Pat Parelli has many stories (ones he may also repeat more than just a few times…), but there’s one that’s stuck with me to this day.
The story goes: Pat Parelli was at a colt starting clinic with the amazing Tom Dorrance. Pat turned to Tom and asked, “What do you think is the ideal material to build a round pen?” Tom answered as if he’d been waiting years for Pat to ask: “Chicken wire.”
Of course, most round pens are not made out of chicken wire. They’re made out of fence, panels… all sorts of stuff. We don’t want our horses to get away and run off. What I took from Pat’s story was: how little pressure can we put on and how perfect can our timing be, that even the most scared horse wouldn’t want to run off. All that wire would be is a boundary line. It would definitely not be very good at preventing a horse from running away, but are we good at preventing that? Or do we need something too tall to jump over and too solid to knock over that our horse may have no other choice than to be with us?
There are horses that are easy to “explode”. They’ll gallop around the pen because they’ve either had horrible experiences with humans or none at all. They want to get out of there. Already at that point they would be out of our imaginary chicken wire pen. So that might mean that already entering the pen was too much pressure for them. Maybe we should’ve started our session by being far away from them, getting them used to us at a distance so that they wouldn’t want to walk away when we approach.
I imagine I am always in a chicken wire round pen. I ask myself, “Would this work without this fence?” “Would this horse have left by now?” “Is this too much for him or her?” Sometimes it’s a definite, “If it weren’t for this fence, this horse would be a goner.”
And that’s my queue to take some pressure off and breathe.