Please note that the following information is strictly from my own experience. I am not a professional trainer. I did however, break in my Tennessee Walking Horse mare using these steps.
First off, you want to build a bond with your horse. I believe the best way to do this is to get your horse young, before 2 years of age. I bought my mare at 17 months of age, and I bought an American Quarter Horse stallion at 8 months of age. Of course, you can bond with a horse of any age. However if you plan on breaking the horse in yourself it is best to start ground work as early as possible. The best way to bond is by spending time with your horse every day. In the winter I make sure to groom the horses everyday. Don't use the cold/snow as an excuse. I live in the mountains, my road isn't plowed or maintained, and we usually get worse weather than the rest of the state. I still put 2 - 3 layers on and go outside. In the spring/summer/and fall I usually take a book and sit in the pasture and read, only paying attention to the horses when they come to me. Along with this, another important aspect of bonding with your horse is trust, and earning his respect.
Many people complain because they have to "catch" their horses when they want to ride, often chasing them around the pasture or luring them in with a handful of grain. An owner who has put in the time and bonded properly with his/her horse will not have this problem. My horses come to me by simply hearing me whistle, or seeing me approach.
However, this is because I have bonded so closely with them. If you have just gotten your horse, or if you are trying to bond closer, try walking out into the pasture, past your horse, and just sitting or kneeling down, facing AWAY from the horse. Do not look at him, or acknowledge his presence. Horses are naturally curious, and he will have expected you to notice him. By not noticing him, he will want to try to get your attention. Stay this way until he comes up behind you or nudges you. After he does this, reward him by showing him affection. After a little while, the horse will learn that if he wants your attention, HE has to come to you.
A horse will build trust with you by bonding. Also, if something frightens him, make sure he knows you won't let it hurt him. For instance, if your horse is afraid of dogs, try getting him used to them. One way to do this is to buy a large stuffed dog and place it where he can see it. Then, go reassure him, calm him, and lead him toward it. If he balks, don't force him. Forcing your horse to do something will only make him more upset. Once you get him up to it, show it to him, let him smell it, and help him to realize that you wouldn't have lead him into something that would hurt him. By doing this, he will learn to trust your judgement.
Respect is the last ingredient to bonding. If your horse knows he can do what he wants, he won't bother to listen to you. You need to be firm with him, and discipline him when he is wrong. An example of this is biting. If your horse is a nipper, a light tap on the nose or a slight pinch right after biting can help stop this. Your horse will learn that YOU are in charge and not him, and he will start respecting your position and authority. Horses nip as a sign of dominance, so don't let your horse get away with this.
Breaking And Training
Once you have bonded, you can start working on other things. Although actual weight should not be introduced until at least 2 years of age, there are many things you can do to get your horse ready for the saddle. Using weight on your horse's back before 2 years of age can hurt the muscles, leading to cases of swayback later in life. However, make sure you end every session on a positive note.
One important thing to start is de-sensitizing. This will get your horse used to things rubbing on him, and will keep him from spooking on trail rides when leaves or tall grass brush his legs or sides. I tied 3 of our lead ropes together for this, and started lightly swinging this onto my mare's back and around her legs. Take it slowly at first, and let your horse see that nothing is scary about the rope. Gradually, you can start throwing the entire rope. When you can give the entire thing a good pitch and have it wind around your horse's legs, or down over his head and around his ears, and then pull it back to you without him moving, your horse has been properly de-sensitized. This can take days or weeks, so don't give up if your horse isn't responding how you want him to the first day.
Another good lesson is teaching your horse to back up by voice command. To do this, attach a lead rope to your horse's halter, and slowly wiggle it from left to right. If your horse doesn't back up right away, try wiggling the rope a little faster. Your horse will start backing up. While he's doing this, repeat "back" or "back-up" whenever he moves back a step. Your horse will learn to associate "back" with him moving backwards, and the rope will eventually not be needed.
