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Utah’s horse world – Round pen options and ideas

Sarah riding Time Out, at Joe Ruiz's reining facility. (2009)
Sarah riding Time Out, at Joe Ruiz's reining facility. (2009)Joe Ruiz Reining/ Sarah Robertson, on Kicker's Time Out

Self-care horse owners who keep their animals either at home or on leased land don’t usually have access to the amenities (round pens and arenas) that are found at the average boarding facility.

If you want to keep riding and tune up your horses, a round pen is pretty much essential. The size will be determined by your available space, affordable materials and training needs. A 60' pen is generally a good size that is big enough to lope in. You'll want to stay at a walk and trot in a smaller area. If working with a very green or unruly horse you may want to begin riding in a small space.

While the use of horse panels is the most common means to creating a pen, they can be expensive (costing roughly $90 per panel). If you purchase 10 or more, plus a gate, you’re easily looking at $1,000.00 on up. Delivery and installation is another intimidating chore. Locally panels can be ordered from IFA in Riverton, Cal-Ranch, or Triple S Steel on 700 West in Salt Lake. Big Bubba’s also makes a quality, affordable (under $70) lightweight panel. Choose galvanized or a less-expensive roughcoat finish. This easy-to-work-with local resource doesn't deliver, so a large truck or trailer will be required to transport their 5 x 10 panels.

While panels are safe (the square top design is especially recommended; those that round off at the top corners allow a little space where a rearing horse can catch a hoof and break its leg), their prices might initially look a bit daunting. There are, fortunately, a few other less-costly options.

If you know someone with a post-hole digger, you can set up wooden posts (either round beams or 4x4 posts work well). Set them in prepared cement and pea gravel during non-rainy weather. Wait roughly 48 – 72 hours for the cement to fully harden. Thereafter, you can add rolled vinyl rail, mesh or rope to fence in the space. Add hinges and a gate and you’re ready to go. Total costs (if you can do the labor on your own) should be in the range of $350 - $400.

Your standard t-post is another relatively simple and affordable option. A post-driver is needed to secure them in the ground (if you’re under 5’10 and short on brute strength, you may have to hire someone who’s taller and tougher to assist with this task). The sturdy posts are only about $5 each and are usually found at Home Depot. Add rubber end caps (see Home Depot or order online at ValleyVet) to prevent horses from flaying their own jugular. Create the outer barrier with low-cost and easy to use polytape or ponytape. Total costs should be under $200; maybe a little more depending on what you have to shell out for that post-driving labor.

Fast, easy and portable step-in posts allow the most quick and simple set up of a pen. Using a narrow polytape to create the perimeter barrier and a lightweight gate (a stall net, thick rope or a few chains can work) your total cost should be only $150 or so, even with shipping. The one caution to this set up is that those posts are easy to push into the ground, meaning it will be incredibly easy for the horses to pull them out of the ground. If you plan on keeping the round pen set up, this may be a risky creation, allowing playful or curious horses to lift a post and use the spiked end to impale another animal or seriously injure himself. While it’s a nice and low-cost idea if you’re traveling, it may not be desirable as a more permanent, at-home round pen if unsupervised horses will have access.

Be mindful of the footing inside your round pen as well. If your ground is soft and free of excess rocks, you may not have too many worries about quality footing. If it tends to quickly become too hard packed, you can try tilling it. If additional help is needed, add clean play quality sand. A bit of pea gravel at the base enhances drainage, too. If you don’t have a large truck, you can get local delivery (generally $25 or so per ton with a 2-ton minimum, plus $65 or $70 for delivery costs). Call Jon at 801-828-8133.

Set up your own on-site round pen to keep your riding skills, and your horses’ training, in top condition.