Do the “Roundpen” Work with Your Children

November 24, 2014

by:  Nancy Spoolstra

It was over five years ago that I relinquished the position of Executive Director of ATN. After more than a dozen years of eating, sleeping and breathing this organization and the families it serves, I finally hit the wall. I actually hit the wall before that, but there was no one ready, willing and able to pick up the reins … until Julie Beem. Since she assumed leadership of ATN, she has been most gracious in allowing me to pick and choose my level of involvement. She understood how much of my life was on hold for so long.

These days I spend a great deal of my time riding my horse, Kadeen. We travel and camp and ride trails in several Midwest states. Recently, I was one of fourteen riders at a working cattle ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas. We rode over 30 miles and spent over 20 hours in the saddle in 2 ½ days. Everyone was exhausted, but I was even more exhausted than everyone else. Why? Because my horse was very, very challenging for much of the time, and I had to do a great deal of “training on the trail.”

I have six dogs and I have a very high bar for my canine companionship. I can make them behave in ways my husband and daughter cannot. I don’t let anything get by me. At the cattle drive, the fifth  generation rancher was also a true student of the horse. He showed me very clearly how DISRESPECTFUL my horse’s behavior is … and how much easier it would be for me if I did ground work to gain his respect before I tried to get respect while on his back. I watched David work Kadeen in the roundpen, and it was very clear to me how many messages my horse was sending that said, “You can’t MAKE me” and “I won’t do it YOUR way!” I could see that David was getting my horse to behave better than I could! How could this be? I am in charge of my dogs and I can spot a manipulating kid a mile away. But I had let my horse’s behavior slide. All those little things added up to too much disrespect. My horse was a stallion until he was 6 years old. That probably contributed to his pushiness. But I need to be the one in charge.

In this video, David is working Kadeen at liberty in a roundpen.

Kadeen’s job is to turn and face David with both eyes when he comes to the center, to NOT block his head when David tries to touch him, to NOT present his rear end when going around the roundpen, and to go the speed and direction David sends him. In the beginning, Kadeen isn’t listening at all, so David is hitting the rope on the ground and saying, “If you won’t recognize I am in the roundpen, keep your feet moving until you do.” Kadeen eventually starts to listen, but still sends many messages of disrespect. When he is cantering around the outside, he is bent to the outside, holding his head the wrong way to show disrespect, even though cantering is much harder in a small, slippery space when you are bent the wrong way! Eventually, Kadeen chooses to listen and you can see a visible change in his attitude and expression when he does. Clearly, I have work to do!

Are you doing the “roundpen” work you need to do to gain respect from your children? Don’t let the little things slide.