It’s not like in the movies.
You don’t just leap into a wild stallion’s back and run away, unharmed.
So, beginners, be warned.
If it’s your first time to break a horse, safety should always come first for the sake of all lives.
As gentle as the giant is, horses have prey instincts that can be dangerous even for predators.
Hence, if you’re unprepared to handle misbehaviors, we recommend that you let a trained handler assist you in the challenging yet rewarding experience of breaking a horse.
Having said that, it’s only to your advantage to learn the best methods of breaking a horse here. These simple yet ground-breaking tips have turned average riders into horse whisperers.
But first, a refresher course.
Breaking in a Horse for the First Time: What you need to Know
A horse who never been ridden or trained is “unbroken”. In other words, it’s not tamed or accustomed to a ride.
As such, unbroken horses—those too young for training or brumbies (wild horses)—shouldn’t be left in the care of novice riders.
What is Horse Breaking?
To break a horse is to tame or train one to achieve your horse’s purpose (riding or driving).
What’s with this term?
It’s an unfriendly one that used to mean “force” is used to break a horse’s spirit.
Old stories have it that when breaking a horse for the first time you will get bucked off.
Again and again, until the job is done.
As one popular old cowboy quote goes:
“The trick to breaking horses is, after you get bucked off, keep gettin’ back on ’til the horse gets bored.”
A lot will get broken—back, ribs, fingers, ankle, teeth. Even fence and halters.
Hence, the term “broke”.
A well-broke horse, therefore, means the horse has been trained and is capable of performing responsibilities.
Here are other terms you may also have heard of:
Saddle Broke – A horse trained to carry a rider
Harness Broke – A horse who responds to a harness to pull a cart or a carriage
Green Broke – A horse who is dumb or “green broke” is just starting to learn the basics of moving forward with a rider
Halter Broke – A horse is comfortable to accept a halter and behaves when tied, groomed or carrying orders when wearing one.
When is the best age to break a horse?
There is no perfect age. It all depends on several factors including size and body condition.
One research, in line with the 1920 manual of horse management, suggests that horses shouldn’t carry more than 20% of their body weight.
However, it’s common practice to break a horse in the age range of three to four. Some conditioning horses at the age of two.
At these ages, they are also more mentally inclined to obey orders. Break a horse too young and horses may suffer joint problems and soundness issues.
What will I Need in Breaking in a Horse for the first time?
Aside from patience, strategy, knowledge and time to build on trust, you’ll need these to tack up your horse:
- Headgear as Bridles, Halters, and Hackamores
- Lead ropes
- Helmet for the rider
- Safety Stirrups or boots with a one-inch heel
Most experts prefer to break a horse in a round pen but otherwise, an enclosed space like an arena or small paddock can help secure the free-spirited equine in place.
Different Methods of Breaking in a Horse
There are many forms of training which fall under two general types:
- Natural horsemanship is the friendlier somewhat modern approach
- Traditional methods are strict and can be forceful
Best Method: Natural Horsemanship Approaches
Natural Horsemanship is more psychological than physical.
It involves instinct and intuition. Not force. Not dominance. Not fear.
If you aim to consider the horse’s behavior and body language, you’re going “natural” with your horsemanship.
Here are some foundational principles based on the breakthrough guy, Don Jessop’s Leadership and Horses book.
1. Approach and Retreat
This is among the best methods of breaking a horse.
Because you don’t break a horse’s confidence, you build it.
Do it by approaching the horse. Or moving towards it.
But the key is knowing when to retreat or back off.
The horse naturally gets fearful every time you approach.
- Retreat when the horse doesn’t like to be saddled (for example), retreat in the meantime. Give the animal time to process something new, cozy up and then reintroduce the saddle again, slowly.
- Withdraw when he seems agitated with your presence
- Give ground when he hesitates to follow an order and give time
- Back off if he won’t come nearby, give him space and draw him in by drifting calmly in circles
There are many variations of this technique depending on the trainer but the concept is simple: approach and retreat and repeat the process until the horse is calmer.
The goal is to build the horse’s trust and confidence in your presence.
2. Pressure and Release
What does pressure mean?
Consider it a negative reinforcement.
A leash in a dog for example.
Motivate and direct the animal using the leash and release it when he does the right thing or goes in the right direction.
It is important to note that you can increase the “pressure” in the most tolerable way possible.
You can also adjust the “release’ when the response improves. This must be perfectly timed:
- An attempt or effort to move can equal to a slight release
- An improvement in a response warrants an improvement in the release
- Release to the maximum when the response is mentally and physically correct
Let’s apply this with your horse.
He or she may not want to follow you in the trailer.
Don’t force your horse. Instead hold on tight to the rope.
Release your grip slowly to acknowledge any effort. Loosen up completely when the goal is achieved.
Whatever variation of this method you choose, the concept is the same: pressure motivates the horse but he learns from the release.
3. Rewards Oriented
Science has proven that horses are smart. By the time you are breaking a horse, think of your breed like a four-year-old child, because scientists actually say they have the same brain capacity.
Meaning, your horse can perform simple tasks and just like a child, responds with consequences or rewards.
When your child does the right thing, you give your kid a new toy or treats, right?
Rewards are among the best methods of breaking a horse.
Now, the question is, what does a horse consider a reward?
Hint: it doesn’t have to be food.
In fact, equine experts recommend practicing the safety cautions when giving treats to horses.
Read more: What kind of food do horses eat?
