This weekend, I purchased a round pen. And after having it up for all of 2 days, I don't know why I waited so long to buy the damn thing.
I postponed the purchase because I wanted the right round pen. You know, the right metal material, the right dimensions and height, etc. And the price of my dream round pen ranged from 5K on up. So I delayed the purchase, figuring I'd save the money and buy the round pen I really wanted.
Enter my Craigslist searching cousin, who emailed me about a dealer who was offering a 50ft round pen, complete with gate, for $640. I called the dealer, but that price was for 5ft high panels, made of their "economy" metal. But could they build me panels for a 60ft round pen, all panels 10' long and 6' high, with a 6' entry gate, and 14GA metal? Yes, but it was going to cost me. But nowhere near the 5K estimate I had received months ago. Fine, it's a deal. So Saturday I headed to HWY 16 and Loop 1604 and met the truck.
As soon as I could enlist some labor to help me, I had those panels on the ground and the pen was assembled. Thanks to my 13 year old daughter for helping me lift panels and place them. It took us about 3 hours, but it was all in place over the red sand that had been prepared there by the previous owner.
I quickly threw Woody in the round pen and worked him out. Yes, this was going to be cool! I am eternally grateful to my neighbors who have always let me use their round pen, but this round pen is on my land and easy to get to. It also lets me work one horse in one round pen while another horse could be worked by another horseman in the other round pen. No more lines for the round pen. And my round pen area has some light near it, so I can get use out of it at dusk/night.
Well, Sunday after hospital rounds (I worked an extra weekend to pay for the darn round pen), I worked Vaquero and Lola in the round pen, BECAUSE I COULD! The proximity to my stable makes it so easy to grab a horse to work.
Vaquero and I worked on speed transitions, over and over again. Walk, trot, canter...then back to walk from canter...then canter from walk, then trot...back to walk again. I worked on really controlling his speed enough that I could sustain any gait, including and especially the walk, for as long as I wanted. What a difference from a year ago, when I couldn't get him to walk for even a single step!
Vaquero was well soaked in the humidity after we finished. But I really felt a great connection and some real learning HAS occurred between us. He is such a joy to work in the round pen, but you have to be very subtle in your body language, because if you just THINK about the next gait, he responds. Don't believe me? Come try him some time. I'm serious, he's that freaking sensitive. No whipping the ground with your lunge whip required, and you'd better not fall asleep while working him, or he'll be changing direction before you've even realized that you drifted in front of his driveline by 1 inch. I've heard this from other paso fino owners, so I know it's just part of the breed. But after a year of working with him, I can really appreciate it now.
Lola was next. 5 minutes later, and she was in the round pen. Same drill of frequent speed transitions, with emphasis on the walk. She, like a lot of other horses, hasn't really been taught that it's OK to just walk in the round pen, and so we spent some time letting her do just that: a nice focused walk a few laps around.
I worked her up into a nice sweat and then invited her in to me using my body language. She just stopped and stared, but made no step towards me. So I whipped her up and moved her around again! Later, I re-invited her. Just a stop and stare, with maybe a shift in weight suggesting she MIGHT join up with me. Not good enough, so I sent her moving around the pen again. I did this several more times, finally really moving her butt out, and invited her in again. This time, she dropped her head, licked and chewed, and moved all the way towards the center of the round pen. She had truly joined up with me for the first time since I bought her. It had taken some time, and a lot of work on her part, but it felt like my best connection with her to date. She is cantering easily now, and her transitions are much faster.
I worked with both horses on yielding hind end from the ground, and I plan to do this more, eventually moving their front end and working in a side-pass from the ground for both.
The round pen has made a world of difference. The proximity to my stable will let me work horses more quickly, since I won't have to walk so far to change horses, and the footing in my round pen is ideal. I'll be adding a bit more sand here in the future, but it's very usable as is.