Free Lesson in How to Introduce a Round Pen to your Horse

How to introduce a round pen in an easy gentle way that could help you avoid unnecessary, frantic circling and an upset horse.

What I am about to share with you is how to use a round pen in a graceful manner for any reason or any purpose while training horses.

For people who are following my method; once you have a deep working bond, trust and the basic training on a horse at Liberty with the Waterhole Rituals, along with the Uberstriechen exercises and the single lining, a round pen can be a very useful tool for developing the gates of your horse for riding. I am using one right now for developing the gates of our horses here at the ranch for my bit-less dressage course. However, I do not use a round pen to develop a bond and I don’t use one before I have trained at Liberty first.

I will guide you in how you can introduce the round pen to your horse without your horse feeling trapped or threatened and with or without using the support of my Waterhole Rituals.

Here is a tip to prevent abusing your horse in a round pen, unintentionally.

  • Keep your horse relaxed while working in a round pen and stop training when you do not get a positive response in a few short minutes.

Recently I had a well meaning, nice person, that would never hurt a horse, tell me that her horse ran in a round pen for well over an hour and she was never able to make a connection with her horse in a round pen. Her horse could have coliced and died for the stress of the experience or developed a severe lameness.  Continued pursuit of your horse in a round pen puts too much unnecessary emotional disturbance on a horse, yourself and it is dangerous.

services-round-penI have seen well-meaning amateur horsemen and women chasing horses in round pens that I felt were abusive to their horses. Because of seeing amateur horsemen and women do this, it caused me to share my method for training horses at Liberty in order to help amateur’s get the kind of relationship with their horse that they were looking for.

My Waterhole Rituals help to achieve a bond and a respect from a horse that is friendlier and more natural to horses than pressuring them to connect. Amateurs are better off not using pressure on a horse as a training aid.

Here is a way to use a round pen to develop a bond and respect that offers a graceful approach. Feel free to share this with others that you feel this approach would help.

These steps are meant to introduce a horse to a round pen without any drama or trauma.

  1. The first week take your horse to the round pen for a short visit after you have spent some time each day allowing your horse to relax and accept your leadership. When you take your horse to the round pen you can feed him his daily supplements or take some of his morning rations to eat in the round pen.  Lead him around in the round pen for a minute or two and then let him eat his food while you keep him on a line. By keeping him on a line, you will help distract him from looking for a way out. Keep this first introduction to about three to five minutes. If your horse feels nervous in the round pen decide whether or not you should stay the full 5 minutes.  Ask yourself if this full 5 minutes will help him settle down or not or if it would be better to remove him. I personally like to remove my horse before he finishes his food so that when I take him out he would not want to leave. This way he will look forward to another visit.  I never take a horse out of a round pen when he wants to leave until he will stand relaxed with me on a loose line. If a horse drags you from a round pen it teaches him to become nervous in general and he is liable to get a little worse, about accepting the round pen, by you allowing this behavior.
  2. The second week let him free to walk around the pen and eat the food you have provided for him. You could also do his grooming here so he is comforted from a familiar routine. Stay no longer than 15 minutes. Follow him around part of the time. Have his food dotted around so he can move about on his own to get to know the whole area. Once in a while follow him around and when he halts at a pile of food wait for a moment with him and then ask him to move on.  When he moves walk away from him so he does not feel pressured. What you are doing here is simulating the interactions that happen while horses are grazing together. From the interactions that take place through this simulation you are taking a leadership role in short intervals and in a way the horse will accept easily.
  3. The second or third week, depending on how relaxed your horse is to this new environment, continue to work no longer than 15 minutes. As soon as your horse is relaxed take the line off of your horse and ask him to move around from your influence at a walk. Let him go wherever he wants until he becomes easy to direct.  Then you can start asking him to walk on the outer fence line, keeping to one direction.  When he is comfortable doing this he is ready to work in the opposite direction. If he is harder to direct in one direction, allow him to go wherever he wants until he becomes easy to direct.
  4. Stopping your influence to move forward will cause him to eventually halt.  When he halts say “whoa”. This will teach him to halt from your voice. It is best not to let him turn in to you when he halts because it is important that your horse learns how to stop square in his tracks.   To correct a horse that turns in when he halts can be done easily by going up to him and straightening him. Stand a moment with him until he is willing to stand in a relaxed manner. Again, when he turns in to halt before he halts say “whoa”, strongly but not sharply. Step towards him quickly and fix him so he is standing parallel to the fence.  Again, wait for him to relax. A few times of this should teach your horse to stop in his tracks without turning towards you.
  5. When your horse is walking and halting in both directions, in a relaxed manner and staying out on the circle, you can then move on to trot following the same system. When he can do this you then can move into alternating between walk and trot. When he is doing this well it is time to work him in canter.
  6. Once you have canter in both directions in a relaxed manner you can then alternate between trot/canter transitions. This is the basic training that will help your horsemanship skills relating to a horse in a round pen and help your horse to respond enthusiastically to your aids when you are riding. Try to keep all the gates even and slow in the beginning before picking up the pace to ensure that you do not put too much pressure on your horse.

