Last Updated on February 23, 2023
There is no doubt a round pen is one of the best tools to have when working with horses. However, with so many package deals and single panels available for purchase, choosing the correct round pen size for horse training can be a challenge. Is there an “ideal” average round pen size, or does it depend on your situation?
What Are Round Pens for Horses?
Round pens, also referred to as bullpens, are exactly that: a round pen or enclosure used to train or workhorses inside. They provide a safe, enclosed space for the horse to exercise, creating a circular path of motion for horses.
Round pens are excellent training tools as there is a limited amount of space, keeping the horse close enough to the trainer to stay focussed. This allows trainers to apply”pressure” on a horse from a specific direction.
A well-designed round pen for horses is very useful for lunging and in-hand groundwork. They provide a useful space for the horse to learn commands from their trainer, or can simply be used to exercise your horse when you don’t have time to ride. Many horse owners use a round pen to turn stabled horses out in for free exercise.
Another useful way in which round pens can be used is to break young horses to ride, and many riders will take their first few rides on young or new horses in a round pen. The safe, enclosed space reduces the risk of the horse escaping should something go wrong, and the size of the pen ensures the trainer is always nearby.
What Makes a Good Round Pen for Horses?
As the name suggests, a good round pen should be round! Unlike other corrals or a catch pen, round pens are specifically round for a purpose. As many trainers say, “circle work is dream work!”.
Many forms of horse training involve working them in a circle. Balance, flexibility, and bending are the basic foundations of equine athleticism, whether your sport of choice is riding, driving, jumping, or reining. The round shape is vital for the optimal use of a round pen and will prevent the horse from becoming ‘stuck’ in the corners when worked from the ground.
The other key to a good round pen is that it should limit distractions to the horse, and also keep the horse securely corralled within the pen. Many round pen sides are tall and solid, reducing visibility for the horse. These are the ideal type of round pen for working with a younger, inexperienced horse, as they cannot be distracted by things happening outside the pen.
The other option is to have a round pen with railings rather than solid sides. These need to be high enough to reduce the temptation for the horse to jump out. It is a good idea to put fixed solid boards along the bottom rail to reduce the risk of horses getting their legs trapped.
When choosing the best panels or sides to use for your round pen, don’t forget to factor in what type of gate you will use. Ideally, it should be made of the same material as the rest of the round pen, so that when it is closed the horse cannot tell where the gate is. This will prevent the horse from ‘napping’ every time it passes the gate.
The final thing to consider when building a round pen is the type of surface to use. The type of round pen footing has many variations, largely dependent upon geographic location and budget. Many owners simply choose a flat area and keep the grass short or drag the round pen surface to remove greenery and soften the top layer of soil.
Others opt for traditional layered arena footing, utilizing French drains, screen gravel, sand, or chopped rubber tires. In some areas, river sand is brought in on top of a bare and flat round-pen space. The ideal footing should be soft enough to reduce concussion to the horse’s legs, but not so soft it could cause a tendon injury.
What is The Average Round Pen Size for Horses?
The average round pen size for horse training is typically 50 to 60 feet in diameter. The minimum recommended size for a round pen is 30 feet, while the maximum useful diameter is 100 feet. Lunging and groundwork can be performed with ease at an approximate 50-foot diameter, but 60 feet may be ideal if there is riding within the pen.
Some trainers even prefer a size up to 80 feet for riding, particularly on larger horses. The length of a horse’s stride can also be a factor in choosing a round-pen size. Larger warmbloods with a long stride will require more space than a Section A Welsh Pony!
Find The Best Lasso for Beginners
Although the standard round pen material is typically a metal panel, there are several options. Panels are handy if the round pen is going to be moved, or if you need to add/remove panels for specific training purposes. If a permanent fixture, some horse owners create lavish (sometimes covered!) round pens with beautiful decorative fencing and even shrubbery! Some trainers will opt for more wood-lined or solid material panels to decrease the chances of a horse or rider getting “hung” in panels.
