An indispensable tool for any person engaged in training horses is a round yard of 22 feet.
Horses are prey animals. Their eyes are set in the sides of the head and this enables them to see to the side and the rear. Obviously, each eye gets a totally different lateral picture. Horses are also more likely to resort to flight when they feel threatened, and they are equipped well for very fast getaways. Their flight instincts have been honed over centuries and millennia of evolution. When there is nowhere to run, horses switch over to the other part of their instinctive reactions to perceived threats: they fight. A fighting horse is one great inspiring sight!
Horses are also herd animals and tend to stick close to each other. The herd usually has sentries posted to provide early warnings of threats.
Human beings on the other hand are probably the biggest and most wasteful predators in the animal kingdom; we have eyes in front, but don’t let that stop us.
Like autistic children and cattle, horses have a natural tendency to move in circles, not in straight lines. This pattern of movement is comforting to them, and it is something we can use to advantage when training horses. We can make effective use of the fact horses can take themselves from zones of discomfort to zones of comfort at a walk, a trot and a canter. When we work with horses in round yards, we are enabled to work from both left and right of the horse, we are also enabled to work them clockwise as well as counter clockwise. This way, they get to sight objects with both left and right eyes. It is normally prudent to switch sides regularly when leading, mounting and dismounting, so that your horses gets used to your presence on either side. I know this is contrary to the often quoted exhortation to “always do everything from the left”. The mounting from the left is a totally unnecessary carry over from the days when army troops were lined up on one side of the horse for symmetry and coordination of mounting, and that side happened to be left. It could just as well have been right!
You are facilitated by a round yard in getting your horse to move around in circles while you are afoot, then getting him to come in to you, stop and do nothing. There is nothing a horse likes better than to do nothing. The horse whispered Monty Roberts depicts John UP in a video that will help you learn and understand all about it.
Make sure the round yard’s surface is totally bereft of anything that could cause discomfort or pain to your horse. Practice as much as you can. Don’t forget to practice the following at walks, canters and trots:
• Riding on a saddle;
• Riding bareback;
• Riding on the halter;
• Riding on the bridle and on rein end (the buckle).
Be sure to do everything counter clockwise that you do clockwise, and vice versa.
The round yard is a small easily controlled area where you can practice with very little distractions. You can really build up your confidence and comfort zones. Don’t forget to practise center turns and stops. Generally, when you are out of your comfort zone, you want your horse to be in his, and it works the other way around too. Some trainer once said, “Be as steady as a fence post for your horse”, and keep him in his comfort zones always. It is not just your horse that is getting trained in the round yard – you are, too. There is no end of matter to learn about horses, But you need to get cracking straight away.