Most recently we used our round pen to house and train Bud, the Mustang that Matt started as part of the Extreme Mustang Makeover. The six foot tall height and five-rail design discourages horses from jumping out and adult horse can’t reach their head through it. Tops of the panels meet squarely (instead of being curved) so that a horse can’t rear up and get a foot stuck between the panels. Panels attach with long steel pins making it simple to set up and no tools required.

Photo: Alayne Blickle

I am a huge fan of round pens. People often ask me what I think is the most important tool or piece of equipment on our property. They are probably expecting a response like a certain bit, bridle, or maybe tractor, but I am quick to reply that our favorite piece of equipment is our round pen.

A good round pen can have many uses. We use our round pen for starting and working young horses and free longeing older horses. We use it as a place to have inexperienced or young riders start out on horseback and we also use it as a small arena for controlled riding or turnout. Because we have a horse motel, we often have guests and their horses here and they often use the round pen for turnout; guests traveling with horses turn their horses out in the round pen so they can move around and have a nice roll in the sand after a long day of trailering. Most recently we used it to house Bud, the mustang that Matt started as part of the Extreme Mustang Makeover; the Bureau of Land Management requires all potential Mustang adoptees to have a strong round pen with six foot fencing.

Ours is a 66-foot diameter round that which we purchased in the mid 1990s from internationally known trainer John Lyons, and it is still going strong.  We like the six foot tall, welded galvanized pipe (like muffler pipe) panels because they are strong and rust-free. Each panel is 12-foot long – sturdy but lightweight enough that I can move them around by myself; each panel weighs about 60 pounds. The panels attach with long steel pins making it simple to set up (no tools required) or to take panels apart to adjust the size – which Matt also did with Bud the Mustang as the 66-foot diameter initially gave Bud a little too much freedom.

One reason we chose this particular round pen is the 6-foot tall height and five-rail design discourages horses from jumping out (another requirement if you are considering adopting a Mustang or will be starting a lot of colts) and adult horse can’t reach their head through it.  And, very importantly, the tops of the panels meet squarely (instead of being curved) so that a rambunctious youngster can’t rear up and get a foot stuck between the panels – with disastrous consequences.

Locate your round pen for chore efficiency and in a place where it will have good drainage. We placed our round pen close to the main barn and guest barn since we use our round pen nearly every day. The area we chose for our round pen had a slight slope for good drainage so surface water doesn’t pool.

For footing, we simply chose the same coarse “reject sand” we put in our outdoor arena. The coarse, washed sand is less dusty than many of the finer sand products as well as less expensive. We put about 20 – 24 yards (two truckloads) of sand in initially then leveled and harrowed it extensively to mix the sand into the native soil. Because the panels are connected with pins instead of clamps we can easily swing open a panel to drive in a tractor for regular harrowing of the footing. In a small space like this the footing gets compacted quickly and every few years we need to add another 8-10 yards of footing.

One last thought: Avoid hard riding or continuous work in a round pen work. A round pen places a great deal of torque on a horse's inside legs, joints, and soft tissues, which can result in repetitive injuries.

The size and construction of our round pen is exactly right for our needs. It seemed very expensive at the time we bought it but it has been one of the best investments in horse equipment we’ve made. It is big enough to be able to ride around in it without the horse feeling cramped and it is small enough for us to work a horse at liberty without having to run as much as the horse.

Do you have a round pen on your horse property?