using precision and positive reinforcement to teach horses and people


Zan's Story: The Round Pen part 1
(August 2004)



This summer Katie and I have been playing in the ring. She made a little fenced in area where I could be loose and we could play games. She doesn't want me to trot or canter around in it, so she has it full of lots of interesting stuff and she keeps me busy. She says this game is called "the line of trash' and she learned about it at a clicker clinic. The idea is to teach your horse to walk over or be touched by all sorts of odds and ends. This helps make horses braver and more confident. Sounds good to me!  Katie started with some easy things I already had seen and then worked up to more unusual things. Here are some pictures from our first session. I was still learning to be brave in this session but I thought it was a lot of fun.


Here I am touching my ball..that was easy.. and accepting the broom on my back, oooh, it feels weird..



Then I had to check out the tarp and Katie had me looking in the muck bucket, is there any food? don't you like my windswept hair look?




She even tried to brush me with a pool noodle.  I'm not so sure about that, maybe I'll be braver next time..I think I'll leave now. But then I got a special treat at the end. Here I am enjoying some nice green grass.



I guess Katie didn't like her temporary round pen because one day I was in my stall eating lunch when a big truck pulled up to the end of the driveway. It is usually pretty quiet at our farm, so a truck is an exciting event.  Some men got out and started moving these big metal things off the truck and on to Jim's trailer. They were very noisy! Then the truck left and Jim and his brother Geoff drove the trailer right up to the ring.  I have a pretty good view of the ring from my stall so I watched to see what they were doing.


They unloaded a big pile of gates on to the ground and then carried them up to the ring and started lining them up. I couldn't figure out what they were doing, but it involved a lot of banging and shouting. Finally they finished what they were doing and went back down to the house. I wondered where Katie was. I wished she would come and tell me what was going on. I like going up to the ring and if they are changing things around, I want to know!


When I got turned out that night I peeked over the fence but all I could see was a big circle. It looked like a ring within the ring, hmm...  I can't believe Willy didn't care, but he said he has seen a lot of stuff and he was more interested in going to look for some grass.


The next day Katie took Willy out and walked him up to the ring. I watched from my field. She walked him around in it and then let him loose and he trotted around a bit. I could see she had moved all the cones and poles into the ring and Willy was getting to play with them. I wondered when it would be my turn. 


The next day it was my turn! Katie took me up to the round pen and walked me around. She told me it is called a round pen and it is for working horses loose. Then she told me that it is going to be my playground and we would set up all sorts of fun games in there.  For today she just let me look around. I have to say that I got a bit excited and ran around. I am not used to being alone and I like to work in the end of the ring closer to the barn. My new playground is in the middle of the ring where it is a bit scarier. Since I was running around and looking worried, Katie went and set out my board so that I could stand on it. I love to stand on my board. She just put it down and when I stood on it, she clicked me. If I stayed on it, she clicked me again and she patted me and told me everything would be ok and I was not to worry.  When I had settled down a bit, she went and got my big yellow ball and we played push the ball around. I love that game. The pen is flat so the ball doesn't roll very far but I was doing a good job pushing it around and I earned lots of carrots.  I think the round pen is going to be a lot of fun.


Katie took me up to the round pen every few days for the next few weeks. We worked on pushing my yellow ball and on the board. I got really good at standing on the board with my front feet or my back feet. I even learned to back up onto the board. At first, I didn't like it and if I felt the board, I would put my foot down off to the side, but once I learned I got a carrot if I put my foot on the board, then I started to put my back feet on right away.  We also played with touching cones and one day Katie took her target stick out and had me follow her around the pen with it. I am still sort of nervous in the pen, especially on the side away from the gate and I really don't want to stand with my hind end toward the far end of the ring. I need to be able to see down there in case there is anything scary. 


