Why I Don't "Roundpen" or Do "Join Up"
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
I want to start this post off by saying I think a roundpen can be a valuable tool. I think it’s extremely helpful for youngsters - allowing them to get their crazies out in a controlled environment, and allowing a rider to safely just be a “passenger” for the first few rides. They can also be a good arena-substitute for those who can’t afford or access an arena year-round. However, I do not believe in “roundpenning” as a training technique. Sure, it’s fine that your horse moves around a fixed circle. However, that doesn’t teach your horse anything except that when you apply pressure, he moves away, and there are a million other ways of teaching that beyond chasing a horse around a circle.
One of the many reasons I hear cited of why roundpenning/join-up is great is because it moves a horse past his “quarter mile of movement” away from something he finds scary in order to make him feel safe. There’s only one issue with that - the horse cannot get any further from you. At all. What REALLY happens is he’s unable to escape the pressure by running, so he starts seeking other options. That isn’t “willing partnership” to me.
The other common reason for using it I hear is that it uses “natural herd dynamics” of a lead mare chasing a submissive horse away from the herd until it believes in her leadership. While the whole hierarchy thing has been debunked, even if it hadn’t, a roundpen is LITERALLY NOTHING LIKE THAT. No horse chases another horse around a 30-40ft. circle, asking for seemingly random changes of direction and stops, and then at the end just turning and walking off only to scratch the other horse when/if they follow.
Somehow, the horses I work with are healthy, happy, and willing without spending much time at all in a roundpen, except occasionally when it’s the only dry dirt on the property. I think it’s so important to constantly evaluate WHY we’re doing things, and this is one of those things where the “why” continues to be lost on me. Do you roundpen your horses?