What Size Round Pen Do I Need?
Deciding on the size of a round pen is one of the first factors to consider when building a round pen. The optimum size for a round pen will depend mainly on what you intend on using it for, but you also need to consider the space you have available.
The average size of a round pen is 60 feet across, which suits many different training disciplines. However, you will also come across round pens that are as small as 40 feet in diameter, or as large as 120 feet across.
The smallest round pens are only suitable for non-ridden training, such as lunging and loose schooling. If you intend on riding your horse in your round pen, you will need a round pen that is at least 60 feet in diameter.
Another factor that affects the best size for a round pen is the size of your horse. A small pony can be very difficult to train in a large pen, and a large horse will find it difficult to maneuver easily in a smaller pen.
How to Build a Round Pen for Horse Training
Building a round pen can be a cost-effective way to create a safe and versatile training space for you and your horse. You can either buy a pre-made round pen fencing kit or build the fence yourself using one of the many wooden round pen plans available online. You will find various horse round pens for sale at any large farm store, and you can use a round pen calculator to help you select the ideal size.
When building a round pen, you need to ensure that the fence is high enough to deter your horse from attempting to jump out. The gaps between the fence railings must be narrow enough that a horse cannot put its head through, but not so narrow that a hoof can get trapped in between them.
A good option is to build a round pen with solid sides, as this will stop your horse from being distracted by activity outside the pen.
How do you make a round pen out of wood?
Wooden fencing is a great option for a round pen, but you need to construct it in a way that is safe for the horse. Firstly, place wooden stakes in the ground around the perimeter of the pen, and secure them into the ground.
Next, add railings to your wooden posts, making sure they are securely attached. Don’t forget to leave a gap for the gate!
The gate can be made using some simple movable wooden railings, or you can buy a purpose-made metal gate.
How many posts are needed for a 50-foot round pen?
The number of posts needed for an a50-foot round pen will depend on the size of panels you are using. A 50-foot round pen has a circumference of 157 feet, so dividing this number by the size of panels you are using will give you the number of posts you need. Always round up the number, as you tend to need an extra post where the gate is situated.
For example, if you plan on using standard 10-foot panels to build your round pen, you will need 16 panels and posts.
How to build a covered round pen
Constructing a covered round pen is a worthwhile task if you find you often cannot train your horse due to bad weather. Having an all-weather area to train with your horse is invaluable for a busy person, giving you the option of training your horse whenever it suits you.
The best way to build a covered round pen is to make a permanent roof over the pen. This can be constructed in the same way as any other type of roof, using beams and rafters. However, this type of construction can be very expensive.
Some manufacturers also make round pens with fabric covers, which can be removed if necessary. A round pen cover kit is a good option if you want a covered round pen but do not want to go to the expense of building a permanent structure.
Can You Train a Horse Without a Round Pen?
Round pens are used for specific horse training techniques, as the round shape helps the trainer keep the horsemen in an even circle. However, it is perfectly possible to train a horse without a round pen, and many trainers manage to work with their horses without the aid of a round pen.
Some tasks, such as lunging, groundwork, and ridden work, can be carried out on any suitable, safe surface. Loose schooling is easier in a round pen, as there is less chance of the horse getting ‘stuck’ in the corners.
So, as we have learned, the average round pen size for training horses is 50 to 60 feet, but there can be significant variation in this based on your needs and finances. Regardless of the pros and cons of material and size, you must consider evaluating the overall safety of each design for you and your horse. A simple round pen on a grass surface can be constructed fairly cheaply, and at the other end of the spectrum, you could opt for a covered round pen with a sand and rubber surface.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the average round pen size for horses! Are you struggling to decide what size round pen to build at your barn? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about how to work with a horse in a round pen? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
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Equestrian, Marine Corps vet, and Morgan horse enthusiast.