Arkansas 2 year old Paso Fino worked in snaffle and western saddle in round pen.

Question: I have heard that you should not work a paso fino in a circle in a round pen. (that it interferes with their natural gaits) I'd like to know if this is true? This is my
first gaited horse and I have just began to train him.  I do not plan to actually break him until he is close to 3 years old but I would like to get some ground training in.  He also throws his head upward to keep away from any head gear, any suggestions on how to introduce him to a bit for the first time?

Vanessa Mcquay 

From Panelist Lee

This is another one of those myths that have a grain of truth in them that seem to abound in the gaited horse world.  Think about it for a moment ...
when Paso Finos are exhibited they are frequently asked to perform tight figure 8's in gait.  If circles interfered all that much with their gaits, they could not do this! Peruvians are traditionally worked in tight circles to *enhance* their gaits, particularly if they are pacey or trotty to begin with.

However, some round pen work is not ideal for gaited (or non-gaited) horses. This is the sort of "work" that involves chasing the horse around at top speed so he comes to your side as an escape for fatigue.  A young horse of any breed should be spared this, if only for the long term soundness of his legs.  If you are doing sensible round pen work, at slow speeds, asking for slow turns, not roll backs, and frequent gradual stops, you will not interfere with the horse's natural gaits.  IMO, light work on the longe line is more
effective, at least for the type of ground training I like to do (rating speed within a gait, head positioning etc.) but neither this nor sensible round penning in a circle will do damage to the natural gaits of the horse. 

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Erica

I find this to be incorrect. I think that a lot of misconceptions are founded in many gaited breeds that they cannot do certain things as it can/will ruin their gait. I find this to be incorrect. Paso when shown are not usually required to do any sort of lateral work of any sort - just to simply go straight ahead (turning at corners) and to show off their gaits.
Working your horse in an area that suits you best will not ruin him or the gaits he performs naturally.

Now addressing him not wanting to accept the bit - depends on how he has been introduced in the past to a bridle/bit. With him being as young as he is you will want to take extra special care not to overload him if he is not yet mentally capable of handling it. Take it slowly and remember not to ever start with the goal - this simply means that if you wish to teach him to accept the bit, you don't want to start out with the bit/bridle in your
hands ready to put it on. Start out with your hands in a safe enclosure - remember safety first, don't allow yourself in a dangerous position as he is young and even with older more 'versed' horses accidents do happen. Use your hands to give him lots of attention to his face, neck, ears, mouth, etc. 

Get him comfortable with your hands especially around his mouth and ears - these are key spots. You cannot have one without the other. Get him to the point where he doesn't fuss at all when you rub his face and ears. Give him head hugs if safe to do so. Then take a well fitting halter, unbuckle the top. Rub that all over him and his face (gently). Get him very used to it, hanging off one ear or both. Slip the halter on and off without him pulling away. Take a headstall (without the bit) do the same thing as you did with the halter. Get him used to your fingers in his mouth for short times. Put the headstall on and get him comfy with the fingers in the mouth (only 1 or two at most at a time). When he is good with this he should be much better accepting the bit, knowing that you are willing to take the time to help him through this will help to form the first of your partnership bond. Another thing you could use to get him used to something in his mouth, but without the chance of banging his teeth with a bit - is use a soft and medium thickness rope in the place of a bit. However don't ever use this in an area where you have to lead or move him around using it, you never want to use this for anything but to get him accustomed to the bit. Once it is in, he
will most likely chomp and chew, leave him. The minute he stops, reward him by taking the bridle off. Keep doing this until he accepts the bit with little chewing afterwards. 

Good luck! 

Erica Frei

From Panelist Stella

Lunging in a roundpen can be very beneficial to condition and prepare a horse for under saddle training; however, you do need a cautious, well-planned developmental strategy with any young horse to prevent injury to both hard and soft tissues that are not fully developed. The size of the pen and type footing also need to be taken in consideration.

While  its best to keep circles large for young horses, it also tends to encourage many young Pasos to do a strung out, hollow-backed trot. You do not want to encourage this, as it only serves to develop muscles of the wrong frame. But, that doesnt mean you must not do any circular work; you simply avoid this movement.I prefer keeping young horses on a lunge line in the roundpen at least the first couple months, to insure I always have control at any given moment, not only to insure that the horse learns to understand and accept the consistency required in this aspect of the relationship, but also to control its speed and type of movement to prevent injury. I like limiting the movement to walking and gradually introducing a slow, easy relaxed canter, perhaps only 2-3 laps at a time, and building very gradually from there ( no galloping, racing, slide stops, rollbacks etc. that are more likely to occur roundpenning loose).

The movement of the canter -rounded back, impulsion from the rear, back legs under and driving always forward, utilizes and helps develop a frame and the musculature of the back and hindquarters most simular to that of gait as it relates to impulsion, and it is these areas most crucial to gaiting properly under saddle.

Since you said he tends to throw his head up, likely the muscles of his neck are more developed on the underside than the topline, and the canter will help develop the topline as well. This is important to prevent future stargazing and a hollow back in the future. If it remains the case, as often does on really high-headed horses, particularly young ones, avoid using a broken-mouthed bit, and use a mullen mouth or similar solid mouthpiece, even if you choose a snaffle.

Normally, Pasos are started in a leather bitless bosal with 2 reins, which provides surprisingly good control. Only after the horse is proficient in the rudiments of gait, collection, etc. is the bit introduced, initially over top of the bosal, to which one of the reins is attached, and the transition to only a bit is made gradually. However, being rider confidence is just as important, you can start this earlier, but it is still best to work mostly off the bosal until the horse is secure in its balance and gait. You can even get the horse used to just wearing a bit early, and go back to it later when ready to use it.

My favorite "starter" is a "rubber jetera"($15.), which ressembles a small "O" bar snaffle with bitguards, but the mouthpiece is simply cotton rope covered with soft,pliable surgical tubing(5/8-3/4"width). They seem to accept this much more readily, and do better later on a real bit.Start "traditionally" getting the horse first acquainted with a bit (or rubber jetera) for a few days in the stall, and here it is very important to adjust the bit correctly in its mouth not to be able to get its tongue over it, yet not too tight. If you feel the conformation of the horse's lips and tongue are such that it could anyway, you can use a strip of soft cloth or rope to GENTLY tie from one ring to the other under the chin, without pressure to the tongue but just enough not to be able to raise the bit & slide the tongue over it. Do this several days, removing when you see the horse has stopped playing and has a quiet mouth. Eventually, the horse will settle on the bit in a matter of a moment, and when he's accepted it and its no longer an issue, it can be used when  under saddle. This way, the horse can remain focused on you and the other aspects of undersaddle lessons, and 
not be distracted by the bit just being in its mouth.

Stella Manberg-Wise

From Panelist Terry


Circles will not hurt his gait all your ground work will teach him to bend, give his shoulder, work on a loose line, and give to pressure. This will improve his gait, but one word of caution don't be in a rush to collect him if he does not gait that's fine let him relax and learn what you are asking of him. 

Once he is supple and is lite on the lounge line or reins he will be ready to start to collect and you should get good gait. As far as throwing his head to get away form the head gear I would give it a bit of time let him build some confidence in the head gear and that problem should solve it self.

Terry Whaples

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