Archives MAIN PAGE

Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

Professional support for you and your horse!

Round pen lethargy

Hi Franklin -

I enjoy your website, and if you ever come out to Western Washington State, I would love to attend one of your clinics.

I am an experienced horse person, but was introduced to "natural horsemanship" about 2 years ago and have attended lessons and clinics. One of my horses is a 10 year old paint gelding that I have had for about 6 months (he had been a pasture ornament and was quite heavy when I got him). I have worked him on the ground (3-5 times a week 15-45 minutes) since I got him. I believe we have established a trusting relationship. I try to keep his workout interesting with varying activities. The last few weeks, he has decided he does not want to move out in the round pen (which is actually a small square indoor arena). He will walk a few circles, and may trot a few steps, but then he starts to cut his circles tight, or stops and turns to me and does not move. Sometimes he goes and stands in the corner or finds something interesting to sniff at.

Rotating a lead or trying to drive him with "pressure" from a wand has little affect. If I aggressively approach him, he will yield, and move off and perhaps circle once around. I do not want to escalate the conflict or resort to more aggressive wand usage. When he stops, should I go to him and walk him in tight circles and then send him? Maybe I'm not using the wand correctly? Have I done too much ground work such that he is bored? I also have spent considerable time desensitizing him to things (wand all over his body, flying plastic bags, blankets tossed up, water, spinning ropes, etc). Could I be improperly translating my intent when I need to use the item as a tool? In the past he showed signs of this resistance, and I was able to motivate him with the wand. He would generally buck and/or rear a few times, and then finally move out with energy.

He has no trouble moving out and responding when ridden (so far). It is just the round pen and longeing work he resists.

Your thoughts and suggestions would be appreciated.


Hi Bridget,

As you have seen from the website, I travel a lot to teach and train. Please consider helping to coordinate a seminar in your area. It is not difficult and really just takes a desire of a few people to learn these gentle, effective techniques and imporve their relationship with their horses. I am coming to Oregon two times this year and could combine a trip to your area during one of those journies.

First thing to look at here is some sort of change for the horse that you are missing. Something that maybe involves pasture mates or enviroment in such a way as to depress the horse a bit. Somthing that involves the horse physically such as pain may have something to do with his reluctance to move. I know you said it is just in the round pen that you have this situation. However, the cause may come from beyond the round pen.

You could try providing a consequence for him stopping. Something like hind-quarter yielding is not abusive and not fun for the horse to do. So, when he stops you quickly get to him and put him to several rotations of hind quarter yields, in both directions. Then ask for movement again. The reward for getting what you want is a brief rest for the horse (the release of pressure). You know, you could have somehow trained the horse to stop as he is doing by confusing the reward for complaince. Upon reflection, take a criticle look at your proceedure in the round pen. If you understand the concept of rewarding the horse trying to comply with a release of pressure, it could be that you have, unconsciously over a bit of time, trained this horse not to move by providing the reward (release of pressure) at the wrong time.

So, before I go into more lengthly proceedures, please reflect on what I have just said and respond to me. Confusing the horse with an ill-timed reward is easy to do and is frequently the source of problems for folks who have had some exposure to so called 'natural horsemanship.' Let me know your thoughts.

Best regards, Franklin

Hi Franklin,

Thanks for responding. Do you have a minimum attendance requirement at your seminars? What about facility requirements? Where I stable is a small (12 horses) facility, and we have our outdoor arena and a small indoor arena. I will do some talking around, and discuss it with Carlina, the stable owner.

I will definitely try some hind yield rotations. I am fairly confident in my release of pressure timing having worked with horses for 30 years, but will examine my movements, timing, and body cues further. Like you said, little things can inadvertently creep in, and horses are so sensitive and intuitive that they notice even though I may not. Especially since I have modified my methods in the last year - associated with the clinics. I'll let you know how it goes.

Since you mentioned changes in environment, I was wondering if the non-stop rain we have had for 2 months is depressing him (it is me!). Also, their pasture has become a mud pit and we have had to change their routine to have more time in their stall and paddock, rather than full day turn out in the pasture. My other horse has shown no signs of change in behavior, but every horse responds a little differently to environmental changes. Also, my paint has probably lost about 100 pounds since I have had him (he was on the verge of obese). I don't think he was ever consistently worked with, and was frequently rewarded with treats at his old home. He is in a pasture with two other geldings, and they tend to rotate on the leadership role. I noticed recently my paint is no longer the leader - so his whole energy level appears to be down.

Thanks, Bridget

Hi Bridget,

Let me know about potentional interest in my coming there from folks you speak to. Please send interested parties to my website to get a handle on how I work with horses. If the interest seems to be there we can speak again about the possibility of setting up a seminar.

Things that would depress us are not so different from what would depress a horse. Changes in environment, friends, pain, weather, changes in exercise, diet, conditioning and past experience in relation to the present... all or any of these could possibly be the catalyst for depression. Consider going back to the basics of good foundation training and simply-re-atart the horse. Your horse will love the attention I promise and it just might be the thing that sparks his interest and brings his energy up again on the ground. Let me know how it all goes.

Best regards, Franklin

Look for: