Portable Round Pen Pointers

Portable Round Pen Pointers -- If you're in the market for a portable round pen, here are some basics to keep in mind.

With proper planning, you can purchase the right portable round pen for your needs. | Photo by Darrell Dodds

Shopping for a portable round pen? Keep these key factors in mind as you pare down the contenders.

Size: First, figure out how big you’ll want your round pen’s diameter to be. This will determine the number and size of panels you’ll purchase. You can purchase a round pen anywhere from 30 to 120 feet in diameter, depending on its primary use. A 60-foot round pen is a popular size recommended by many trainers for longe-lining, free longeing and basic round pen training. If you plan to do a lot of riding in your round pen, you might want to purchase additional panels to make it larger.

Strength: Will you be using your pen for working quiet, well-broke horses? Or will it be a breaking pen for fractious young horses and double for holding cattle? The size of the railings and gauge of steel use for construction will determine strength and durability. Round pipe rails range from 1 1/2 to 2 inches in out diameter; the greater the diameter, the stronger the rails. Gauge is a measurement in thickness of the metal itself. As a rule of thumb, the larger the gauge number, the thinner the metal. Most round pens are constructed from 15- to 20-gauge steel. If you need maximum strength, with large rails and small gauge steel, realize you’ll sacrifice on portability because of the weight of the panels–and it’ll be harder on your pocketbook.

Panel size: Generally, round pen panels are available anywhere from 8 to 16 feet in length, and 48 to 72 inches high. If you choose shorter panels, you’ll save on weigh but sacrifice on set-up time because of all the connections you’ll need to make during set-up. Longer panels may be difficult to move by yourself, but assembly will take less time.

Most trainers prefer taller panels to shorter ones, because the additional height helps keep the horse focused and provides a better barrier against escape. Most manufacturers recommend a height of 60 inches.

Materials and finish: Most round pens are made from steel or an alloy of steel and some other metal. Galvanized steel is best for resisting corrosion, but may be less widely available because of cost. Some panels are available only in their natural, metal-colored finish. Others are coated with rust-resistant paint or a baked on finish in a variety of colors. No matter what you buy, maintenance will be required. Watch for rust–and when it first appears, paint with a rust resistant paint. Pay close attention to welds and other irregular surfaces.

Assembly mechanism: Round-pen panels either clump and bolt together, or are affixed together with a chain. Clamp-and-bolt may be the most solid, but it’s the most labor-intensive for assembly. The “male-female” clamp and bolt attachment offers the advantage of having no loose parts. Pin systems are quick to put together, but may have loose parts (many have pins affixed to chains, eliminating the chance for loss).

Chain attachment systems are ideal for uneven terrain, and they’re easy to assemble, but you may sacrifice on stability.

Solid walls: Most portable round pens are constructed with pipe-panel walls. However, solid walls are available, and many people feel they’re superior because they eliminate distractions and offer added safety (a horse can’t get a leg caught). If you plan to use your pen primarily for breaking colts, you may want to opt for solid walls. But beware–the weight of a solid-wall panel will be two- to three-times that of its pipe-panel counterpart.

Slanted walls: You may want to consider slanted walls if you’re going to be using your pen for riding. You may lose some stability with slanted walls, and assembly can be more difficult. Additional requirements for “legs” to maintain the slant can add weight and expense.

Leg options: Most panels are constructed with legs that go straight into the ground. Loop legs (forming a U shaped loop at the ground’s surface) and j-legs (forming half a loop at the ground surface are also available and may add stability while preventing the panels from sinking into the ground. Finally, you may want to consider a “kicker” leg, which consists of a loop of metal that curves away from the panel to act as a self-standing mechanism that helps with stability and assembly. Some panels come with kicker legs, others offer them as an option.

Availability/Shipping: If you don’t live close enough to a distributor to pick up the panels yourself, you’ll need to add in shipping costs of $500 and up.

Round-Pen Mathematics

Here’s how to calculate how many panels of what size you’ll need to purchase:

  1. Multiply the diameter you desire by 3.14 to determine the pen’s circumference.
  2. Divide the circumference by the length of the panels you wish to use [Example: If you plan to use 10 foot panels to construct a 60 foot pen, multiply 60 by 3.14 to get a circumference of 188.4, then divide 188.4 by 10 (panel length) to get 18.84. You’ll need 19 panels for a slightly larger than 60-foot pen].
  3. If you’ll be adding a separate gate piece, consider it’s length when calculating the overall diameter of the pen.

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