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 Post subject: "Join Up" -- Describing this round pen method
PostPosted: Thu Jan 10, 2008 10:03 am 
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Joined: Wed Mar 21, 2007 3:57 pm
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Location: Iowa
I think the term "Join Up" was coined by Monty Roberts, a well-known trainer whose methods may or may not be truthful, but nevertheless an experienced horseman.

In my experience, having learned round pen training methods from a few different professional trainers, I would say there is some value in this practice. I'll explain what it is, then why it's valuable.

You put a horse in a round pen, and generally this is done when training a horse for the first time, or gentling a wild horse. You use the pen's roundness to encourage the horse to focus his attention on you, while not giving him a corner to "hide out" in. At first, you would ask the horse to move out, in a circle, and move away from you. You do this with body language and maybe reinforcement such as a stick with a rustly flag or plastic bag tied to the end, or else with a lariat rope that you can swing at the horse's heels. Basically get him to move out fast and circle the pen several times. The horse (unless extremely gentle or docile) will look for a way out and eventually realize that the only thing to focus on is you. He will start to make changes in his expression and body language. He may slow down, his ears may flick toward you, his eye will be constantly on you. He will show signs of wanting to slow down or stop. I usually allow a horse to stop, and often they will chew or grind their teeth as a sign of acceptance or "thinking". I would step toward the horse with gentle body language (stick/lariat down on the ground or held closely to my side) and see if he will let me approach. If not, if he turns away, I instantly change body language and MAKE him move again, maybe in the other direction this time. He will circle again, but be ready to stop sooner. Again, I want to let him rest a little and attempt to go to his head and pet him. If he turns away even slightly, I will spook him and make him move. The idea is, any time that horse turns or switches directions in the pen, he should never turn his heels/hind end at you. When you ask him to turn, you step in front of him, and he should wheel on his hind legs with his head towards the center of the pen, and reverse directions in his circle. If he turns his hind end towards me, I swing that lariat at his butt or else spook him with my flag stick. This teaches a horse to watch you and give you his respect/attention. After a few times of switching directions and trying to approach the horse's head, he is going to really start thinking. Basically, the work involved in circling the pen is getting him nowhere, and he will start to think that the only way to rest or get anywhere is to let you pet him or else stay turned towards you. Because any time he turns AWAY, he has to work and run again. He will learn to just stand there and allow you to pet him.

When he does this, then I consider this the beginning of the "join up". He is starting to realize that he needs to follow you and pay attention to you. If I'm petting the horse and his attention drifts outside the pen or to another horse nearby, I will instantly step backwards towards his heels but away from him and take up my flag stick again. He should instantly come around, facing me and wanting to be close again. If he moves away from me, he's going to have to circle the pen a few more times. So the horse will just learn to follow you around. You can pet him, then move back a few steps and towards his hind end, like you're going behind him (keep a safe distance from his heels, though). He should turn and follow you. You can even turn your back and walk away, and often the horse will follow right behind you because he has "joined up" with you. You can walk all around the pen with the horse following. Any time his attention drifts or he stops following, you circle behind him and if he doesn't turn his face to you or follow you, you make him move out again and trot a few more circles.

That's pretty much it. As far as its value, it is absolutely necessary if your horse is spooky or hard to catch and difficult to handle. The horse will learn to trust you and watch you and obey and depend on you. On the other hand, if you have a gentle old kid's horse, and you put him in a round pen and try this stuff on him, he's going to look at you like you just told the lamest joke ever. A really sluggish horse or overly gentle horse won't benefit from this nearly as much as a wild one or untrained one. So you can determine if it's for you, and also I would highly suggest watching an experienced trainer do it before you try it. Just reading our answers won't give you the best idea of what to do in the many different situations that can happen when working with a horse.

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