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by Downunder Horsemanship

Training Tip: Horse Won’t Move Forward in Roundpen

Question: I just recently picked up a filly from a reservation near me. When one of my more experienced friends goes to roundpen her, she moves away and does it perfectly. When I am trying to do it, I do the “point, cluck and spank” to get her to move, but she does not move, even when I am spanking her hard on her neck. She has done amazing with the other stuff— desensitizing, backing up and yielding the hindquarters, and she follows me around wherever I go. I can keep going on with the other stuff, but it bothers me that I cannot get her to roundpen or lunge. Any advice on how to get her to move away from me and move her feet? – Briana Kutsch

Clinton’s Answer: It sounds odd that the horse is doing the other Fundamentals groundwork exercises well with the halter and lead rope on, but won’t move her feet during the Roundpenning or Lunging for Respect exercises. If she really is good at the other exercises, she should be moving her feet well in the roundpen as well. However, it’s hard to say what is exactly going on without seeing you work with your filly.

It is important that you are able to move her feet forward on the ground and get a “Yes, Ma’am” response when you ask her to. This is especially important for when you go to start riding her. A horse that has sticky feet during groundwork exercises isn’t going to be any better when you get in the saddle. And once you’re up in the saddle, getting her to move forward will turn into a fight. It’s far better to solve the problem on the ground.

Because your friend with more horse experience can get the filly to move out in the roundpen, I’d guess that the issue is with how you’re cueing your horse. Here are a few suggestions. You shouldn’t be spanking the horse’s neck to get her to move. The only reason you’d spank the neck is if the horse is facing you. If that’s the case, you’d tap the horse’s neck to get her to move away from you and then you’d apply pressure behind the drive line to encourage her to move forward. It’s always direction before impulsion. You have to steer the car first and then put your foot on the gas pedal. When you send the horse out away from you, stand in the middle of the roundpen, behind her drive line. The drive line is roughly where the girth would lie, right behind the horse’s withers.

Whenever you apply pressure or even stand behind the drive line, you will cause the horse to move forward or yield her hindquarters. Whenever you apply pressure or step in front of the drive line, you will encourage the horse to stop,
slow down or change directions. To make it even simpler, think of the horse like a car: Behind the drive line are the gas pedal and clutch, and in front of the drive line are the steering wheel and brake.

When you’re standing behind the drive line, point, cluck and spank, if necessary, to ask her to move. Pointing says, “I’m asking you to go.” Clucking says, “I’m warning you.” Spanking the ground says, “I’m telling you.” And spanking her is, “I told you I would make you feel uncomfortable if you didn’t move.”

If pointing and clucking don’t make the horse move, spank the ground once with the Handy Stick and string behind the horse. If she still doesn’t go, or doesn’t go as fast as you’d like, spank the top of her hindquarters with the stick and string to drive her forward. Continue spanking her hindquarters with rhythm until her feet speed up.

The key is not to take the pressure away until the horse moves forward at the speed you want. Do whatever you have to do to get the job done. As long as you start gently and finish gently, soon gentle is all you’ll have to be. If you’re consistent with these cues, the horse will figure out what you’re asking. Soon you won’t have to cluck or spank because when you point she’ll move.

If I were you, I’d really study the Roundpenning exercise in the Fundamentals Kit and pay close attention to how I’m standing and cueing the horse to move. Once you adjust your position and become clearer with your cues, your horse will respond well to you.