I used to do a lot of liberty training in one; Join-up, Follow Me, you name it… I do my liberty in the open now.
They aren’t inherently bad, but I have 3 main issues with them:
1. They can allow us to put a lot of pressure on a horse to force a false connection. Take away the pen and we’re going to find that out pretty quick. This includes liberty work or when we’re riding a colt in one. Eventually, it’s going to bite us in the butt and we’ll be eating some humble pie (ask me how I know).
2. The more science teaches us about biomechanics, the more we realize how harmful repetitive movement on curved lines is, especially for young horses. Once again, classical Dressage and old time working cowboys are in consilience on longevity and soundness here: Calm, Forward, STRAIGHT. Anything under the standard dressage circle, 20 meters, or 66 feet, is especially going to torque on young joints.
3. Riding or working in an enclosure of any kind cheats our horsemanship. This is one of the issues with us modern riders: we don’t know how to properly use our outside aids, the outside rein and leg, because the fence does all the work for us. So the finesse of ‘Inside Leg to Outside Rein’ and the ability to collect the horse and get a horse that can stay under our hand and between our legs is pretty limited. It’s why you see experienced horses being ridden and moving like colts for their entire career, and it’s why horses often work fine inside but ‘lose their minds’ when you try to ride them out.
That being said, a safe enclosure is obviously invaluable for first saddling and the first few rides, although it’s not strictly necessary.
The only way to keep evolving in our horsemanship is to open up our minds- and maybe our pens, too…
Keep riding the spiral path,