One more voice command you can teach is "up", which tells the horse to pick up its feet without you throwing your weight into him and pulling the leg up. To do this, simply start at the top of the leg and run your hand down. When you get to the knee, say "up" and pick up on your horse's leg. This will take some time, but your horse can eventually learn that when you run your hand down his leg and say "up", its his job to pick up his leg. I've had wonderful results from my mare with this and the "back" command.
When its time to start working with the saddle, its good to start slow. The saddle blanket should be first. Let your horse smell it, let him watch it while you place it on his back. Walk him around with it. When he feels comfortable, stop. Never go overboard with your horse. Always end on a good note. The next day, put the blanket on and then, introduce the saddle. My suggestion is to use a "junk" saddle. on my mare, I used an old parts saddle we had lying around. They way, she could get used to the weight, but if she bucked it off I didn't have to worry about something breaking, or her freaking out while it was cinched, rolling, and hurting/breaking her back.
Start by letting your horse smell the saddle. Pick it up and gently rub it on his side. If he steps away, don't force him. He will calm down after a while, and you will be able to put the saddle on. If he bucks, don't worry. Just keep working with him. This may take a week or so for him to get used to. Always praise him when he leaves the saddle on and is calm.
Next its time for the bridle. Although it can be hard to get your horse to take the bit, you can rub something tasty, such as an apple, across it. This will distract the horse so you can slip the bit in and secure the bridle. If this still doesn't work, make sure to take it slow. Pull the bridle up as far as it will go without having the bit in. Then, take your index and middle finger and put them in your horses mouth, back towards the back where the teeth end. By gently pressing down, your horse will open his mouth. Slip the bit it, if he spits it out, do so again until he starts to get used to it, and then fasten the straps. Don't rush your horse into something that could frighten him.
Since you've gotten your horse tacked up, try a saddle with cinches now. Don't make them as tight as you can right away. Make them tight enough to keep the saddle on, and let your horse get used to that. Make sure he doesn't try to roll. Rolling with a saddle on can break a horse's back. As a last minute precaution, a martingale should be added. This is a strap that hooks onto the bottom of the bridle and the cinch between the front legs. A horse needs to be able to through its head up to rear. With the martingale keeping the head level, the horse cannot rear. This gives you one less thing to worry about.
When your horse is comfortable with all his tack, its time for weigh to be applied. To get your horse used to having weight on his back, a 50 lb. Bag of dog food works nicely. If your horse bucks it off, keep trying. When you feel your horse is ready, you can try getting on. It's a good idea to have someone holding your horse, so that some control can be had. If you can boost yourself up in the stirrup, balance yourself there and let him get used to the saddle shifting. Then, try laying across is back. Be ready for a quick dismount if need be. If your horse accepts this, swing you leg over and be ready to hold on. Remember to grip with your knees and hold on with your hands too. The mane is a good place to grip. There is a good chance your horse will buck. Do your best to stay on. If you cannot, roll away from your horse as soon as you hit the ground to avoid being trampled by his hooves.
If you have been thrown, make sure you get right back on. It can be hard, I know. I've been thrown my fair share of times. But if your horse learns that he can keep you off by bucking, you'll never break him. Wait until your horse calms before you end your training session. Don't stop just because you are scared. Eventually your horse will get used to this and stop bucking.
Next comes reining. To do this, start split reining. When you want your horse to turn, do what you would normally do to neck rein. That is, lay the reins against the side of his neck. Put apply pressure to the other side, pulling the horses head in the direction you want him to go. This will teach your horse to rein. You will be able to stop pulling after a while and simply neck rein.
Rick Benningfield from North Texas on November 10, 2018:
I've always started with IMPRINT TRAINING. I begin when the horse or colt is about 1 hour old.n I put the halter on and let him nurse then take it off and let him nurse. This goes on 4-5 times per day for a month. I rub him all over and lift his feet rub and pat them then sit them down. this goes on for about 1 month. Then I halter the mare and colt and place lead lines on both and lead them up and down the hallway at least once a day. The colt will follow along side of his mother with no problem. Now what you have done is 1. Bond with the foal 2. the foal is now halter broke. 3 The foal has confidence in you. Continue to interact with the foal and talk to him and you will find that when it comes time to introduce him to the saddle there will be no problem and at about 2 1/2 years old when you get into the seat of the saddle he will not fight you or buck. All that is needed is someone to start out leading him while you use the reins properly and you are riding! and this can happen the same day.