The author, Robert M. Miller, DVM, in his new book Natural Horsemanship Explained: From Heart to Hands, claims that rewards depend on what your horse wants.
Maybe your horse loves to:
- Take a break in the pasture
- Get groomed or praised
- Mingle with another horse
- Munch on carrots or apples
It could also be as simple as removing the negative reinforcement. Whatever type of reward that is give that desirable thing immediately.
Preferably right after a job well done, so the horse understands the connection.
It’s natural for horses to get scared.
But how often does your horse get spooked?
Desensitization is teaching your horse how to get used to something they are afraid of.
Horses are led by example. So on your end, it’s important that you appear calm, cool, knowledgeable and clear with your instructions.
From the Horse and Rider, here are three techniques to make horses ride-ready and less reactive using plastic bags, clippers and use a ball.
Horses are afraid-to-death of these things. Prove your horse wrong.
Whatever object you choose, here are the basic steps:
- Stand at the end of the line and hold the object of doom. Your horse will naturally back away. When he stops, reward this small effort.
- Show the object of doom again, moving it halfway closer. Move it closer to your face and if he responds positively, lower the object down or move it a little bit farther.
- Don’t make slow and creepy movements, this looks suspicious. Remain calm and let the object touch the horse’s head or back. Let him feel it and work your way up.
Best Methods of Breaking a Horse by Monty Roberts
She said she would stay for an hour.
Then for the rest of the day, she canceled all her appointments.
It was no other than the reigning monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II.
The first time they met, the queen entrusted her horses to Monty Roberts.
He’s the famous trainer who breaks horses with his whispers. Not whips.
The man can saddle, bridle and well break a horse in 30 minutes.
Watch his Youtube videos, you’ll be amazed.
What are his best methods of breaking a horse?
Kinder, gentler, training methods.
The Join Up Horse Training Method
If you watch the video of Roberts Monty, you’ll observe his best methods of breaking a horse as follows:
- Inside a round pen, the trainer acts like a predator and begins making large movements and noise.
- Expect the horse to run away but don’t use any force to draw her back. Instead, give her the option to return at her own will.
- Invite the horse to join the “herd”, hopefully, she will respond by locking one ear and dropping head
- As she displays the signs of trust, the trainer will make subtle movements to communicate with the horse—keeping arms close to the body, slouch knees, square shoulders, and eye contact—then invite the horse to “Join up”.
The Idea behind Join Up
A horse is a member of a herd and responds to a leader. That being the trainer. She needs to join and act appropriately with the leader in order to be part of the herd.
Signs that the horse has been submissive are:
- Lowered head
Communication is the key to this highly popular method adopted by natural horse trainers worldwide.
Other best methods of breaking a horse include those of Clinton Anderson, Sue Spence, Richard Shrake, Guy Mclean, Chris Irwin and Frank Bell among many others.
You can’t run, you can’t hide.
You’re left with no choice but to face your fears.
The traditional methods of breaking a horse involve using force, domination and creating fear.
Others call this training. Some call it abuse.
As a sensitive animal, these methods are some of the stages used in breaking a horse, the old way.
1. Tying Up
It sounds simple.
Rope a neck around the horse and tie it to a post.
The horse will try to flee but eventually gets worn out. Once the horse accepts the restraint, it’s accepted being tied up.
But it isn’t that simple. Some trainers tie horses uncomfortably in small enclosures, deprived of food and water for the rest of the night.
By morning, hungry and exhausted, there will be less resistance with the rope.
2. Sacking Out
As discussed above, horses get spooked easily. Some from saddles. The old tradition of breaking a horse involves bagging down a horse to quiet down.
Movement of the horse is restricted and the trainer will swat the horse with the object of doom until exhausted. Not exactly a good way to get over a fear.
Sacking out a fearful horse isn’t only ineffective, it can be dangerous to the animal resulting in injuries and greater fears.
3. Ride and Rule
Legend has it that folk hero Sasruquo was the brainchild of this method of training.
Once upon a time, Sasruquo leaped into a stallion’s back and plunged the horse into the river.
The horse struggled against the torrent and it was Sasruquo who steered the beast into the safety of the river banks.
After this risky feat, Sasruquo earned the respect of the horse who followed his commands thereafter.
In this traditional method of breaking a horse, it’s about strength and dominance.
It may be too risky to ride an unbroken horse into a river. Instead, trainers restrain, blindfold, ride and whip a horse.
The rule is to stay on board no matter what until the horse stops bucking.
Which Best Methods of Breaking a Horse Work Best?
When it comes to the best methods of breaking a horse, there’s no one size fits all—you will have to learn for the rest of your life.
Others prefer the kinder and gentler natural horsemanship.
Research has it that modern horses also prefer submissive trainers.
But it pays to keep an open mind in the beginning and use the best of both—natural and traditional—methods.
Advice and lessons will come in left and right. You may center on one approach or combine different methods.
After all, not all horsemen are the same.
In the end, as long as your techniques are safe and effective, it’s all up to you.
Final Tip: Be a Responsible Horse owner
That comes with a cliché tip of, never stop learning.
Keeping a horse alive, requires a lot.
Patience, hard work, time, responsibility and money. Lots of it.
Read more: Horse Care Tips and Tricks for Beginners
Breaking a horse requires a step-up.
You have to be willing to try new things if it means improving the health, longevity and purpose of your horse.
Lastly, mistakes are most welcome. The best methods of breaking a horse are not perfect. But as you refine your techniques and try again, and again, you’ll come close.