Wholistic Joining – Rethinking Round Penning Join-Up

When I witnessed a Join-Up of a horse for my first time it seemed strange to me that the horse was being chased around a round-pen scared on the verge of exhaustion.  It didn’t make sense that the horse was given only two choices, continue to look for an escape outside of the round-pen or join with the person who was doing the scaring.  Yes the trainer dropped his pressure when the horse looked at him which signaled to the horse (horses learn from the release of pressure not the pressure itself) you got the right answer, only to be run around in another direction if the horse didn’t follow the trainer as if on a lead.  To me it was not a choice of trust for the horse, just one choice out of fear.

Round penning or Join-Up as it is also called, seemed a trick of force without compassion.  I was appalled by what I witnessed that day, yet inspired to seek a compassionate way to invoke a horse’s instinct to want to be with me as their herd leader.  I knew the saying “he who moves the other’s feet first is in control” was where I needed to start, so I set off to observe natural herds.  What I discovered was that the herd leader would move another horse’s feet by taking over a pile of food or choosing to take over an area by moving off the horse with a gesture of her head, ears pinned or sometimes a nip at the rump or shoulder if the horse was not responding.  Never did I see a herd leader chase a horse relentlessly into exhaustion forcing the horse to submit.   When a new horse came into the herd the herd leader moved that new horse from place to place in between nibbles of grass until the new horse demonstrated submissive behavior asking permission to be with the herd leader.  Sometimes I witnessed a cocky young horse try to walk up to the herd leader with a high head out of curiosity and inexperience, only to find himself run off with a few strides.  The young horse simply ran off, and then came back with a lowered head gently waiting for the herd leader to acknowledge his submissive behavior and all was peaceful thereafter.  The new horse’s instinct had been invoked by the herd leader moving his feet, but never with relentless fear and exhaustion.

Wholistic Joining

Wholistic Joining

Witnessing natural herd leading was the foundation of my Wholistic Joining technique.  Wholistic Joining is my initial introduction to a new horse in training and on occasion used to remind a horse that I’m their herd leader.  Wholistic Joining invokes the horse’s natural instinct to recognize me as their herd leader without the use of fear, force or exhaustion. *Finally research is bearing out that round penning or join-up as it is sometimes called, uses inhumane fear tactics under the guise of body language.  To learn how Wholistic Joining can work for you and your horses you can watch FREE the Wholistic Joining Playlist below

Both the Training the Whole Horse® and Starting Under Saddle DVD series include Wholistic Joining training.  Visit my website at MissyWryn.com for further information.

*Links to research articles calling into question round penning and join-up:





About Gentle Horse Trainer Missy Wryn

Specializing in problem and dangerous horses Missy Wryn is an internationally recognized Gentle Horse Trainer and member of the Association of Professional Humane Educators. Missy's Training the Whole Horse® methods & techniques and the creation of her widely popular All-In-One Bitless Bridle have been featured in media such as Alaska Airlines Magazine, Equine Monthly, Natural Horse, NW Horse Source, Stable Management, The Horse Show with Rick Lamb, Horse Girl TV and more. For more information visit Missy Wryn’s website at MissyWryn.com or call toll free (888) 406-7689.
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6 Responses to Wholistic Joining – Rethinking Round Penning Join-Up

  1. Hi Missy, I’d be interested to know who you saw do the Join Up. I use many techniques from your way to Monty Roberts and many other natural horsemanship, but mainly my own by learning the language of the horse. Quite often when introducing something new to them you’ll see head nods and shaking and a new one I found today as I went to introduce our Shetland to another herd I look after, a raised head nod with a mini shake. I took it from the horse that he was not ready for another one to join his herd today, and we respectfully left. Once horses realise you are trying to communicate their way with facial expressions, eye movements and body language and work with them instead of forcing them, a partnership develops quite strongly, as you are aware.
    I do a join up with some horses, preferably in a field rather than a round pen and the technique is very similar to yours where you take the horses space and they have to move on.
    I have seen some round pen join ups where the person trying to join up doesn’t see the subtle signs that the horse gives and so they run them for the amount of time they think they should. Never seen them run ragged though.

  2. Willis Lamm says:

    Missy, I think you raise some valid issues. The original notion of letting a horse move in a round pen, then the handler encouraging the horse to come up by generating a little sensible energy followed by a “draw” seems to have devolved into “chase the horse around in a circle.” It’s what I call mechanical training (going through the motions with little or no regard as to what the horse is trying to communicate.) What we need to be doing is communicating with the horse from the position of “I’m going to look out for you but I’m also going to be the leader.” The first part of that quote can be simplified by inserting the term, “respect.” Respect is the true currency among horses. Aggressiveness may produce a form of respect (wariness) but it doesn’t produce the form of respect that develops partnerships. I want a horse that is glad to see me and will look out for me when we’re in difficult situations. “Wholistic” is a pretty good term for the mind set that we should be using any time we are interacting with our horses. Thanks for promoting the concept!

  3. Mustang Man says:

    I find it interesting that pen work for the meeting of minds with horses is so misunderstood and used so much. 1st, how do you help train a square balanced horse that is always leaning in one way or the other? that alone should stop the use of round pens at all.
    How about grabbing a folding chair, a good book and a coffee can full of treats(I use 5/8″ round packer pellets) sitting in the field and just wait until the horse approaches you out of its own free will at its own speed. give it a treat and go back to reading your book. after about 20 hours of this you have a horse that will follow you anywhere, anytime, any place including into a trailer without a lead. TIME, patience and treats will get you everything you wish for from a horse. forget about bubbles, personal space, respect and all that c–p. I have been using this for 40 years, my father did it for 50 years before me and his father, one of the Directors/Masters of the German Army Cavalry school through WWI did this. Why is it that humans work so hard on forgetting what works and work so hard on trying to reinvent the wheel? As for Missy Wryn Always Great work and great thoughts!

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