Erin on September 19, 2015:
Hi, I'm 15 years old, and although I'm not getting a horse right now, I want to break one in soon (possibly when I am 16 or older.) I haven't been riding my entire life or anything, but I'm not a beginner, that's for sure. I still have problems with locking up my arms while riding, but other then that I'm fairly competent and confident riding. I haven't owned a horse before, unfortunately, due to money problems. Last year I went to a boarding school with many different horses to ride each afternoon, so got my fair share of different personalities, such as fast and stubborn mares, slow ponies, bucking geldings and a cold-backed horse. I know all about lunging and what-not. I really want to break my own horse in as it is a lot cheaper to get an unbroken in horse and train it to fit me, then it is to buy an expensive horse that may not even fit my personality. I know I'm not that experienced, and I know experienced people who could help me. I get lessons every week, so I'm well on my way to becoming more experienced and confident riding, and I was wondering if I could break in my own horse in due time?
Gail on March 17, 2015:
I've had my mare for a while. I rode her once and this past time she freaked out, throwing me and breaking my lower back. I'm ready to start working her again but nervous about getting back on her back. She's great on the ground but not in the saddle. I've trained my gelding and others including studs but I'm older now and plenty of metal holding my bones together.
Camella malone on March 07, 2015:
I have a quarter horse made 10 yrs she has been mistreated and very scared to trust.I can catch her in yard and paddock with food,she does not like her back feet picked up front is getting better I can brush her tail now and pull it no kicking is good.
Such a look when u have her is it possible for me to gain her trust.
Aurora on October 25, 2014:
Oh email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Aurora on October 25, 2014:
I have a horse I rescued she is very sweet but when my parents or anyone but me get near her or lead her she gets all spooky and now they want to get rid of her because they say she is insane! I don't know what to do. Any advice
daisy on September 14, 2014:
Hi i have a 5 year old marr who i would love to break in the only thing is she is really share as her old owner use to be mean to her how can i get her to trust me more
Sophie on August 13, 2014:
My horse is four years old and she is a wild saddle bred. She has never been haltered, and we need to move her from Columbia Mo. to st.Charles Mo. She doesn't like her face to be touched but she loves to be brushed and she loves treats. How are we supposed to move her on a trailer?
AJH on June 18, 2014:
My suggestion to all these people who are asking questions is to google natural horsemanship, order themselves a book from an accredited trainer such as pat parelli or ken Faulkner and the likes. And GET READING !!!! Every problem you encounter I can guarantee will no longer be a problem. Starting horses using these methods is a no brainer. And if u have an older horse then u will go back to basics with him to build a proper trusting relationship.
No, I haven't forgotten the old saying that what works for some wont work for others..... But if you choose the path of natural horsemanship you will never fail as you will learn to think and act like a horse in a way that's clear as water for your horse.
Happy "breaking" peoples ;)
technoid on March 11, 2014:
whiteheartd3x7: Bits can be very painful to a horse. There are many nerve endings in their mouth. Some folks don't realize how much pressure or pain they are inflicting. And your horse might see anything that will be put in his mouth as pain. He could also have something medical going on with his mouth that the Vet may have missed. As for being tied up. And pulling back. I would sugest a rope halter. Nylon haulters can injure them. My Mare would do that when she was being shown something new. Like a winter horse coat. And have fear of it. Till I showed her gently. Approching slow and then pulling away. Talking softly to her. For a horse to leap back up in the air means the animal is very frightened of something. I don't know the whole story but it sounds like your horse has experienced things that you are not aware of. Like someone loseing there temper with the animal. As for the wormer try filling an empty one with applesauce. Hold the halter close in one hand and quickly inject the apple sauce into the mouth. Don't let the horse see the wormer. After a few times the horse will think its getting a sweet treat. Even the wrong fitting saddle can cause pain for a horse. My wife and I have had horses for about 2 years now. We are not experts. But have learned the natural way of training that allows the horses to feel safe and comfortable with us. Your horse should want to be with you when ever it see's you. A good bond makes for a good horse. Hope that helps. Take care and have a nice day.
