What Does It Mean To Break A Horse?

Last Updated on December 21, 2022

When we talk about breaking a horse, we don’t mean we are actually going to harm it! But what does it mean to break a horse?

Breaking a horse is the process during which it is taught to carry a rider. This can be very tricky, as having a person sit on their back is scary for a horse! Let’s take a closer look at what is breaking a horse.

What Does It Mean To Break A Horse?

We need to get one thing clear from the start – what does it mean to break a horse? ‘Breaking a horse’ means that the horse is being taught how to carry a rider on its back. Although the name sounds quite dramatic, this should be a calm and gentle experience for the horse or pony.

Most of us learn to ride on horses that have already been broken to ride. They have already been trained to carry a rider.  This means many people never get to experience the interesting process of breaking a horse to ride.

Breaking a horse to ride requires a patient and understanding trainer who is experienced in working with novice horses. This will help to teach the horse to enjoy being ridden, rather than fear it.

A gentle and patient trainer is needed to teach the horse or pony how to carry a rider. They must also help them learn how to understand the rider’s aids and commands.

Where Does Breaking A Horse Meaning Come From?

Breaking a horse is not an easy thing to do. Horses are not naturally comfortable with anything on their backs. This is because they are prey animals, and they fear that the weight on their back could be an attack from a lion or tiger!

In the past, horse riders aimed to ‘break’ a horse by sitting on a bucking horse until it became docile and calm. This is where the term ‘breaking’ comes from – the rider was literally trying to break the horse’s spirit until it submitted to carrying a rider. If you’ve ever seen a rodeo rider on a bucking bronco, this is how horses were once broken to ride!

Luckily, over the years the methods of breaking a horse have become much kinder. You don’t need to be a rodeo rider anymore to break a horse, and it is a much nicer experience for the horse.

These days, when a horse is broken it is given time to feel comfortable with each stage of the process. The modern-day breaking process helps to teach the horse to trust the rider and understand what is being asked of them.

Where Does Breaking A Horse Meaning Come From

Are Unbroken Horses Difficult To Handle?

Unbroken horses can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous to handle. How calm and obedient they are will depend on the type of horse and how much experience with humans it has had in the past.

If you’ve got a native or cold-blooded breed of horse, they are normally quite placid and accepting of human contact. At the other end of the scale, you have horses such as partly broken range horses which have had very little human contact.

Human contact is very important when teaching a horse how to be handled it. Horses that have spent time with people from a young age will be much easier to handle. This is because they will have learned to trust humans and feel safe with them.

It is not a good idea for a novice or inexperienced rider to handle an unbroken horse. This is because an unbroken horse may be unpredictable and dangerous. When handling an unbroken horse, you need to learn to read the body language of the horse or pony. This is so that you can predict how they might react, helping to keep you and the horse safe.

What Is The Best Way To Break A Horse?

Any experienced and confident rider can learn how to break a horse to ride. You will need to have a good understanding of how to train a horse to learn how to break a horse to ride.

The process of breaking a horse involves several steps. Work through each of these steps slowly to help the horse build up confidence. Do not move on to the next step until the horse feels relaxed and comfortable.

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1. Teach Your Horse To Trust You

Your horse needs to know that he is safe around you. He needs to be comfortable with being touched all over his body, particularly around his back and under his belly. You also need to make sure that he can be handled from either side.

Basic groundwork is essential before backing a horse. Skills such as wearing a halter, leading, turning, and stopping will be very helpful when it comes to teaching your horse to understand basic aids.

2. Introducing The Bridle And Saddle

If you have done your groundwork correctly, your horse should be comfortable with wearing a halter. The next step is to get your horse used to wearing a bridle.

When your horse first wears a bridle you should use a soft and gentle bit. This is sometimes called a mouthing bit. Use a bridle that has the same texture and feel as your halter.

Next, the saddle. This is often harder for the horse to accept, as he will not be used to weight on his back or a girth around his belly.

Firstly, lay a soft saddle pad over your horse’s back. If he is happy with this, put light pressure on the pad with your hand. The next step would be to put a soft surcingle around the pad and lead your horse around to get him used to the feel of it.

Introducing The Bridle And Saddle

If he is comfortable with this, you are ready for the saddle! Remember that the saddle can be quite heavy, so take it slowly in case your horse becomes frightened.

3. Backing Your Horse

Now, the big moment has come – time to back your horse! Gently lay your body over the saddle, to get your horse used to the weight. If he feels relaxed and happy, swing his leg over his back and move into a sitting position. Give him plenty of time to relax, then ask an assistant to lead him away for a walk.

Congratulations, your horse is now backed!

Is Breaking in a Horse Cruel?

Many people worry that breaking a horse is cruel – after all, the word ‘breaking’ is not particularly nice! This term is quite outdated, as it refers to a time when a rider would sit on a young horse until it became submissive enough to ride. Nowadays, the process is much more sympathetic to the horse and is not considered to be cruel.

