Breaking a horse can be such a rewarding experience, however it is true to say it is not a job for everyone. It is always advisable to leave this type of job to the professionals as it can require much skill and can sometimes be a dangerous job at best.
However, if you are already an experienced horseman or horsewoman who would like to expand on their knowledge and skills then breaking a horse could just be the challenge you are looking for. With that, comes so many questions, but one of the most common without a doubt is how long the breaking process takes.
So, how long does it take to break a horse? Breaking a horse can vary considerably, however, on average you should expect the breaking process to take anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. Some horses will take 3-4 months to be fully broken. Always take as much time as the horse needs as there are no hard and fast rules.
If you are up for the challenge then it is always advisable to get as prepared as you possibly can before actually starting the process. Make sure you have all the right equipment you need, the facilities to do so, and research as much as you can about the steps you should take and helpful tips you can follow.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, it would also be really helpful if you had an unbroken horse available to you too (no doubt you already have one in mind).
How Do You Break A Horse?
Breaking a horse to ride can be such a fulfilling experience, however do not complacent, this is a job that requires just as much patience, time, and commitment as it does skill. This is isn’t an activity for the faint-hearted and in an ideal world, you will already be an experienced equestrian.
When we refer to breaking a horse, we usually mean an equine that has not been ridden before and has not proven to be safe yet for a human to get on its back.
Quite often you will find young, inexperienced horses being broken, however, it isn’t unheard of to have to also retrain a horse after it has been out of work for a long time which is referred to as re-backing.
6 Steps To Breaking A Horse
If you are looking to break a horse there are some steps you can follow which have been detailed below.
It is important to remember that this is a very complex subject that can take years to learn thoroughly and the below steps are a simple guideline.
1. Building Trust
Building trust with your horse is a key step to the early parts of training. It can be the difference between being able to break your horse successfully and failing miserably. One of the foundations of breaking is to teach your horse to follow you as their leader.
If you haven’t built that bond in the beginning you are likely to have problems throughout the process and later on down the line. Try to spend as much time as you can on the ground with your horse to establish that trust early on.
Groundwork is a very important part of the breaking process and it helps you to develop that bond further with your horse. It is also an ideal way to check out in advance what you are likely to be dealing with.
If your horse is dangerous being lead in a halter then they might not take too well to a bridle and saddle. They could potentially be a handful in the beginning.
One of the key parts of groundwork for an unbroken horse is halter training. If they are young and have been relatively unhandled this is one of the first steps of groundwork for you to master with your horse.
Get them to the point where they don’t mind the halter being fitted and will happily be led in a calm and relaxed manner without any pulling or silliness. Get to a point also where you feel safe with this activity.
Make sure your horse is responding to you well with all groundwork before taking the next step. Whether that be leading them in from the field or moving around them in the stable, make sure you are completely comfortable around each other and that you can see your horse is looking to you for direction and leadership.
Lunging is also considered groundwork and is one step closer to having a rideable horse. It is a way of effectively riding your horse but from ground level and getting them to listen to you, mostly through voice aids. Lunging will usually take place in the confines of a circular pen or a section of the arena where you can school your horse in a safe environment.
You can work your horse on your lunging circle in walk, trot, and canter. Always make sure you work them on both reins and build up the lunging time gradually. Working a horse on a lunge is much more strenuous and you may want to start by doing 10 mins on each rein and building them up as their fitness grows.
You must ensure that you have all the right equipment for lunging (a halter and rope won’t do for this) and make sure you are wearing the correct equipment too (ideally a riding hat and gloves for safety).
It is true to say that lunging a horse correctly is an art in itself and it is vitally important you are well equipped with the knowledge and skills in this area. Always seek training in this area if you are an inexperienced lunger.
4. Tack Training
It may seem strange to say it, but horses need time to get used to tack such as saddles and bridles. They are born with them attached round their head and stomachs and therefore this is something that you will need to get your horse used to if you are intending on eventually riding them.
There is no particular set amount of time this will take, but most horses take to this quite easily after a few attempts. If you find that your horse is not accepting the tack it may not necessarily be disobedience o their part and maybe something to do with the tack itself.
Always ensure you get a proper saddle and bridle fitting carried out by a qualified professional. Sometimes tack doesn’t fit well which can result in pain and sores for your horse.
Take your time with this process and do not try to rush things too quickly. It is important that your horse feels comfortable and pain-free in their tack way before you even attempt to get on and ride.
It is a wise idea to start lunging your horse with full tack on once they accept the saddle and bridle. This will get used to them moving in the tack.
