New Mexico, 20 year old Paso Fino with Professional training, No riding yet have Round pen, arena, pasture, trails available, Intermediate level rider.

Question: My Husband has never shown an interest in horses, but when I went to look at horses and had decided to buy my new mare, the mare that was along my new mare's side caught my Husband's heart and he had to have her.  She was not used for the last 2 years, and he realizes that she needs to get in shape before he starts riding her.  He is also  concerned about creating a trusting relationship and is willing to take the time necessary to build the relationship before he rides her.  She is very respectful of him, and is affectionate to him.  After we brought her home we were told that she really didn't like men much, but she sure likes him.

The trouble he is having is this:

Whenever he takes her into the round pen, she gets very nervous.  She will get very sweaty quickly.  I see this as a nervous sweat.  She has actually attempted to jump out of the pen.  She will not even complete a circle.  She knows where the gate is and gets upset at the gate.  She goes fine around the rest of the roundpen.

If he takes her to the arena, she does not do this.  She will lunge just fine, but he likes the freedom of no line in the round pen. 

I have had to look away and don't want to interrupt his training and very patient behavior with her, but he is getting frustrated and has asked me for help a couple times, and I don't have an answer for her behavior.

I have waited for 9 years for him to join me in my love of horses, and don't want to drive him away from her with my comments unless the comments will really help him.  I have to give him credit, he wondered aloud today if he should just take her on some trial walks to give her some breathing room, so I know that he is looking for other solutions. He wants to do the right thing for her, but is stuck.  He will not ride her until the ground work is where it should be. 

All the Natural Horsemanship clinics I have attended that he has begrudgingly audited with me have paid off in his thinking, but now he is stumped on how to get her through this and so am I. 

We did have her vetted.  Even though she is older, our vet says she is in good health and that our planned rides 2 to 3 times a week are not beyond her capabilities.  She is getting worked with almost everyday, at least 5 days a week.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.  Please give me some insight here.

 Tracey Hammond

From Panelist Erica

Unfortunately, far too many horses are taught that a round pen is meant for them to run full speed around in. The horse doesn't learn to calm down & respond to the handler. With your husbands mare, I would recommend lots of walking around in the pen on a lead, and asking her to drop her head as she goes. Give her lots of praise for lowering her head, and for any sighs she might let out. Keep reassuring her that she doesn't have to worry & that no one will hurt her in the pen. 

Slowly let out a little line as she gets more & more comfortable - but stay on a lead rope for now. If she gets nervous just bring her closer to you again & ask for her to drop her head & relax. This will undoubtedly be a slow & patient process, but it sounds like your
husband is the perfect person for this mare.  [:-)] I wouldn't recommend asking her past a slow walk for at least many months. 

Only when she can walk around the pen calmly & without worry, with no lead rope or lunge line, would I consider asking for a little bit of gait. When she goes a short period of time calmly in the pen on a lead, reward her with tons of praise & then call it a session. Make the lessons short & positive. The quicker she understands that all you want is her to walk calmly, the quicker she will be able to relax & start listening better & more happily. 

The calmer she gets on the lead rope, you can slowly work up to a lunge line, but no whip, and do not use the end of the lunge to move her forward. Use only your hand/arm & voice for cues when she is as nervous as she is. Only when you can let her out on a completely loose lunge line & not have to keep bringing her in to reassure/calm her will you want to move on to her being free. Go slow & it will pay off. 

This should help you on your way, I know how frustrating it can be to have a horse who is otherwise the calmest horse on the planet, but who gets antsy & frightened in a round pen. Good luck! 
Erica Frei

From Panelist Steve

Well, obviously the mare doesn't like round pens. Neither do I. I save them as a last resort for horses who refuse to tune into me. This does not seem to be a problem with this mare. The assumption seems to be that all horses benefit by round pen. This is a fallacy. For most it is a confusing and frustrating experience with very little carry over effect to the real world. This is especially true for people who don't know exactly what they are doing.

I strongly suggest your husband switch to the Parelli method and work with the mare using the 7 Games. These are easy to do and a lot less frustrating for the mare. They are also much more effective since they are hands on, up close approach that better translates to the saddle. They are benign...all horses benefit by them.

If this mare can be ridden safely, then ride her. If you aren't sure, have a professional re-start her for a couple of weeks or even a month, doing nothing but riding her every day, ring and trail. It will not help your husband's new found interest to get hurt. Neither the round pen nor the Parelli technique can guarantee safety.

