Years ago, clinician Frank Bell told me about a fine horseman named John Sharp, whose work with wild horses, square pens, and bamboo poles was an inspiration to all who saw it. Recently, Jim Rea, a frequent collaborator of Frank’s, shared more in a radio interview.
“While a round pen makes it easy for a horse to go,” Jim explains, “a square pen makes it easy for him to stop.”
Sharp’s square pen was just 24’ across, about half the diameter of the common 50’ round pen. The pole was 12’ in length, allowing a trainer to stand in the middle and touch the horse no matter where he went. Why bamboo? Bamboo poles have ridges connecting the segments and those ridges are handy for giving the horse a good scratching from a safe distance. It’s all part of Sharp’s novel way of building a foundation of trust.
Mr. Sharp’s square pen had a couple extra sections that came into play once the horse was responding well in the main work area. They formed a chute where the horse could be desensitized to humans touching it from the outside.
John Sharp is best known for his work gentling wild horses, but Jim also tells of Mr. Sharp calming the most troubled horses well into his nineties. Beside Jim and Frank, Sharp’s granddaughter, trainer and mounted shooting champ, Kitty Lauman, carries on his work today, and made an impressive showing with it at the first Extreme Mustang Makeover.
There are many paths to enlightenment for those of us truly committed to the journey. John Sharp offered one of them. Below are some resources if you’d like to learn more.
Listen to Rick’s full interview with Jim Rea
Listen to “Bamboo Pole and Square Pen” featuring Frank Bell (one minute)
Read Frank Bell’s full article on John Sharp’s method