DSC01576In my bit-less program we go into more details and follow a different approach because we are more interested in straightness and being able to control the speed of the horse by creating 3 speeds of walk, trot and canter first at Liberty.  Therefore, the horse is being able to perform what is being asked of him and is able to perform enthusiastically. At this point he is ready for training in the round pen.

Working in the round pen helps to rate a horse’s speed in walk, trot and canter. You can set the pace of a horse in a more relaxed manner than working on a lunge line in the beginning stages of rating the gaits of your horse. The round pen can help in establishing gaits to become more dependable and relaxed. A round pen helps to season a horse and develops a work ethic from daily practice.  Using the round pen to keep the horse on the circle is more helpful in developing an even pace than on a lunge line. It is less distracting to the horse, which puts him in a relaxed, self-driven mode.  Later on I use a lunge line to develop the performance of the horse.

I hope this helps those of you who are looking for more direction in how to use a round pen to develop respect, a bond and a willing performance. If you have any questions, please ask them below in the comments and I will try to answer them for you.

I want to wish everyone Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas!!


Testimonial by Vincent Spiaggia –

Of the many insights I have experienced from my friendship and conversations about horses with Carolyn, there is one that always stands out and I feel this point embodies what is special and unique about what Carolyn offers. This point is the earning of the horses “Want and Desire”  PRIOR to schooling. By schooling I mean movement, such as round corral activities, ground schooling in hand (halter and lead), and all the “training” under saddle. I see the Waterhole Rituals like a treasure map. Following this map will lead to the enchanted gift, truly a treasure of the other wanting to be united. As we become friends with this wanting, the process (which is continuous) is one delightful moment after another as one points themselves to an objective. Be it a fun and safe trail ride or a gold medal. I appreciate the invite to comment and many thanks from all of us that you touch.

This is a shot of Little Big Horse helping me out with a mustang. He will soon be 27 and he has been with me since he was 3. We are good friends for sure however we would have been spared many energized discussions had I understood earning the want first. Every Horse I have time with these days has a much better deal as a result of your influence.


Contact Information for Vincent Spiaggia –

PHONE 909-215-5683

~ email [email protected] or [email protected]>

~ web site


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Camille - a couple of years ago Reply

I’m working with my youg mare on the waterhole rituals, and we are working on leading from behind. Whenever I get behind her, we turns around to face me and to be loved on, what should I do? Thank you so much!


karin kozlowski - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn,

I first learned about your philosophy on round pens, and how they are often misused, when I was part of an insider class. At the time you suggested I carefully use the round pen at liberty with Roscoe, my “lounge lizard” who tends to have very low energy, in order to bring up his energy level. We already had a strong bond through the Waterhole Rituals, and he did not perceive the exercise in a negative way, so the exercise was very helpful.

Later I used the round pen with Amigo when he was one year old. I used it to prepare us for companion walking by doing the piles of hay exercise there. I fed him there and groomed him. The round pen became an intimate environment where he was very comfortable. He’s now three and a half. I regularly work both horses in the round pen at liberty, asking them to stay on the circle until I ask them to change direction or do figure 8. It’s harder to do with Amigo because he only has one eye so that my body language does not work in both directions and I also have to use verbal cues. I haven’t yet worked in the round pen on establishing three speeds in all the gaits.

So, thank you for imparting your humane and refined way of using the round pen. I feel sorry for the horses that are just mindlessly chased around. I hope more and more people learn that there is a better and more rewarding way.

Happy New Year,


Mary Hartman - a couple of years ago Reply

Hello, Carolyn,

Lovely picture of you with the Christmas tree – so lovely. Thanks again for all your wonderful insight and expertise. Hoping you had a Blessed Holiday and anticipate a wonderful New Year.

Hoping you enjoyed the Christmas photo of my mare, Czena and I – had fun sending those out to friends.


Tamara Blits - a couple of years ago Reply

Thank you for your gentle ways. Happy New Year! God Bless You Always!

Aline Mellema/ IC/ Angel and Vicky/ Netherlands/ ECspring2011, ICfall2011, BTWRCmarch2012 - a couple of years ago Reply

Thank you for another great lesson Carolyn! 😀
I’ve had problems with posting on your blog for a couple of weeks. My messages didn’t show up, really weird. Hope this one works…

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!!