Stephen B. Chasko, 

From Panelist Carol

 Dear Tracey,

I see that you wrote on your husbands' behalf.  Could this possibly have something to do with the male tendency to never ask directions? :)  I would put this mare on-line where she is comfortable and play Pat Parelli's 7 games with her.  She may be nervous in the pen at liberty due to a previous bad experience, or perhaps she just doesn't understand what's expected of her. 

Carol Camp Tosh

From Panelist Stella

Obviously, this horse has had some very traumatic experiences in the roundpen. But, your husband should realize that the MAIN point of it, in the first place, is gaining the TRUST and getting the groundwork done, wherever it is - not to get "hung up" that this MUST be done in a roundpen, otherwise you lose focus of what the main objectives are.

Because horses not only have different personalities, but come from different sets of experiences, most trainers, having more experience with the variety of types of horses, understand that often you must be flexible and get creative about HOW you go about
accomplishing the same task. A few weeks, or even a few months, may not be enough time to gain the FULL trust of a horse that has carried around bad baggage about a roundpen or the bad experiences it now REPRESENTS to her(as the location of that experience) for YEARS.

That doesnt mean he has to 'let go" of that concept, just set it aside for the time being. There is a difference between what we "like" to do, or be able to have the horse do, and what the horse actually NEEDS. For now, the trust issue is paramount- with or without
the roundpen, as is getting the groundwork done - and its NOT dependent on a roundpen.  

Use lunging on a lungeline for the time being; go on to the undersaddle work, then the trails, CAN all be accomplished without the pen. Maybe in a year or so(maybe less, maybe more), when the mare realizes she can trust your husband thru his CONSISTENT loving and patient, kind behavior in all the other various environments that she feels far more confident in - when she REALLY gets to know and trust him, she will
be able to overcome her apparently bad fear of that environment. It does take longer to fully win trust with a horse thats already learned some humans are trustable, and some not - because its usually a past situation of betrayal of their initial trust. If he really establishes a great relationship with her, he'll be able to sense when she is "ready"(and this may be long after he's been riding her regularly)....its bad to "push" her,because its apparently a place she was pushed and overwhelmed by that. What he first has to do is "set the situation up
to succeed" on building up the positive factors of many more happy and relaxed interactions with him to offset the bad memories that the roundpen now represents to her, so that she may once again be relaxed in that environment...a point where her trust is him FAR overshadows her fears about the pen. 

Pasos (and I raise and train them, for almost 3 decades) are a very intelligent and highly sensitive breed that work best out of training methods that support their willingness...some lines in particular simply DONT succumb to any force or fear training methods, because they are more feral in this respect. But, once you do gain their trust, they have tremendous heart, and when they CHOOSE to give it to you, that you've proven yourself that you deserve it, then they will do anything for you, work 101%, even til they drop!(something we have to be careful of, and watch out for their well-being thru good conditioning too-they dont care if they're too tired, if you ask, it'll get done-you have to tell them when to stop!)You can accomplish this without a roundpen...hey, I worked hundreds of horses successfully to high levels of training for 15 years before ever having a roundpen myself! 

AND had some of the most memorable close relationships with horses to boot....and that's the ultimate reward for each of us....

So, just remind your husband to "keep his eyes on the prize".....because real "joining up" etc isnt dependent on a roundpen to be accomplished, or coming to you loose in one. If a horse comes to you out of a large field to be caught, that's really of greater significance, because it actually has more CHOICES of what it can do. Dont overlook other signs because they dont happen in a particular, more formal environment...thats focusing on the wrong thing....hope this steers you both in the right direction of THOUGHT, because working horses is largely a matter of thought, awareness,and creativity in problem-solving to communicate effectively with individual beings; not so much one wrought and hardened step-by-step process, one formula where "one size fits all." It doesnt have to fit into one mold; its simply promoted because its simplest for many to succeed that way, but its far from the ONLY way. 


From Panelist Liz

Hi Tracey!!

To me this kind of behavior in the round pen sounds like she has had a very bad experience in the round pen and that this kind of pushing when free lounging was possibly done incorrectly earlier in her life. 

I have had many horses come in over the years with this same problem. In these cases we skip this kind of work. It may never get better and is not a good way to develop a trusting relation ship with a new horse by taking them back to a remembered bad experience. There really is no reason to be doing this and one can certainly over due the longeing
thing anyway. 

I would recommend if he insists on using the round pen just lead her around in hand and fuss over her a lot while in it, do no longeing in it. Sometimes we must find compromise when it comes to working horses. especially when a past history that we may not know
all the facts of are.

Good luck



Back to main page
Ask a Trainer