Being Rebuffed in the Round Pen
I have attempted several times to work with my four-year-old mare in the round pen, but she just turns her butt to me and ignores me. If I walk up to her, she turns her butt to me and won't let me approach her head. I've had her for about three months now. What steps do I need to take to keep this from happening in the future?
Louise, it sounds like your mare is doing a great job of training you in the round pen! If you are going to use a round pen, you need to bring a bit of learning theory in with you. The round pen works by allowing you to apply positive and negative reinforcement in a confined area (so you’re able to teach your horse: do X, and get Y).
The first behavior folks often teach is move forward/move away. This is done using a horse’s communication system. When you directly face a horse, you are communicating move away, because in her world, the direct body position is quite aversiveit is like screaming “get away!” in our communication system. It is very important to reward the behavior of moving away by turning off the stimulation of your forward body position when the behavior occurs. It is likely that your horse has become frustrated and confused, and is simply protecting herself as she does not understand what you are telling her to do.
At this point in time, lesson one for your horse in the round pen might simply be: turn to directly face her, she moves one step, you reward by turning sidewaysthen repeat. You should be able to quickly increase the amount of movement she does. Just remember that it is vital for you to reward her for the correct behaviorsand that in the round pen, often reward is in the form of “turning off” an unpleasant stimulus. Good luck!