Breaking in your horse is an important step in the life, training and bonding between you and your four-legged friend. For a young horse it is of course not an easy task to get used to a rider and all his accessories. While "breaking" the horse was common in the past, fortunately horse owners today want species-appropriate and gentle methods of breaking in.
Since breaking in is the foundation for further training, you should pay special attention to making your horse feel comfortable while practicing, praising him and keeping it fun. Trust and joy are the basis of successful training. To clear up your unanswered questions and provide you with all the important information, here is our ultimate guide to breaking in your horse.
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Why the right riding in is so important
Horses are good-natured animals who are happy to forgive our mistakes in case of doubt. Unfortunately, this often leads to the fact that the necessary attention is not given to the breaking in of a horse. In some cases the animal is immediately fitted with saddle, equipment and rider – if this works out without much reluctance, the horse is considered broken in.
However, the long-term consequences are not desirable for either horse or rider. The sudden and unaccustomed weight bearing (often before growth is complete) and the lack of learned coordination can cause physical problems such as lameness and posture problems. This leads to permanent damage and in the worst case to the fact that your horse can no longer be used for riding much earlier than usual.
Besides the physical damage, the psychological aspect should not be forgotten: If you overtax your horse, he will not enjoy going for a ride, but will associate it with stress. This in turn leads to a loss of performance and a reduction in the quality of life. In order to make the most of breaking in as an important phase in your horse’s life, you should proceed carefully and always at the pace of your four-legged friend.
Break in the horse yourself or have it broken in?
Since breaking in requires some knowledge and experience, it may make sense to have your horse broken in by a professional. Of course it is best for the bond between you and your animal if you take care of it yourself. But often there is simply a lack of time and experience. Before you cut back on the quality of the breaking-in training, we recommend that you spend some money and consult an expert for the training.
Of course, this option is not cheap: in the best case you should calculate with 300 to 500 Euro per month, with highly qualified and experienced trainers even up to 1000 Euro. In addition, there are the adjustment costs. The time of the structured basic training is about 3 months.
A horse is also an investment in this respect. However, professional and species-appropriate breaking in pays off for the life of the horse. So if you don’t feel up to performing this important and basic training phase yourself, find out about ways to still give your sweetheart the training help he needs.
When should I break in my horse?
There is always a debate about when is the right time to start breaking in young horses. Especially if a horse is to be managed athletically, many owners want to start training as early as possible.
First of all, it can be said that there are indeed breed-dependent differences in the physical development of horses. Thus, some animals are developed earlier enough to start training than others. Roughly speaking, it is common to distinguish between the 3. and 5. It is important to start breaking in the horse at the age of two. Icelandic horses, however, should not start training until they are 5 years old.
In the meantime, there are many voices in favor of not breaking in a horse until it is 5 years old. or even 6. Start breaking in the horse at the age of. From this point on you can be relatively sure that the horse is physically as well as mentally ready to do the demanding workout. Since the physical development can be quite individual, you should best have the time of the training start clarified by a veterinarian.
Note: Up to the age of about 7. The horse is in the growth phase. For this reason it is not recommended to break in the horse too early.
Horses also differ in terms of their personality. Therefore, the training and its beginning should be primarily oriented to the animal itself. If the physical prerequisites are met and no illnesses are present, it is up to the trainer to decide whether your horse is ready for training.
Important factors to consider when evaluating are:
- Movement sequence of the horse in free running
- Appearance and muscling of the back
- Fright, fear and insecurity of the horse
- The horse’s ability to concentrate
It is also possible to break in an older, not yet trained horse. Here exactly the same indications apply, as with young horses. Under certain circumstances, however, the training is more difficult and protracted, if the animal has had bad experiences. In this case, you should focus more on building trust between the two of you.
Preparation: From care to ground work
The training necessary for breaking in begins long before your horse has a rider on its back. Many intermediate steps are necessary to prepare your animal gently for this big step. In the everyday care and handling of your animal you build a bond between you. This is also already part of the training, because the horse as a flight animal must build a solid foundation of trust to experience the handling and work with humans stress-free and at best with pleasure.
A central part of the preparation for breaking in is ground work. This means any work with the horse that the person does from the ground, i.e. without sitting on it. The goal is to take away the horse’s fear, to promote curiosity and trust, and to train the horse’s ability to lead. This kind of training should already be used for very young animals (from approx. 1.5 years) should be started.
