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Q&A: Horse Won't Stop While Roundpenning

groundwork horse training tips horsemanship problem solving q&a Aug 15, 2023

Q: I have a horse that doesn't like to stop in the round pen. (Round penning exercise) Step in front and he doesn't even notice. Walk backwards and he shoots the gap or turns around and runs the other way without being asked. Do I turn around and release all pressure when he begins to turn in?

A: This is a great question, and one that is more common than you might think. The truth is that round penning can be very difficult to learn feel and timing as the trainer/horse owner.  Because you are not physically connected to your horse with a halter and lead rope, and there is substantial distance between you and your horse, teaching your horse to do the right thing can be challenging. 

It’s best if you go to our Reata Horsemanship round penning videos in our membership to see exactly how it is done first.  Most of your questions about round penning will be addressed in these videos.  

When considering round penning, the first step is to understand what you are trying to get your horse to do.  For me, first I want to create direction of movement with my horse.  This can be a walk, trot, and/or canter.  Then, I want my horse to stop and look into me, facing me fully with two eyes.  Then, I will either ask my horse to follow me around the round pen or to change directions and walk, trot, or lope the other way.  

In your case, your horse either doesn’t notice your cue to stop, or ignores you and shoots the gap between you and the fence, or turns away from you, what I call “turning tail” and then changes directions, a big no-no at Reata Horsemanship.  

Let’s start with your cues to your horse.  When asking your horse to move at a walk, trot, or canter, your cues should be to point first in the direction you want your horse to go or to speed up.  If your horse is going the right direction and doesn’t speed up with your pointing cue, then your next cue is to cluck or kiss (kiss to canter/lope).  If that doesn’t do it, swing your stick, followed by spanking the ground with the string, and lastly spanking the butt.  Remember that the pressure you put should only be the minimal amount necessary, so if a point and cluck work to speed your horse up, there’s no reason to swing the stick or spank the ground, etc.  Also remember that once you begin a cue, like the point for example, continue to point, even when adding other cues, until your horse does what you’re asking.  Eventually a point should be all that is required to get your horse to go and to speed up.

Now that you have your horse moving the direction and speed you want, your question is how to get him to stop and turn towards and look at you.  You do this by taking a big step to your side, parallel to and in the direction of your horse’s movement, getting in front of his driveline.  Then, immediately take quick steps backwards while motioning with your point hand for your horse to come follow you forward.  

It’s important here that you understand the concept of rewarding the slightest try when first teaching your horse an exercise.  If your horse stops when you step to the side, reward him with a little rest, even if he doesn’t face you or follow you when you walk backwards.  Then, your horse might turn an ear towards you or look at you.  Even if he doesn’t move his feet towards you, his looking at and paying attention to you is another great start that should be rewarded by releasing your pressure and letting him rest.  

Once he has rested a few seconds, or even minutes if you feel that’s necessary, ask him again to start moving by pointing in the same direction as before.  Eventually, you’ll want to start demanding more that just a look, asking for a step towards you.  You do this by asking your horse to move along the outside of the round pen again, maybe even starting to ask for more speed and making life more difficult for your horse.  Then, after your horse seems a bit winded and is craving some oxygen and rest, step laterally to stop him and walk quickly backwards to try to draw him towards you.  If he just looks at you, ask for movement around the round pen again, and continue to do this until your horse actually takes a step towards you.  Reward that action, and continue to do this, eventually rewarding two, three, multiple steps towards you.  When your horse steps towards you and is facing you head on with two eyes, make that feel really good by letting him rest there.  Once your horse consistently turns towards and faces you head on, now step to the side once more, placing yourself on the opposite side of the new direction.  For example, if he was going left, you stepped left to stop him.  Once he’s facing you, step left again and change the stick and string into your left hand at the same time, then point to the right, cluck, and swing your stick and string with your left hand and drive your horse to your right into a right circle.  


Trouble shooting: 

  • If your horse continues in the same direction and shoots the gap between you and the fence when you step to the side or backpedal quickly, step laterally again at a different angle and location and then step backwards quickly.  
  • If your horse keeps coming along the edge of the round pen but hasn’t shot the gap or turned away, step backwards all the way to the edge of the round pen until your horse has to make a decision to turn.  If he turns away, showing his butt instead of facing with two eyes, cut your horse off from that new direction with high pressure, sending him again in the original direction.
  • Eventually, your horse will look towards you and start to turn, at which point you can either walk away to draw him towards you and work on magnetizing to you and following you around, or point in the new direction to cue your horse to change directions.  Once your horse changes directions, walk quickly forward to the center of the round pen without putting too much pressure on your horse, which could make him believe that he’s done the wrong thing.  Get to the center and lightly cue your horse to continue in the new direction.

Many times horses get confused about stopping because handlers put too much pressure on them, causing them to pop forward and shoot the gap or turn completely around.  Round penning takes a lot of practice, so make sure to watch the round penning videos of Reata Horsemanship on our Lady Horse Boss membership site and then practice, practice, practice!  Every horse is different and will challenge you in different ways, so the more horses you can practice on, the better you’re going to get!