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We Are Flying Solo

July 1, 2012

When Baby Says No: Encore Vs. Round Pen Pt II

The helmet cam is so much more than XC courses!  I put it on a week or so ago to tape Encore in the round pen, where I was briefly going to work him before riding him.  However, someone had had the audacity (according to Encore) to place a bright blue bottomless pit harboring zombie cows right next to the round pen.  End result:  no riding, but a repeat of our last round pen escapades with a twist of anxiety which melted in the heat into stubbornness.

I first led him around the pen and let him stare at the Blue Pit for a few moments, giving him a fair look at it and leading him back and forth by it a few times.  Then I turned him loose and said, "Ok, buddy, you're own your own to work this out.  Go."  He then goes to what is becoming his textbook response of (a) rush through thing I don't want to do and pinning my ears, (b) pulling out all evasion tricks to avoid said thing, (c) finally, unable to think of any other ways out, giving in.  For today.

Ridiculous commentary in my horrible video voice provided free of charge, as I walk you through my approach, although you will have to turn your volume all the way up.  I'm still working on finding the perfect mic settings for the camera.

When he is still in the "no" phase, but he is getting hot and tired, watch him hunt for the stop near the gate opposite the Blue Pit.  It it critical that I do NOT let him stop here in a place HE has decided is safe.  He may only stop or relax when he enters the space which I insist is safe, despite any zombie, real or imagined.  You can see, it's like a switch flipping, when he decides it is too much work saying no, so he might as well just play along.

This second video is the last two minutes of our work in the other direction before my battery died.  He was much more difficult to the right and threw out every evasion he could come up with multiple times, which are caught here, including turning his butt to me, shoving his head over the fence, looking away, trying to switch directions, backing up and so forth.  LITERALLY ten seconds after the battery died, he dropped to a walk, dropped his head licked his lips, sighed, and said, fine, you win.  Of course.  You can see that moment begin right as the video stops.

*SAFETY FIRST.  At all times, I am conscious of his body language, just how belligerent he is feeling, where his body and feet can go, and where my feet and body are.  I stay focused and on my toes and am ready in a moment to drop or back off should feet start to fly.  I would like to say he is too kind to go for that option, but a horse is a horse, so if you engage in asserting your leadership, BE CAREFUL and be sure of your plan before you walk in the pen.  And plans B, C, and D.

You are now free to discuss at will... 


  1. Nicely done. He was pretty determined about his chosen route! ;)

    Swinging the lunge rope to move him out or did you have the whip? Also - did you anticipate his cutting in and try to drive him back out first or respond afterwords?

    I am beginning to work on lunging again with Val. (SO wish I had a round pen)

    My issue has been him getting his face to the outside, and using the leverage, proceeding to act like a complete maniac with no manners whatsoever - including showing his rear and bucking in my general direction. The horsey middle finger so to speak.

    I aim to keep his eye on me, looking in. If not, he has to yield his hindquarters to me until he puts his head down, licks and chews, and acts like he has a brain again.

    So far he's improving each session. You are so right about the body language etc. Things could go south in a hurry so you really have to pay attention.

    Sorry for the novel.

  2. Hey, no problem, I love discussion! We read and write blogs because we love to talk about horses!

    He is VERY determined, much more than I would have guessed. I only used the line and have foregone the longe whip as he harbors a deep resentment towards the whip, the origins of which I have no idea.

    I did not move ahead of him at all; each time he went around, I gave him a chance to make the correct choice, then when he didn't, I applied the pressure.

    Like Val, he gives me the finger for a while, but you just have to be very clear and patient. My rule is, while you evade me and resist me, you must keep moving at a trot or canter, even if you want to stop. You must go in the direction I chose. You decide how long this lasts. When you decide you are done with your antics and give in, there will be immediate pressure release and pets and resting.

    It's been very interesting, these two or three sessions -- Solo was fairly easy in the pen, very focused on me. Encore is much more about business and not yet ready to really give his whole self to me. It is a little surprising but intriguing as well and I think his sessions will get shorter very quickly!

  3. I wish we had a round pen for Miss Malibu. Instead we have is out best friend. If sure is neat to watch the lightbulb go off in the younger horses brains when they finally get something. Very rewarding to watch.

  4. Fun to watch. Thanks for sharing the videos.

    Just thought I would share my rope of choice. When not using a lunge whip, I like to use a heavy, round rope of soft texture (not the awful, rough nylon ones) with a leather popper on the end. The Western style. This is like having a crop attached to a heavy lunge whip. With some practice you can aim the popper on the shoulder, rump, or ribcage to give your horse exact information about which of his body parts is offending your space. The line can also be swung in a big circle as a warning, so that contact does not have to be made (horse's choice once he understands the rules).

    I read Calm, Forward, Straight's comment. My advice for the situation you described, CFS, would be to work your horse on the line first anyway. If your horse is trying to leave the circle, he may feel too much pressure. Be sure that you are not stepping ahead of his shoulder line (imaginary line perpendicular to the point of your horse's shoulder). This will stop a sensitive horse or encourage him to turn around. Try turning your shoulders more in the direction that you want him to go. Your feet should also point in that direction and your leading foot should cross in front of your back foot as you turn a small circle at the center. This is exactly how the horse's inside hind steps when in balance on a circle. Try looking at his inside hind and not in his eye. You could also start with longeing at the walk on straight lines using the fence to turn him in the corners of the arena, kind of like an intermediate step between leading and longeing.

    Okay, now who wrote the novel? ;)