The first step in ground work is accordingly the simple touching of the animal (for example, also lifting the hooves), the everyday handling and leading on the rope. Here your quadruped learns to yield to the pull or pressure exerted by the human being willingly and at the same time in a controlled manner. If your pet is willing to be led, you can start with specific exercises. This includes, for example, standing still as well as walking on command as well as backing up.
Note: Pay attention to short and playful training sessions, especially in the beginning, so as not to overtax your horse.
If your horse has mastered this hurdle, you can start to build a course through which you lead your four-legged friend – there are no limits to your imagination here and the more securely the lead works, the easier the later training will be.
Attention: This training should not be started too early, because very young horses cannot yet keep the necessary balance and lunging can become very uncomfortable for them.
Another great training option is lunging. Here you let your horse run on a long leash in a circular track. Prerequisite of this method is however an already secured guidance and some running experience (straight as well as in curved lines) of the young animal.
This training has several advantages: Because of the distance between your animal and you, you have the opportunity to closely observe the course of movement. This is important to assess the physical development of your horse as well as its coordination.
At the same time lunging is an ideal gymnastics for your horse: With this form of movement he learns to keep his balance, to arch his back and to show willingness to stretch.
The latter is the absolute basis of riding in. Through the stretching posture, the horse adjusts its center of gravity to that of the rider and thus learns to carry the weight more gently. In addition, the musculature necessary for riding is built up in this way.
Getting used to the equipment
Besides the bonding work and the physical preparation for riding, you should introduce your horse just as gently to the necessary equipment. This can also be combined perfectly with ground work.
©Paul Henri Degrande
You should generally take care to approach new equipment calmly and carefully to your horse. For this it is advisable to have your animal held by a helper. This way you have both hands free and can show your darling the equipment and let him sniff it extensively. If your four-legged friend shows signs of fear or stress, just stop calmly and try again at a later time.
Pay attention when breaking in a well-fitting snaffle bit that your horse really accepts – not every bit fits every horse. The advice of a horse dentist can be very helpful here to avoid damage to the bit or tongue.
The biggest step for your horse is of course getting used to bridle and saddle. Here, too, the rule is: Strength lies in calmness. Let your four-legged friend approach the unknown accessories with curiosity and pay close attention to his behavior. It can also be very helpful to let your horse watch other horses being saddled and broken in regularly from an early age and to work with rewards.
Sometimes it takes a while before your horse is ready to accept the bridle, blanket and saddle. The more patience you bring with you, the more positively your animal will relate to the new impressions. This minimizes stress, which benefits training success in the long run.
Tip: Be prepared to replace or adjust the equipment regularly. Wrong or inappropriate equipment will not only harm the training success, but in the worst case also the health of your horse. There are costs that you should take into account right from the start.
When the time has come to mount for the first time, it will be exciting for you and your horse. If you have patiently completed the previous training and adapted it to the needs of your favorite, you are ready for this exciting step. Note that this experience is formative for your horse, as it feels the unfamiliar weight of a rider on its back for the first time. It is therefore all the more important to approach the situation with skill and calmness.
So that even in this situation neither stress nor overload, you should organize two helpers. In addition, it is important that the first mounting is done by a rider who is not too heavy (and saddle-firm). The two helpers can hold your horse and lift you by the lower legs, so that the entire body weight is not immediately on the horse’s back. If your horse becomes restless and shows signs of stress, be patient and stop the mounting if necessary to try again at a later time.
When the mounting goes smoothly, you are ready to go. At a walk and trot, you slowly get your horse used to moving with a rider. Always train positively, patiently and with a lot of praise. So your four-legged friend will not lose the fun of it and you will make steady progress.
Note: The horse must never carry the weight of the rider with its back muscles. Instead, it must learn to use its neck ligament, neck, head and neck.
Breaking in your horse is an exciting step for you and your animal. Wait until your horse is physically and mentally ready for this challenging workout. Here, for example, the veterinarian of your confidence can advise you.
Preparation through ground work is essential to ensure that breaking in is done in a manner appropriate to the species. Through a patient and trusting training atmosphere you ensure that your horse learns with lasting effect and with pleasure.
If you get stuck breaking in your horse, it is most likely due to human error. Be honest with yourself and observe your horse’s behavior as well as your own very closely.
The basic building block of any training is trust: So be careful not to overtax your horse and to respond to his needs.