Another day Katie took me up to the round pen and let me loose to run around and explore. I must have been feeling anxious or full of beans because instead of settling down, I just ran and ran. I ran and kicked so hard, that Katie decided it was safer to be outside the pen. I hated it even more when she left. Now I was really alone. Then I realized she wasn't really leaving, she was walking around on the outside of the pen. I went over to her and said "hi" and she clicked and gave me a carrot piece. I zoomed off again but pretty soon I saw her and ran back. After a few more minutes of running around, I settled down and we walked together around the round pen, Katie on the outside, me on the inside. Once I was staying with her most of the way (there were still a few scary places), she came in the pen and walked with me. She was careful to walk so that she wasn't in my way if I wanted to zoom off. She even picked up a cone and carried it and used it as a target. If I walked next to her and touched the cone, I got a click and a treat. I got pretty good at this and would walk with her as long as she was on the outside of the circle. There was no way I was going to walk between her and the side of the round pen. I was staying on the inside where it was safe. She said it was ok, she was glad I had settled down and it wouldn't be so scary another day. After that, Katie decided that I probably wasn't going to just come out and be calm every day so she needed a plan to get me to settle down and work off my board.


For the next week, we practiced head lowering in my stall. I had already learned about it last summer, but just a little bit. Katie had spent some time free shaping it, which means she just stood next to me and clicked me for lowering my head. I remember trying to figure out what she wanted. I tried walking forward and backward and doing touching her and other things, but then I figured out it had something to do with my head and after that it was easy. Katie says I am a genius because I am so good at figuring things out.


All that head lowering practice sure came in handy because soon after that, I was in the round pen with Katie when Caius and Natalie came up to play in the ring. Caius and Natalie are Katie's human kids. I like them, especially Caius. He is 4 and likes to come up to the fence and pat me. He is always saying "Rosander is such a nice boy." No wonder I like him. Katie watches me and tells Caius to be careful I don't nip him, but I wouldn't do that. Natalie is 6 and she pats Buster more than me. Oh well.  Caius and Natalie came up to ride their trikes and dig in the screenings. Caius has a lot of cool dump trucks up here and he makes roads and moves screenings around. I like to watch them play and it really made it hard for me to concentrate on what Katie wanted. I got so excited to see them, that I ran around a lot. Finally Katie put my lead rope back on and we went and played on doing head down. I learned a bit of this in my stall a few weeks ago, and now Katie had me do it while standing on my board. It sounds really easy, but it's not. She puts her hand on my poll and I drop my head. I guess that part is not so hard, but then she wants me to keep it down. I like to look around so I find it hard to keep my nose on the floor. Luckily she knows I am still learning so she never asks for me to keep it down for too long. This was the first time we practiced doing it in the ring.


Since I was distracted, she put me on my board where I could see the kids (so I wasn't peeking or turning my head to see them). She asked me to put my head down using her hand on my poll as a cue. I ignored her for a minute but then I dropped it a bit, click and treat, yum.  We worked on it for a while and then I decided that maybe I could leave it down for a little while. I also noticed that she was sliding her hand down the lead as she went to put her hand on my poll. If I put my head down as she slid down the lead, then I got extra carrots. This was even better! Katie says it is good to have lots of cues for every behavior as it makes the behavior stronger. After a while I was getting so good at this, that Katie let me walk a bit and then stopped me and asked for head down. She was starting to teach me to walk with my head down. I actually kind of like this as I could see more when I was moving as we were walking in a circle.


Another day I learned about horseflies. In August, our farm has these giant horseflies. Katie's farrier jokes that they are big enough to carry off a small sheep. They are huge and they like to bite us right on the top of our backs because they must know it's hard to reach them there.  They really hurt and they make me sort of crazy. I run and run when they land on me. Luckily they are only out during the day and we are in our stalls during the day in August. But when Katie takes me for a walk or up to the ring, they come after me.  She usually carries a dressage whip and flicks them off, but today she decided to see if I could learn to stand still so she could kill them. She explained to me that all the horses have to learn that if a horsefly lands on them while she is with them, they need to stand still and she will get the fly off. This is important because we are not allowed to buck and run when we are being led or ridden and that's the only way I know to get rid of the flies. The thing is, to kill them Katie has to whack you really hard. I'm sort of a sensitive guy and the idea of being whacked is not something I like. The first time Katie did it today, I jumped sideways. But then I realized I was ok and the horsefly was gone. The second time she did it, I hardly minded at all. It's so nice to have my own personal fly swatter.


Well, those were some of my early adventures in the round pen. I will write more later when we start doing some new things.


The next story is The clippers




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