Working a horse, without any tack, in the round pen is one of the quickest ways to finding out information about your horse. If you ever go horse shopping, try to work the horse in this manner to really learn a lot about how he thinks and what he knows.
I had already observed a lot of tension, auto-pilot, and ignoring humans on the part of Dee. Working in the round pen confirmed it.
Dee wanted to eat grass and not check me out – shows a lack of curiousity and interest in humans but that isn’t too unusual. When I sent her off to a trot, with a wave of the lunge whip, she took off quickly with a high head – shows an over reaction to simple requests. Possibly behavior indicative of horses who may be high-spirited, abused, afraid of humans or defiant.
After a few rounds of trot, I decided to start to turn her. All I had to do was step to the side with the raised lunge whip and she quickly did a rollback that was so sharp and tight that she almost climbed the panels of the round pen!
This not-quite-panicked behavior could be based in fear – and if you see it you need to take a step back and ask yourself more about why the horse behaved in that manner. The mistake some beginners make is to apply more pressure at this stage then less. Perhaps that is an ego thing of “wow I can make the horse do that, let me show you again” or maybe more of “let me keep pushing this horse and I can make them give me what I want.”
While not afraid of the whip, she was clearly too sensitive to my requests so I ended up dropping it. I also needed to bring down my body movements and be more still and quiet. At one point I even sat down on the mounting block while she cantered around me about 10 times, soaked wet with sweat and her neck and head like carved stone.
This is clear Auto-Pilot behavior. This is subtly different then panicked horses that tune out due to abject fear. It’s more about just doing something – usually giving the human repetitive speed because the horse thinks this is what is desired and is exhibited by experienced, trained horses (perhaps we could dare say “over-trained” horses) as opposed to green horses (which are doing this behavior from fear/ignorance).
Now during this time, Dee was respectful of my space, though she did go through a few signals to turn this was because she was on Auto-Pilot, not because she was trying to run me down or be disbedient. I think she’s the type of horse who would be horrified if she had done something wrong!
Horses new to the round pen can also be confused about how it works, so be aware that this does not need to be punished but just education is needed.
I sat down and grew quiet and still, waiting. It took a while, before Dee finally noticed. She gave me an inside turn and came up to me, blowing hard. I gave her a few carrots and she ate them but still in a tense manner.