Much love,

    Aline Mellema/ IC/ Angel and Vicky/ Netherlands/ ECspring2011, ICfall2011, BTWRCmarch2012 - a couple of years ago Reply

    Yessss! it works! whoop whoop! 😀

Ann-ChristineChurch - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn
Happy Christmas to you all.

Anki Church

Erica Dixon Izzy & Gracie EC Spring 2011, BTWHR's 2012, IC Spring 2013, EC August 2013 - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn

Seasons Greetings & thanks for the great blog once again.

Warmest wishes


Anna-Karin Hägglund , Ameri Kahn, Sweden, EC 2010, 2011,2013, BTWHR dec 2012 - a couple of years ago Reply

Thank you Carolyn for this blog! I appreciate that you show us how to use a round pen in a way that feels good for both horses and humans.

Merry Christmas to you!


StephanieMorse - a couple of years ago Reply

This post definitely needs to be shared. So many times I hear people saying ‘my horse wouldn’t do what I wanted him to, so I made him run around the round pen and when he wanted to stop, I made him keep going’.

Or someone suggesting that method to ‘solve’ another’s problem.

So sad that they think this accomplishes anything.

Carolyn, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. I’m sure Paulina will be looking down on you with much love.

JoyNichols - a couple of years ago Reply

Thank you for the info. I had stopped using my round pen because I saw it was upsetting my horses. I’m glad to know how to reintroduce it. I think I will scatter a few carrot pieces in it. They love to earn tidbits as we do groundwork. I have a couple new horses and this will help us do things together.

Natalie - a couple of years ago Reply

Just another marvelous blog as always!
Merry Christmas and love from Italy.

BonnieJBeresford - a couple of years ago Reply

Hello Carolyn,
This is very timely for me. I am now starting to ride Chance, my young mare who has been raised with the Waterhole Rituals. I have been using the round pen for some of the rituals, and I find that a good alternative to the conventional “chasing” is Leading From Behind. I ask her to travel around the pen and I simply fall in behind her and we go from there. I find it an excellent place to transition from just following her, to directing her, both in where to go and at what speed or energy I want from her. It’s been very helpful in getting a consistent “halt”. She stays relaxed because this is a ritual she knows well.

If she goes into the pen with high energy or is spooking at things, Leading From Behind gives her a “job” to do and is a familiar ritual that she seems to find comforting. I can do this with her until she is more focused on my directions than on “that monster out there”. Thanks to this lesson you have given us, I now have some ideas for working on gait transitions and on 3 speeds at each gait.

I hope you have a blessed and peaceful holiday. Thank you for this valuable lesson.

Kindest regards,

Marja van Run - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn,

Very valuable information about how to prepare a horse for roundpen training, thank you.
Merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring you lots of good things!


UlrikeKraft - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn,

thank you very much for another free lesson, I will remember it and come back to it when I’m ready.

Merry Christmas!


Elodie Belz (ICC spring 2011, BTWHR December 2012) - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn,

Thanks a lot for this valuable lesson!

Merry Christmas to you!


Monique Ros, from the Netherlands - a couple of years ago Reply

Hi Carolyn

Thanks for this lesson,

Lots of love Monique

KayTomlinson - a couple of years ago Reply

Dear Carolyn–Thanks for sharing this! I wish more people–including the trainers I’ve worked with–would use this gentle method! I will share this widely, for sure!

thank you for all you do!

— Kay

    Carolyn Resnick
    Carolyn Resnick - a couple of years ago Reply

    Dear Kay,
    Starting a horse I believe has the greatest impact to develop a horse’s desire to learn and perform. Taking a slow approach makes a horse more dependable.
    Developing a horse’s attitude and desire to learn before moving on to the lesson makes the training experience go along as smooth as butter.
    Thank you for reading my blog and have a wonderful Seasons Holiday!
    What is the update on your horse from his injury? I hope he is coming along well!!



      KayTomlinson - a couple of years ago Reply

      Dear Carolyn–thanks for asking about Midnight! It has been 8 weeks today since his injury, and he is doing amazingly well! The splint is off (for just over a week now) and he only has a small bandage on his fetlock (he did develop some pressure sores) that I can change myself.

      What is especially wonderful to see is the light in his eyes and his obvious delight in life–in his food, in the attention he gets from his human friends, in what’s going on in the pasture and along the road outside his stall…. His energy is great–he’s starting to get bored with being in his stall–I interpret that as a VERY good sign.

      All the love, prayers, and healing energy coming from his friends around the world has surely played a huge part in his recovery–and it’s given me so much strength, too.

      The vet will x-ray his elbow next week to confirm the amount of healing, but it looks like Midnight will make a nearly full recovery.

      “Gratitude” doesn’t begin to cover what I’m feeling about this experience, but it’s the only word I have.

      Love and thanks to you–and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

      — Kay

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