whiteheart3x7 on March 10, 2014:
QH 8 years old, stop taking bit and have no clue why. Vet checked his teeth, teeth ok. He brings his head up as high as he can to stop you from putting the bit in his mouth. if I tie him by a led rope to tie post than he will pull back as hard as he can. He has already broken 2 halters. I bought a bitless bridal and he lets me put that on him. But even when trying to give him his wormer he won't let you put anything in his mouth. I have to put the wormer in my hand mixed with feed and thats how I get him wormed. Any suggestions?
justmesuzanne from Texas on January 12, 2014:
Sound advice! Voted up,useful and interesting! :)
William Leverne Smith from Hollister, MO on November 24, 2013:
Thank you, so much, for the useful, real life, information regarding horses. I write historical fiction family saga stories where their horses play a key role. I like to be as authentic as possible, of course. Keep up the good work. Hope you share further information. ;-)
Hannah on October 11, 2013:
Hi there, I am currently breaking in my 5 year old arab, she is perfectly fine with everything except when I get on, and begin to sit up she is scared of the height and bucks me off!! What can I do to help this? Or will it just take time? Thank you
Chasidy on October 10, 2013:
I'm getting a 9 year old paint. He was a barrel racing horse, but hasn't been rode in a year.. How do I get him back to running barrels? Doing ground work first or what
ahaefke on April 24, 2013:
@ Technoid. I have been around horses my entire life and have come to a point in my life where I was able to purchase a horse of my own. I have come find the same issues as you have about advice. I recommend a book I have read called "Making not Breaking" by Cherry Hill. I also recommend Rick Gore on youtube. He's a little goofy, but his methods are very smart!!! I am a firm believer in working with a horse and using horse instinct rather than force. From own experience, I have found this to work with my mare and now am beginning the process on a new mare we have just taken in. As for feeding a horse really can't eat too much hay meaning if you throw a round bale into a pasture, they wont colic on it. Grain on the other hand is very rich so you have monitor how much feed they have. I use grain in the winter to help keep weight on my mare. Not everyone uses grain but I have found for me it helps. If you choose not to use grain, I can recommend using timothy/orchard or timothy/alfalfa mix. It has more nutrients to it. Mineral blocks also help with absorbing nutrients as well. If you're worried about them keeping warm remember that a horses temp runs about 99 to 101. So what may be comfortable to you may be a little warm for them. I typically blanket my mare in the winter because it's easier for me to groom her come spring with out a huge shedding of her coat. I have a winter blanket which I will throw on her when temps drop below 20 and then she has a lighter blanket which I keep on her other wise unless it's going to break 4o that day.( i live in the south). I hope some of that helped you out. Good luck with your horses!
ahaefke on April 24, 2013:
To Maya: Before I start, I just want to make sure you worded that correctly. There are many ways to break a horse and by beating a horse you are setting yourself up for failure. I hear things like that and I become upset. Horses are herd animals. They look for leader ship and trust. So to beat a horse into respect will not work. The most ideal way to begin breaking a horse is working from the ground up and if you can preferably as a foal. That way you can introduce the halter at an early stage and encourage positive behavior. Next, I would move to the bit and bridle, eventually the saddle pad, then the saddle and girth. Forcing a horse into something right away wont help the situation. It takes time to break a horse and that people need to realize this IS NOT an over night process.
