How to Lunge a Horse in a Round Pen
A round pen is a circular pen used for horse training and lunging. These pens are usually constructed from panels or normal fencing and can have a radius of anywhere between 50ft – 80ft. (15.24m – 23.38 m) When lunging your horse in a round pen, you don’t need to use a lunge line, as the circular bend of the pen will encourage the horse to continue around you in a circle.
So, how do you lunge a horse in a round pen? Here are the most important things you’ll need to know when lunging your horse in a round pen:
- Getting Your Horse on the Rail in the Round Pen
- Moving Your Horse Forward When Lunging
- Asking Your Horse to Stop While Lunging
- Making Your Horse Change Direction When Lunging
- Getting Your Horse to Come to You When Lunging
Lunging your horse in a round pen can also be known as “free lunging.” This term was coined because the horse is free of any rope or lunge line and is simply reading the handler’s body language in order to know what to do next. If you want to be able to lunge your horse in a round pen, you’ll have to know exactly how to communicate with the horse to see the proper response. Keep reading to get a step-by-step guide on how to communicate with your horse while lunging them in a round pen.
How to Get Your Horse on the Rail in the Round Pen
Lunging your horse in a round pen is a great way to teach them respect for your personal space. If your horse cuts into the middle when being lunged or they tend to drift towards you as they go, then they don’t really understand or respect the personal bubble you have created for yourself.
Because of this, before you even lunge your horse in a round pen, you’ll want to reiterate respect for your space with your horse. By doing this, it will be easier to round pen your horse and get them on the rail and moving forward.
Teach Your Horse to Move Out of Your Personal Space
If you’re standing in the middle of the round pen and you can’t figure out how to get your horse away from you and moving around you, you’ll need to revisit moving your horse out of your personal space.
The best groundwork exercise you can do with your horse in this instance is getting them to move their shoulders away from you. A horse will walk in the direction that their shoulders are facing, so if your horse’s shoulders are facing you, then they’ll walk in your direction. If their shoulders are facing away from you, then they’ll walk away. This concept is helpful in getting your horse to walk away and to the rail of the round pen.
Put your horse back on the lead for a moment and practice getting them to step their shoulders away from you. You can do this by stepping towards them and putting your hand up towards their eye to create “a wall” that they have to move away from. You can also use the end of your lead rope or lunge whip to swing in the direction of the shoulder you want them to step away with. To get a full description of this exercise, check out our article, 5 Best Groundwork Exercises for Your Horse.
Once your horse seems to understand the concept of moving their shoulders over when you ask, take them back off the lead and ask them to do this in the round pen to get them to walk away and go to the rail.
Use Your Body Language to Communicate With Your Horse to Stay On the Rail
If your horse likes to drift in when being lunged, use your body position to keep them on the rail. You can do this by putting less space between you and your horse. If the horse knows to stay out of your space, then this will cause them to move back on the rail.
You can also take your lunge whip and point it in the horse’s direction. This concept has the same effect. The lunge whip is closing the space between you and the horse and will encourage the horse to move over and stay on the rail.
Once you’ve round penned your horse consistently, they’ll start to learn that the middle of the pen is your space and the rail is their space. This will help your horse to become more respectful of the boundaries you set.
How to Ask Your Horse to Move Forward When Lunging
If you’re lunging your horse, whether on a lunge line or in a round pen, you don’t want to rely on just your lunge whip to get your horse to move forward. Knowing how to properly position your body and use body language to ask your horse to go faster and slower will make lunging much easier.
Know Where to Position Yourself When Lunging Your Horse
Knowing where to position yourself according to your horse makes all the difference when lunging in the round pen. From where you’re standing in the middle of the round pen to where your horse is on the rail, you should be positioned between your horse’s hips and shoulders.
This position is known as the “driving position.” From here, you can encourage your horse to move forward. If you watch horses in the pasture, you’ll notice that if one horse wants to get another horse to move forward, it may walk at the horse’s side and nip behind their shoulder. This is the same concept you’re using when lunging.
If you’re using a lunge whip, the lunge whip should be pointed towards just behind the horse’s tail in order to help drive the horse forward. If you were to draw invisible lines from the horse’s tail and head to where you are in the middle of the round pen, you should be at the tip of an invisible triangle.
For your horse to clearly see you, they’ll have to hold a bend throughout their body where their nose is tilted in.
Use Your Body Language to Control Your Horse’s Speed
From your driving position in the middle of the round pen, you can control your horse’s speed by controlling your pace or body movements.
As you lunge your horse, you naturally move and walk parallel to the working horse in order to push them forward. If you want to increase your horse’s movements, increase the your movements in the middle, all the while staying in the driving position. To walk faster (or with more umph) humans pick their feet up higher and swing their arms further. Your horse can read this body language and interpret that you are wanting more movement.
If you’re lunging your horse and you want them to go slower, simply slow your pace and movements in the middle. Make the circle that you’re pacing smaller so that you’re not driving your horse forward so much.