Mounting is one of the first steps to being able to ride your horse and can often be one that takes time and the patience of a saint. It is for the most part pretty strange to a horse to have a rider on their back when they are not used to it.
All of a sudden they will feel much more weight on their back than they ever have before and often feel very confused about what is going on. This is why it is so important you take this in baby steps.
When you first try to mount your horse do not put the full weight of your body in the saddle. Stand to the side of your horse and pretend to mount by just applying some weight onto the horse.
Once they are accepting of this, attempt to mount by lying across the saddle, but not actually swinging your leg over. This will provide your horse with your full body weight without fully mounting.
These two partial mounting steps will give you a very good indication of how well your horse will receive a complete mount from the rider. If the first two parts of mounting are not going well and you are feeling unsafe this usually will mean your horse needs more time.
Always ensure you have a helper nearby to assist you and hold the horse if necessary. Sometimes this isn’t a quick process and taking baby steps is key to making this work.
6. Basic Movements
So you have managed to fully mount your horse ‘hooray’ and we applaud you! This is not an easy process and breaking horses can be challenging and time-consuming. So you’re in the saddle. What next I hear you say?
The next step is encouraging your horse to accept you as a rider (their leader). The key here is providing cues and receiving positive responses.
Horses need to learn to respond to aids and by aids, we mean your legs, your seat, and your hands (and voice if you choose to ride in this way). In the beginning, it can all seem a bit double Dutch to a horse and they can get confused as to what you require from them.
This can often result in them becoming difficult to manage and having a little (or big) meltdown. This is a pretty common occurrence and not something that you should worry about, however this is why you will need to be a very experienced rider to get the very best of the horse.
Some simple things you will need to teach your horse in the very beginning can include (but not limited to):
- Responding to your leg aid when asking to walk on
- Moving away from your leg aid
- Bending around a corner (small amounts of bend initially)
- Understanding the half halt to regulate the aids
- Halting from your seat aids
- Understanding your stronger leg aid for an upwards transition
- Listening to your seat aids for downward transitions
- Achieving straightness through the body
These are just a starting point and the foundation. This step of breaking is likely to take the longest since it isn’t so much about accepting and more about learning.
Once a horse has accepted the rider and the foundation has been laid it is usually wise to turn your horse away in the field for a few months to let all the learning digest.
Young horses are still effectively toddlers and the overload of information can be too much for them. Turning them out in the field for a few months gives them time to fully process what they have learned.
How Hard Is It To Tame A Horse?
When we are talking about taming a horse we are usually referring to wild horses that have never been handled. This isn’t as common as those horses bred in a domesticated environment however it does happen.
Taming a wild horse can be much trickier than a horse that has been handled from an early age. It is also far more dangerous and requires a much higher skill level.
Wild horses are exactly that – wild – and we would consider this job to be for someone with nerves of steel and a wealth of experience backing youngsters as well as wild horses.
The process you would likely follow when taming a wild horse is pretty similar to the steps we mentioned above for breaking a horse however you should expect to do much more groundwork as potentially just trying to do simple everyday things such as enter the stable or put on a halter can be challenging.
Time and patience are key when trying to tame wild horses and you must be realistic with your approach. Some horses just won’t be handled or ridden and much prefer the feral life than the domesticated one.
How Long Does It Take To Train A Horse?
Training a horse can truly take a lifetime. Like with all things in life, there is so much to learn and try out for the first time. As riders, we continually learn.
I can guarantee that every time we get on our horses we learn something new and the same applies to your horse. Learning is a continuous phase and the best way is for horse and rider to learn together.
If we are referring specifically to training horses during the breaking process then this can vary considerably from horse to horse. Where one step of the process can be very successful in a short space of time you may find you take a bit of a back step at the next.
On average you would expect a horse to be broken to ride within a couple of months, however, this isn’t always the case and for some horses can take anywhere between 3-6 months. It all boils down to the individual horse and how willing they are to learn.
Once the breaking process is complete and your horse has been turned away for a few months the fun begins! The horse has so much to learn at this point and this is why it is so important you take this at your horse’s own pace and not be influenced by too many outside sources. Professional advice however should always be welcome.
Some of the things your horse may need to learn:
- Lateral movements for dressage
- How to Jump (showjumping)
- Jumping fixed fences (cross country)
- Leaving the stable for a trail ride or hack
These are all things that are not a given and you should expect to have to train your horse in these areas. It can time and a whole bunch of patience, but you will get there in the end with hard work and persistence.
On a parting note, breaking horses is not for beginners or those without much experience. It can be a dangerous and a challenging process and we would always recommend seeking professional help from a horse trainer in the first instance.
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