Maya on April 20, 2013:
Umm my friends mother said you have to beat horses in order to break them is that true or am I right .I think that you have to develop a bond with your horse and use positive reinforcement.
mrsmorton1982 on February 21, 2013:
Love this advice :) my 14.2hh welsh sed d (4yo) come home in ten days, she is my first horse and I am excited and hopeful to break and back get myself. Its articles like this one that help give you the confidence and positive advice you need to succeed! Many thanks :)
technoid on January 30, 2013:
Well that made a lot of sense......
hedkjfh on January 29, 2013:
this is a stupid webby never
technoid on January 17, 2013:
I just joined Hub. My wife and I aquired Haflingers from a rescue farm. We are very green and don't know much about horses. We have had these two horse for 3 months now. And been given (by many) horse care info that contradicts one another. Some say use a bit. Others say don't use one. Some say leave a big bail of hay out for them and they will eat what they want. Others say you will over feed them. And only give 2 shives a piece morning and afternoon. They will eat at anything if I don't leave enough hay out. That has to be no good. We do give them 3 small cups of Legends 11% protien horse food 2 times a day. So far they both have gained weight. There ribs are not showing anymore but you can still feel them. Both horses are about 985 lbs. Ive read that its good to keep them with plenty of hay for the cold winter days. So there bodies produce the heat needed. Its just been so confuseing on the correct way to care for them. We do have a ferrier for there feet. And a Vet that will come for their shots. Anyone on here specialize in Haflinger care?
cheri on December 19, 2012:
Hello. This is wonderful advice but I have on question . We got a 4 yr old gelding about 6 months ago. He was usex at disability homes for them to ride. He was very tame. Well he got worms about 2 months ago and we got rid of them but he got really skinny. We got all his weight put back onto him but now he tries to bite us when we pet him. He was such a nice horse before. We don't know wht happened or what to do now. Please help.
MollyHannon on November 25, 2012:
Hi I'm writing a paper on breaking horses and I want to use your article to write it with but I have to cite it and so I was wondering if I could get your name so that I could use your article.
Katie on November 02, 2012:
My horse Breeze is almost 14hh and is almost 2 years old.I am 15 years old. She is almost like the perfect horse and respects me and the boundries I give her, even in the open, I have done most of her ground work (not in a round pen, because she won't run around just follow me around)
I was planning on saddle breaking her in the spring as she will be a coming 3 year old.
My question is, is 2 years to young to start saddle breaking, and can I start breaking her when she is 2 after I saddle break her, or should I wait until the following winter and spring to do all of that (when she will be three)
Please help me.
Rachelbarnes4576 on June 19, 2012:
I have an egyptian arabian gelding that just turned 2 in May. I have heard that you should wait to put any weight on a horse's back until they are up to 3-4 years of age, and I'm looking for second opinions. If you could help me out in any way I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks :)
Amy on May 27, 2012:
I just bought a 5 yr old Paso Fino/TN Walker/Mare..the guy who had her b4 me only had her 3 weeks..said he didn't have time for her..nobody has worked with her at all..i have spent 3 days out in her pastor trying to get her use to me and come to me and when she gets close all she wants to do is bite and kick me...idk what to do, she is not like any of the other horses i have been around and i know its bc she has had no socialization. Help lol!!!
Horse lover on May 05, 2012:
I am currently leasing a 8 year old paint horse mare. She is extremely buddy sour and as soon as you take the other horse away from her she flips out. How can I stop her from feeling like this?
