The round pen has long been established in the United States as a means of training horses but here in the UK it is growing in popularity as more and more people take notice of the growth in natural horsemanship. Professional trainers and horse owners are realising the value of the round pen for establishing a leader / follower relationship, whether their horse is young or old, trained or untrained.

Most round pens have a diameter of around 15-18m (50 – 60 feet) with the sides usually approximately 2m (6 feet) high. The perimeter can be post and rail, post and wire or made of solid material but constructed in such a way that it is safe for both horse and human. As with any other type of arena, good preparation of the site is important. Installing a herringbone style, drainage system beneath the surface helps to ensure that the round pen has a secure footing for both horse and human and can remain in use all year round.


Working in a round pen is much more complicated than simply chasing your horse around in a circle until he gets tired. As a trainer, you need an understanding of the horse’s behaviour as well as excellent feel and timing if you are to get the best out of your horse.

Most trainers work horses in a round pen with the aim of establishing themselves as the horse’s leader. To be seen as your horse’s leader you need to be able to:

  • Drive your horse away showing him that he is subordinate
  • Control his direction so that he can focus on you and what you want
  • Control his speed and communicate using your own levels of energy
  • Encourage him to trust you
  • Establish yourself as his leader. This shows when he is soft, responsive and yielding

One of the advantages of using a round pen to establish this leadership is that it allows you to use herding type behaviours within a confined space and the horse can escape any pressure or threat that it feels without galloping off for miles! A fearful horse needs to move its feet, so by using a round pen, you can allow the horse to flee a little way, think about the perceived threat and hopefully understand that things are not as bad as they first appeared! The horse is unable to get stuck in the corners and turn its back to you as it can in a rectangular arena and with a diameter of 15-18m (50 – 60’) you are always close enough to influence the horse if you wish.

Once you have built your horse’s trust, respect and obedience in the round pen, the relationship between you and your horse will be totally different and much more meaningful. You will have established yourself as your horse’s leader and will only need to return to the round pen if you feel that you need to remind your horse of his place in your herd.

Tricia Day, Director of gives her opinion of her Ransfords Round Pen Surface (18m diameter, laid in the Summer of 2003)

( can be accessed by clicking their web site at the bottom)

I wanted to let you know how happy I am with my Ransfords equestrian bark free woodfibre surface I purchased from you for my round pen.

As you will remember from our first phone conversation, I was convinced that I wanted this surface and reading your promotional material just confirmed to me that I was making the right choice.

When I was looking for a surface for the round pen I did quite a lot of research. I wanted a company that would be aware of environmental issues and would be promoting materials that were recycled or were easy to recycle, that wouldn’t be taking resources out without putting something back again, would meet with my strongly held beliefs and fit in with our ‘keep it natural’ philosophy.

Although the rubber and sand surfaces sound good because of the way that they are promoted (everyone says how great it is to recycle these materials) I wasn’t convinced that spreading bits of rubber all over my land was a good idea. During my research I found out about the dangers associated with old rubber (there can be problems for humans and horses in breathing fumes and there is always the chance that there could be some metal parts remaining in the surface to cause injury). The potential damage to the land doesn’t bear thinking about and the cost of disposing of the surface was also a consideration as I understand it will soon be not be possible to dispose of this material in landfill sites.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ransfords woodfibre came out as my preferred surface for all sorts of reasons and since you delivered it 12 months ago (June 2003) my opinion about it as a riding surface has, if anything, even improved! When I chose it, I was thinking about things like the installation and the cost but now I’m more interested in how it rides than what it cost. The benefits I identified initially still apply, but there are others, that I have identified since, and have listed below:


  • It wasn’t as expensive as I’d thought it would be
  • It hasn’t moved around too much even though the pen is on a bit of a slope
  • It smells wonderful
  • It’s going to be really soft and bouncy if I fall off (I don’t plan to do this but sometimes it happens!)
  • It’s easy for me to work the horses at liberty and they find it easy to travel on
  • I can let it rot away if I no longer want to use it
  • It won’t cost me anything to dispose of it because I can either leave it in situ or move it to another area to rot down
  • It has now been down for 12 months and there’s not one weed in it (I don’t think that’s true for many surfaces)
  • I haven’t lost a lot when I’ve been going in and out and I don’t need to spend money on topping it up yet
  • It’s maintenance-free in my book. We rolled it well when we laid it in the first place and I’ve just left it ever since. No rolling, raking, moving, nothing!
  • It never gets water-logged which could have something to do with the herringbone drainage system that you recommended we put underneath
  • Whatever the weather I have felt able to use it
  • It feels the same in the frost as it does at other times

I think you get the idea that I am delighted with the round pen and the quality of the surface and the service! I’ve been impressed by your customer care and the way that you conduct your business. If you are ever thinking of going in for one of those industry customer care awards I would be delighted to provide something in writing for you to use in support of your entry.

As some background to us. We have chosen to live a very eco-friendly life-style here. We grow our own, non GM, food without any chemicals, make elderflower champagne and nettle beer, have installed a geo-thermal heating system as well as a wood burning stove in our home and have planted more trees than we are using for heating. We use natural products for ourselves and our animals and avoid things such as preservatives, artificial colourings, aspartame, sodium lauryl sulphate and aluminium (do you know that even some dog food has colourings added). We have fitted nest boxes outside for the birds, dug streams and a pond, installed a board walk to preserve a wetland habitat and are delighted to share our space with swallows, owls, herons, kingfishers, tree creepers and bats!

Apart from maybe sounding a little nuts, we enjoy our own version of the ‘Good Life’ (we even get called Tom and Barbara occasionally!) and with that background it is very important to me that I carry that philosophy through with the horses.

With, that means encouraging people to keep horses in a herd outdoors, not using unnecessary chemicals, and being very aware of the impact that we have on the environment.

I have enclosed a photo of Megan who can’t resist the feel of the surface and will drop to the ground as soon as she is allowed so that she can use the area as her own special rolling pen!

Tricia Day

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