Carrying a rider is an unfamiliar task for a horse, so each stage of the process needs to be carried out calmly and slowly. When a horse is being backed, the rider should make sure it is relaxed and happy before moving on to the next stage.

How to Break a Nervous Horse?

Breaking, or backing, a nervous horse is a lengthy process that requires time and patience. The rider or trainer must spend time teaching the horse how to trust humans and new experiences, and with a nervous horse, this may take a long time.

The best place to start when backing a nervous horse is by doing groundwork exercises, firstly without tack, and then with a saddle and bridle. This will allow the horse to become accustomed to working with the trainer and learn the necessary commands, before being mounted by a rider.

Can a Horse Be Too Old to Break?

Most horses are broken to ride or backed when they are around 3 or 4 years old. However, in some situations, you may come across an older horse that has never been ridden.

Theoretically, an older horse can be broken to ride, and many trainers have successfully done so. As horses grow older and mature, their attitude will change and they may become more stubborn and less accepting of new things. Breaking an older horse to ride can be more challenging than backing a youngster, but there is no reason for the process not to be a success.

How to Break a Horse Without a Round Pen?

Many horse riders and trainers do not have a round pen, and it is perfectly possible to break a horse without one. Luckily, the days of breaking horses by jumping on their backs in a round pen are long gone!

All you need to break a horse is a safe, secure area. The area should be well-fenced to prevent the horse from escaping if it breaks loose from the trainer, and it should be quiet and free from disturbances. The surface must be relatively soft, to reduce the risk of injury if the rider comes off.

How Long Does it Take to Break a Wild Horse?

Breaking a wild horse can be a very lengthy process in comparison to a domesticated horse. Wild horses may never have spent any time with humans and will take a long time to learn to trust their rider or trainer.

This means you need to start with the basics when training a wild horse – it will need to learn how to wear a halter, be led around, and accept being touched all over its body. Only when these steps are complete can you consider moving on to backing the horse.

If the horse is particularly docile, trusting, and a quick learner, it may be possible to break a wild horse in as little as a month. A nervous and flighty horse may take as long as four months to learn to accept a rider on its back.


So, as we have learned, breaking a horse is the process of teaching it to carry a rider. This is a complex and scary experience for a horse, and it must be only done by an experienced trainer. Take each step very slowly and make sure the horse is relaxed and comfortable before moving on to the next stage.

So, do you think you have got what it takes to break a horse to ride? Perhaps you have some questions about what does it mean to break a horse? Add a comment below this post and we’ll get back to you!

Find more information about Horse Training: What Does Green Broke Mean?

How hard is it to break a horse?

Breaking a new horse is a slow process that doesn’t fit the beginner skills. You have to make each step habitual before moving to the next and each new concept you teach your horse should build off the concepts you’ve already taught. The process begins with the basics. The horse must accept to be haltered, bridled, and lead on a loose lead rope. It should be encouraged to move at a walk. Next, it is taught to stand still, followed by standing with a rider on his back, then walking forward while being ridden. Don’t forget that you must always make sure that your horse knows the correct response so that it can respond confidently. Most equestrians consider a horse broken once it is safe to ride. Normally this process takes about 40 to 60 days.

At what age can you break a horse?

Most horses get broken in to ride between the age of two and three years old. It is very important to wait at least until this age to allow the time for the joints to grow and develop enough to support the weight of the rider. If you start riding your horse too early, the joints won’t be able to handle the stress placed on them which can result in injuries, joint issues, and even lameness. It is also important that the horse does not have to carry too much weight as this can cause back problems. The horse should be in a good health and fit before it is used for training and racing.

What does it mean when a horse is hot?

The term “hot horse” is used to refer to either a hot-blooded breed or to a specific horse behavior. Horses are born with a certain amount of “heat” and their temperament is determined by the genes they inherited. A horse’s temperament influence the way he reacts to his surroundings and the way he perceives and responds to things around him. A hot horse is one who is born with a temperament that is very responsive to stimuli, is full of excess energy, and therefore harder to handle. Horses who are born with a hot temperament are difficult to manage and have a strong need for constant stimulation and attention. They have a tendency to be high-strung and jumpy, and are prone to getting excited when working with people. They also tend to be nervous around other animals and may even be afraid of small children.

What is a bronco horse?

A bronco horse  or a bucking horse is any kind of horse breed that is likely to buck. It’s a Spanish word that means rough and it’s nowadays used by cowboys to describe untrained or partially trained horses. They are known under various names, including bronco, broncho, and roughstock and are used for different rodeo competitions. In general, the harder they buck the more valuable they are for rodeo events.
The most successful bucking horse breeders have established long strings of bucking horses that have been bred and crossbred to more consistently produce the desired temperaments and athletic ability needed for bareback bronc and saddle bronc competitions.