There are many trainers who have demonstrated
round pen bonding on videos, in print, and at clinics.
Investigate their methods of "round pen bonding" and
take what makes sense to you and do only that. Remember,
in "Getting started ", whatever you do must make sense
I've already made the assumption that your horse has been
halter trained by the breeders.
I'm going to focus on bonding only as it applies to you
and how you work around your horse.
Never give your horse a reason to be afraid of you!!
Always make sure that you keep your horse's attention.
He can not respect you or learn anything if you do not
have his attention.
Safety on the ground should always be your first intent. Too
many folks are hurt on the ground working with their horses. In
fact, most accidents and injuries happen on the ground. (And I
don't mean the ones where you "HIT" the ground coming off your
If you go around your horse, make sure he knows you're
doing it.. put your hand on his hip as you travel around and stay
close (where he'll just push you away if he kicks). If you can't
stay close, then stay far way!! Stay out of the kick zone!! I'd
rather be close, however, if I'm in a small stall where he could
push me into a wall if he kicked, then I'll go around the front!
When you are picking his feet, make sure your arm is BEHIND
the leg, not IN FRONT of the leg. If you have your arm in front of
the leg, you cannot control the power of the leg. Hold onto his foot,
not his ankle.You will be able to control your horse's foot this way
by just bending the ankle slightly (more flexed). Again, making the
wrong thing hard and the right thing easy. The reward for quietly
allowing us to pick his feet is a relaxed ankle. And, of course, you are
always facing toward your horse's rear with your feet beside him,
not under him.
Everytime you groom your horse, you are bonding with
him. Horses love to be groomed, at least they should love it!
So make this enjoyable for both of you. Try to keep one hand
on your horse at all times. This gives him a feeling of security
and it gives you a heads up when he is getting ready to do
something! If your horse moves around in the stall or anywhere
you groom him (not enjoyable for you), teach him to stand until
you ask him to move. This requires basic understanding of the
training tips "#1 Getting started". Generally, with each new
lesson, you must assume that your horse knows nothing.. or doesn't
know what you want him to do. To get your horse to stand still
while you groom him, start with a halter on him, tie him to something
sturdy (learn how to do a quick release knot) or ground tie him (if he
knows how), and each time he moves, take the halter and put him
back where you want him to stand. Use a verbal command like "stand".
I like "stand" because it will come in handy when you are ready to teach
him to stand still to be mounted.
After a few lessons with the halter, try without a halter.
Use your voice, hand, or body the same as you did when
you had the halter on. If he hasn't learned the lesson, put the
halter back on and continue reinforcing the "stand" command.
Putting the halter back on is another kind of example of , "make
the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard". Once your
horse stands while grooming, you can start teaching him to
"stand" while picking his feet, and "stand" while being saddled.
With each new lesson, start with the halter on your horse.
"Walk on" is the next thing you want to reinforce in your training.
You should already be using this command while leading him from the
pasture to his pen or stall. Just wiggle the lead rope if he doesn't
understand what you want him to do until he takes a step, then,
stop asking (stop wiggling). Praise your horse verbally with each
correct response. Do the same thing on the lunge line. Wiggle that
lunge line to keep his attention until he moves forward. But on the
lunge you want to start using : "Ask, Tell, Make!" Since you
taught the horse what "walk on" means on the lead rope, now
he must "walk on" off the lunge line. I'll cover "Ask, Tell, Make"
and do some lunging tips a little later.
If your horse is doing well, you can pat him if it's convenient,
but not if takes his attention from what you are asking. Horses
really do like being rubbed between the eyes. Enough of this
and they are not apt to be head shy!! Generally, I prefer patting/
rubbing to be an "end of lesson" reward. Always go back to
something that the horse does well and end the lesson there, on
a good note.
"Good Girl/Boy" is a powerful reward but can have it's drawbacks.
Your horse may begin to associate "Good Boy/Girl" as the reward
for "stand" while you intended it to be the reward for "walking on"!
If you use "Good Boy/Girl" too much, you'll find your horse confused,
thinking it was a command, instead of a reward for a good job.
Frequently a rider will be trotting along and the horse will relax.
To reward the horse, the rider says, "Good Boy!". In the past,
while walking quietly, the rider said, "Good Boy". Now the horse
makes the association that "Good Boy" means walk quietly, so he
will go from the trot to the walk!! Your tone of voice is a better
reward than the actual words you use. They like giggles and laughter,
or try other phrases, like "Better!", "Good Effort", or "That's the Idea!"
Here I also have to admit that I have a noise that I make when I
want my horse to STOP doing some undesireable behavior!!
I'm embarressed to admit that I got it from my mother!! But it
works on a horse who knows that when I make that noise, he
is definitely giving me the wrong answer and he better be paying
attention and start trying a new answer!! The noise you make
should really be reserved for situations like: "You know better!"
or "Listen up!". Some of my horses seem to know that when I
say, "Don't even think about it!", that I really want them to
concentrate!! At any rate, try to make your reward "stop
asking" (or stop annoying him). Your horse will begin to
realize that when he gives you the correct answer to your
commands, aids or cues, you will no longer annoy him.
Then you'll be able to use "Good Boy!" to mean
" effort put forth"!!!
Spend time on the ground with your horse. Make it quality
time, not quantity time. Keep his attention and teach him what
you want him to learn by practicing the basic principles of these
first 2 lessons.
Next lesson: How to get your horse to move: move over,
move forward, and move back. We'll call it MOVE!