Photo: using the fence around a grazing area as a reverse pen.
A reverse pen is set up so the horse moves along one side of a barrier and the handler moves on the other side. People come up with all sorts of ways to make reverse pens. Larger is better for reverse pens so that the horse is not working on a tight bend. It’s important to change direction often. The video clips coming up show several ways of setting up a reverse pen.
Any fence line that allows delivery of the treat across or through it can be used for reverse pen exercises. In a couple of the video clips I used the fence around the area Boots is grazing so I had nothing extra to set up. If the horse is comfortable working across electric fence materials (not electrified) we can easily set up (and take down as necessary) pens of any size or shape.
Reverse pens are useful for:
- Keeping ourselves in protected contact while in motion.
- Some horses also feel more secure if the handler is on the other side of a fence at first.
- Working without halter and rope.
- Discourage the horse moving his shoulder into the handler.
- Encourage the horse to develop muscles that help him stay on a circle and not ‘fall in’ with the shoulder or to navigate corners elegantly if we use a rectangular or triangular reverse pen.
- Using a hand-held target to encourage walking with us, gradually morphing into a hand gesture.
- Consolidating ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals (also see https://wp.me/p4VYHH-5TT).
- Creating duration – maintaining a gait for longer.
- Playing with transitions: halt to walk to halt; walk to trot to walk; trot to canter to trot.
Often reverse pens are round, as in Connection Training’s ‘Around the Round Pen’ exercises. But they can also be rectangular or triangular, giving the horse the different challenge of organizing his body to negotiate the corners effectively.
Using a Hand-Held Target to Encourage Walking with Us
If we are going to use a hand-held target and a reverse round pen to encourage the horse to walk with us, we want to click&treat for the movement, not the catching up to and putting nose on the target. We don’t want to turn it into a chasing game. We present the target to encourage forward movement, click for the number of steps we decided to take before moving off, put the target down behind us out of sight, then deliver the treat.
Building Duration Walking with Us
#210 HorseGym with Boots: Reverse Pens Clip 4; Duration Walking Together
We must decide how many steps will earn a click&treat before we begin. That is:
- We present the target.
- Walk ‘X’ number of steps (previously decided – kept within the horse’s present ability)
- Remove the target while we reach for a treat.
- Feed the treat.
Start with one step; click&treat. Add one more step at a time as long as the horse shows interest. Stop to do something else if his interest wanes or wait until your next session. Start each session with a few steps and gradually add more.
Keep the sessions short and as you present the target, also use your body language, big breath in, energy raised and your voice ‘walk on’ signal.
Fading out Hand-held Targets
While targets are a great tool to initiate all sort of behaviors, it is important that we teach voice, body language and gesture signals once each behavior is established, so we don’t need to rely on carrying a target.
By consistently using your ‘walk on’ and ‘halt’ multi-signals, you will soon be able to fade out using the target, keeping your hands free. Your voice, energy and body language tell the horse what you would like him to do. Voice and body language ‘halt/whoa’ signals (as well as the click) tell him when you would like him to halt.
Using Foot Targets
If the horse has a strong history or reinforcement for putting his front feet on a mat, we can use that to work with a reverse pen. Using a mat target has the advantage of leaving our hands free. This clip looks at using mats after the first minute.
In the following video clip, I began with the horse on a lead because that can be another way to start. Not everyone has the facility to work safely at liberty. The video clip explains the process: #162 HorseGym with Boots: Introduction to Liberty Circles.
Once the horse understands our body language, gesture, voice and breathing signals, we can use them whenever we lead the horse. For walking side-by-side at liberty, we can develop the Twenty Steps Exercise: https://youtu.be/xYYz0JIpZek
The mat idea works with riding as well as with groundwork.
Some More Reverse Pen Clips
In the next two clips I’m using the fence around the area that Boots is grazing, so there nothing extra to set up/take down.
Over and Between Things
Other Shapes of Reverse Pens