How to Tell Your Horse to Stop When Lunging in a Round Pen
Asking your horse to stop when you are lunging them in the round pen is a vital action in your horse respecting you and your space. Getting your horse to stop in the round pen to correlate to getting a horse that doesn’t like to be caught in the pasture to stop and stand as you approach.
Know Where to Position Yourself to Ask Your Horse to Stop When Lunging
The “driving position” when lunging your horse in the round pen is between the horse’s shoulder and hip. If you want to stop driving your horse forward and ask them to stop, all you have to do is simply step out of the driving position and reposition yourself either in front of the horse’s shoulder or behind your horse’s hip. This should all be done from your spot in the middle of the round pen.
The easiest of these movements is to re-position yourself in front of your horse’s shoulder. If your horse is going around you, all this is going to look like is you stepping ahead of your horse and out of the driving position. From here, in the horse’s gaze, you are now in front of them, which tells them to stop.
How to Teach Your Horse to Stop and Stand When Being Lunged
Many people teach their horses to lunge in many different ways. I’ve worked with horses that were taught to stop by the handler stepping in front of their shoulder while others were taught to stop and face the handler if the handler re-positioned themselves behind the horse’s hip. I like to teach my horses both ways, as it just reassures my horses are paying attention to how I’m communicating with them.
Whichever way I decide to ask my horse to stop, I teach them the same way regardless. I do this by getting my horse going around the rail of the round pen. I’ll ask them to stop by adjusting my body position. If the horse doesn’t respond properly, I’ll tell them to go back on the rail at a hard working trot or canter.
I repeat this exercise until the horse responds correctly. Once the horse stops, I let them stand there and rest. The idea is that it’s going to be more work for the horse to not listen than it will be for them to respond correctly and stop.
How to Make Your Horse Change Direction in a Round Pen
Getting your horse to change direction in the round pen is a great way to teach your horse to respect your space and move their shoulders and hind-end over.
There’s an age-old argument in the horse world about whether or not your horse should change direction by turning towards the rail of the round pen or turning in towards the middle. I teach my horses both ways, as it keeps my horses on their toes for what I’m going to ask for next.
Start By Asking Your Horse to Stop and Move According to Your Body Language
If you’ve never asked a horse to change direction when lunging in the round pen, the easiest way to do it is to first ask your horse to halt, then direct them to change direction by using body language.
If your horse respects your space, getting them to change direction will be as easy as walking towards your horse on the side that you want the horse to step away from and the horse stepping away in the opposite direction. You can use your lunge whip to encourage them to move out of your space and go the other way. Point with your hand in the direction you’d like to go so your horse can start learning your cues.
If your horse has a hard time changing directions, put them back on the lead and go back to working on getting your horse to move their shoulders to the left and right. Remember, in order to change the direction that the horse is going, you’ll first have to move their shoulders to face in that direction.
Teach Your Horse Both Ways of Changing Direction
Teach your horse to change direction by turning into the fence and also by turning into the middle. When you alternate between the two, it keeps your horse on their toes and makes them pay attention. It also means that your horse is attentive to your body language and what you’re asking.
To get your horse to change direction by turning into the fence, you’ll step in front of their shoulder and take a step towards them. Your horse will view this as a wall directly in front of them and will turn to the fence as they move away from the boundary you have created.
To get your horse to change direction by turning into the middle of the round pen, step in front of your horse’s shoulder, then take a step back. When you step back, you’ll beckon the horse to turn in. From there, you can encourage them to go the other way.
How to Ask Your Horse to Come to You in a Round Pen
Another thing you can teach your horse when lunging in a round pen is how to come to you. This can correlate to when it comes time to catch your horse in the field.
How to Ask Your Horse to Come to You With Your Body Language
The easiest way to start teaching your horse to come to you in the round pen is by first asking them to stop and then taking a step back, just as if you were asking them to turn into the middle to change direction. Instead of encouraging the horse to change direction, let them walk towards you.
The two cues for getting your horse to come to you and getting your horse to change direction are quite similar; it may seem as if the horse would get them confused. Exercises like this are great for getting your horse to focus and pay attention, as they’ll have to recognize the subtle differences in the cues.
When you step back, you beckon your horse to come into the middle using your body language. In the beginning, you’ll have to play around with this and teach your horse what you’re trying to ask.
How to Teach Your Horse to Come to You in the Round Pen
Have your horse halted in the round pen before you start asking them to come to you. To ask them to come to you, take a step back or turn your shoulder away so you’re facing away from the horse. This will sometimes be enough to beckon a horse in. Also, stepping away and in the direction of the horse’s back end can encourage the horse to turn towards you and come in.
In the beginning, reward even the smallest tries. Even if your horse just takes a small step in your direction, give them a lot of praise. It will be easier for the horse to understand to come to you if every time they are next to you in the round pen, you let them relax and get petted. They’ll enjoy being with you and they’ll want to come to you.
To get a full description of getting your horse to come to you in a round pen, read our article Getting Your Horse to Come to You: Complete Guide.
I hope this article was helpful for those who want to learn to lunge a horse in a round pen! The world of horse training is infinite and there is always something to learn. If you want to know more about horse training, check out our article Disrespectful Horse Behavior: Training Guide.
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