the circle off you want her to turn to the outside, if she does it wrong throw the rope and immediately turn her around. Let her go around once or twice and then ask for the outside turn again. Keep doing this until she does it right, be sure to praise her with your voice when it is done right. She might do it right for a few times and then she will try an inside circle. She is just testing to make sure as to what you really want. You might get an outside circle 50 times and then she will ask "do you really want me to keep turning to the outside" and you will respond with a big YES.
Correcting Your Horse To Get It Right
Don't be afraid to get after her. The rope does not hurt her. Your bad voice does not hurt her. What you are simulating is if you ever watch horses in a group and the head horse will push the lower horse on the totem pole around. They will eat first and chase the lower horse away. You are establishing that you are the "boss mare". Once you have mastered the outside turn, which could take 50 to 100 turns on each side then you want to ask for an inside turn. This is harder. She will be confused at first but she will get it.
Asking Your Horse For An Inside Turn
When she is 1/4 to 1/2 around you want to step toward the rail and open up your inside shoulder. So this time your shoulders won't be square, you will be more sideways to her with your shoulders. As she turns toward you push her around by focusing on the spot on her nose. If she turns outside, correct her immediately as you did with the outside turn training. Once she is turning inside well on both sides you can start switching it up. Inside turn, outside turn, inside turn, outside turn.
Dancing In The Round Pen With Your Horse
Then try turning her 360 degrees. Once you can do all this she will have total respect for you as the boss mare. She will probably follow you around like a puppy dog. This exercise will cure many other problems as do most things in horse training. If you had trouble catching your horse this should now be cured. If you still have trouble catching your horse please read our training tip about "Catching the Hard to Catch Horse".