Leesa on April 11, 2012:
Thanks for such wonderful advice. This is my first horse, i got her at 23 months old. She is a Tennessee Walker/ Quarter horse. She had no mother and has only had human interaction. I was given her as she would have been put down and i could not see this happen. Saying that, i have no clue as to train her. But, she is longing good, stopped biting, grooms well, we do the rope swinging all over her body and she stands very still. We have got the bit and reigns on her, saddle blanket and the saddle cinch ready to ride. I am scared stiff to ride her! I do sit on her back without a saddle and my Son leads me around. She seems a little "stiff" to this, but she really doesn't show much interest. I love the lesson you gave on "Back up" I will do this tomorrow. I am wondering if you have any advice on how to make her bring up her back legs to clean her hoofs? I have no idea how to even stand in position! (lol) Do i stand at the side? ANY advice would be awesome. We have had lots of tropical storms here since October when i got her (April now) so bonding was an issue for the first 5 months. I have gone into her field everyday now for a month, and respect and bonding has become solid. Thanks so much, your advice is awesome...the best i have read yet...and i have read a lot of stuff!!! :)
demi on April 11, 2012:
i boguht a 15h hackney x tb mare last week, the last owner had her for a year and couldn't manage to even get on her without her bolting, i have had her a week and already have managed to get on her with a leg up and walk around with me on her back in full tack, shes little bit wary but nothing bad. what advice would you give me to go a step further or get her to do it off the lead rope? shes a very nervous horse when on her but so calm on the ground? any advice would be brilliant xx :)
Dennis Thorgesen from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S. on April 10, 2012:
You have to win your horses respect. As a child I was a natural. I was taught to respect all animals. Within a week my fathers horses would do anything I asked of them. Until I was seventeen only three people could get near them. My father the Vet and I. Once my grandmother started going to the pasture with me that changed. From then on they accepted the other children of the family.
When we trained horses we always used tame horses and used the horse see horse do method. This worked well for us. I only trained one horse after becoming wheelchair bound, we sandwiched him between two tame horses and he never bucked. This is not recommended for amateurs, make sure you have an experienced rider/trainer working with you. It can be dangerous if the horse doesn't trust any member of the group including the other horses. Trust and respect is what makes it work.
Horsey Rachel on April 28, 2011:
Hello, i have recently got a 14.2hh Bay Mare called Ruby.
She has got an awful habit of biting and the info on getting her out of that is really useful! I have been grooming her everyday i can, as im on my school holidays (im 14 years old). I plan do work with her more in the summer holidays and i plan to follow your advice. This is only my 2nd pony i have owned and i don't know a lot about breaking in. I have been spending time with her as much as i can and when she's lying out in the field i go out and sit beside her, she licks me all the time -what does licking show? I can go to the gate and call her, and she would just come to the gate no problem. But when i lead her she often pushes against me forcing her shoulder towards me. I have been picking her feet up which is becoming slightly easier every day, and i've been rubbing the numnah round her body and a blanket and as well as a plastic bag! Where do i go from here? Im afraid of getting hurt when it comes to shifting weight onto her as i have tried this and she wants to kick or bite me. But i really want to be able to achieve breaking in my own horse. Please write back, as i want to be able to get her broking in soon :) .thankyou. here is my email .. email@example.com
renee on October 22, 2010:
HOW DO YOU BREAK YOUR HORSE WITH THE REIN'S WHEN THE BIT IS IN HIS MOUTH..I HAVE READ BOOK'S THEY DON'T TELL YOU MUCH ABOUT ON HOW TO DO THAT!
Shelley on August 21, 2010:
This is great information for a new horse owner that is slowly getting over my fear after finally getting a horse at 38 years old! :)
Cowgirl0216 (author) on July 26, 2010:
Your horse doesn't respect you. You need to be firm with him, and show him that you are in charge, not him. It takes a lot of time and patience to work with horses who like to "dominate" their riders. One important thing is to ALWAYS end on a positive note. If he is not listening, don't stop working him until he does something correctly. Otherwise, he'll know you will just give up and he will get his way.
Mandi on July 08, 2010:
Well my horse is 14hhs Im 13 yrs old. I can go out there and Get everything on him. And the only problem is tht he doesn't want to listen to me! He goes where wants to go. And if he takes off and i stop him and walk him in a circle. Then it starts all over again. And if I take him out side of his pen ALL HE WANTS TO DO IS EAT! And if i kick him or squeeze or try to spank he acts like is gunna rear or something. All he thinks about is food. I try to separate him and his brother and he gets all hyper. I need help! plz! Lol (He is six yrs old) =) Thank you! O and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org :)