Thursday, July 22, 2010

Red, Forgive Me for Stepping All Over Your Toes in the Round Pen

OK, I am SO not a round pen expert, I probably have about 20 hours of working in round pens cuz we don't have one at Freshwater (that's why all my pictures are of my horses being lunged). This makes just about everyone reading this as experienced or more experienced than me. So please grant me your forbearance when you read on and find that I am questioning much of what I have learned.

Round pens - here's a summary of my prior learning. Great places to establish leadership and have a horse "choose you" which they do when they "join up". By using your body you can direct the horse's movement, make your body language and energy big or slow and they will mirror you. Step back and you can "draw them in". Direct the horse with the curve of your arm, twirl a rope at the hind end and off they go. When their attention is on you, decrease pressure. Step back or let them slow down. When they drop their head and lick and chew, decrease pressure. Change your energy when you want them to change theirs. Red is trotting, I want a slow trot. I breathe deep and easy, relax my core, move slowly and like magic he slows into a lovely, floaty trot. Oversimplified maybe, but am I at least describing something that sounds familiar?

OK. Now being on summer vacation is a cool thing. This means that I can sit in front of my computer, obsess, and still get things done. I've been watching the free Chris Irwin training videos at and State Line Tack (sick of hearing about them yet?). I've been working my way through his series of about working in the round pen. And I am horrified. Completely, utterly chagrined. Going to go buy all my horses bags of carrots and apologize for my clumsiness in and utter gauche behavior in the round pen (and I've not even started to think about the lunge line yet). Then I'm going to ask them about those nasty comments they were throwing me way that they thought I was too deaf to hear. HA!

Oh Oh. What am I talking about? For me watching a Chris Irwin video is like have a skilled equine language interpreter reteach me everything I thought I knew about equine language in all its subtle, subtle complexity. Example. Me and Autumn standing side by side, my right to her left. She turns her head and looks at something to her right. I wonder, "hmmm, what has her attention over there?" I probably tug on her head to bring it back around. (Sorry Autumn). Consider (as I did last night) that horses have the most amazing peripheral vision granted by Mother Nature. They don't need to turn their head to pay attention. What happened was she turned her head, extending her barrel into my space. She ever so subtly tested me. And I failed gloriously. What I did do was go after her head, with my typical predator face-to-face style of interaction.

What I now do (as of 3 days ago) is turn slightly to my left, reaching behind myself to tap her barrel, driving it back out of my space. Her head will straighten. I won't turn in to the right because to get to her barrel I would have to bring the energy of my core into her head and neck zone, an aggressive action. And I am striving, striving to break my predator style interaction with the face of my horses, and focus on a prey style of interacting with the body.

So back to the round pen. I have missed so much of the continual flow of subtle equine language. I'm writing this soon after my "ah HA" moment. I haven't been dancing with my horses, I've been stomping on their toes and screaming in their ears. I've been annoying them by twirling ropes in their faces, and losing gloriously in the constant game of "who herds who" when I thought I was getting their attention and acceptance of my leadership. Yeeesh.

One thing I love about life with horses is there is always more to learn. Right now I'm really enjoying the Chris Irwin video series as my learning tool. I'm not quite ready to attempt to articulate what I will be doing different when I work with Quincy over at Heart of the Redwoods in the round pen. But if I picqued your curiosity, you might be interested in watching this video "Round Penning Redefined" (the link only takes you to the videos, from the menu on the left select "RP Body Language", then select video #16 "Fundamentals of moving the horse" and video #11 "Reading the signs of trust" for a glimpse of what Irwin can offer). I will really appreciate hearing what you think.

And Red, er . . . sorry about those toes.

Postscript: Yeeesh, looking at these pictures I cringe looking at Red's inversion. I've been trying all kinds of mechanical means (no draw reins) like butt lift exercises, belly lifts, and lunging with a modified Richard Shrake rythym collector over the poll (I use a really old, really soft cotton rope). Chris Irwin addresses horse's inversion as part of their body language. I'm working on a post to help my own learning on what I can d0 differently in my interaction with Red that may promote a different top line response.


gtyyup said...

I love these videos...never heard of Chris Irwin before now...but I can totally relate. I do my round pen similar to him...but not nearly as precise and with as much finesse...I can get a lot out of these videos...gotta watch them all. I'm glad you found them...and posted!

Cheryl Ann said...

I clicked on your link and I've been watching some of the videos. Oh, my! I've been SUCH an idiot! I hope I haven't ruined my horses! I'm still trying to internalize what he is saying. I did try to use my belly button with Scout today and she DID work better with me! I need to watch and understand what he is saying!

One Red Horse said...

gtyyup and Cheryl, I'm happy you both are enthused over this guy. I couldn't believe the difference when I applied his riding concepts on Autumn. No more rushing. I think one of the biggest things I'm changing FAST is how I send energy to the head to ask for backing up from the ground. Glad we can share some virtual popcorn and a video or two ;)

jc said...

I'm going to go and check out those videos immediately! Thanks Red Horse