There were two pens connected by a gate. Each was probably sixty feet square, enclosed by a six foot fence of rough cut, one by six pine, weathered to silver. In the center of one pen was a switch-tie from the railroad. Rooted deeply into the red, clay soil, it protruded 5 feet above the ground. This post was called a “snubbin’ post” and was used when catching calves to do vaccinations, branding, etc.by wrapping the lariat rope around it after roping the calf.
The snubbin’ post had a different role when colts were being started. My mentor would have a colt (we’re talking about a long two-year-old here) run into the pen. With the large loop held behind him, the man would wait until the colt passed him at just the right place, then flick the loop over the colt’s neck. The loop appeared to leap of his own volition, I never could master the trick! When the colt was caught, the rope was turned around the post and the new recruit was worked like a fish on a line. There was never enough tension to choke the colt, but when he pulled back, he met resistance that was equal to his pull. Finally, the colt became quiet, and came near the pole, which is when the noose came off and was replaced by a hackamore. This was a bridle with a noseband made of stiff rope. The colt was worked as long as necessary around the post with the hackamore, until the give and release was clearly understood and the colt could be led by the hand in a soft, light manner.
The colt learned to make a truly round circle with the pole at the center. Many years later, I learned that the French classical trainer used a single pillar in a very similar manner. The advantage to longeing around a center pole is simple to understand. Even a young horse is bigger and stronger than a two legged human being and can easily pull the person around, but the horse can’t move the pole. Very early in his education a horse started in this way learns to “give” to pressure and so becomes “light” to handle.
There is a learning curve involved in developing the skill of using the post or pillar in a manner that is safe for both human and horse. Once the technique is understood and practiced, it pays big dividends later on, the “snubbin’ post” becomes the “classical pillar.”