How Long Does It Take To Break a Horse From Wild to Tamed

How Long Does It Take To Break a Horse? From Wild to Tamed

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Blog

For countless generations, humans have formed a unique bond with horses, a relationship founded on trust, mutual respect, and cooperation. A central aspect of this relationship is horse breaking, a process that transforms a wild, untamed creature into a reliable and cooperative partner. This process, which intertwines the science of animal behaviour with the art of gentle persuasion, is far from straightforward. It requires patience, consistency, knowledge, and above all, a deep understanding of each horse as an individual. This article seeks to provide a comprehensive overview of horse breaking, addressing its meaning, the influence of the horse’s psychology, factors affecting its duration, various techniques involved, and the critical role of a horse trainer.

What Does 'Breaking a Horse' Really Mean?

Breaking a horse, a phrase shrouded in controversy, is more about establishing a line of communication and mutual respect between horse and human than the word ‘breaking’ might suggest. To some, it brings to mind harsh training methods of the past where the horse’s spirit was literally ‘broken’ to make it compliant. In modern times, however, the process is more rightly referred to as horse ‘training’ or ‘starting’. It is about familiarising the horse with a saddle, bridle, and the weight of a rider, and teaching it to respond appropriately to the rider’s aids. The breaking process has evolved significantly over centuries, moving away from forceful domination to a gentler, more understanding approach, based on a strong foundation of trust and positive reinforcement.

Understanding the Horse's Nature and Psychology

Horses, by their very nature, are prey animals, instinctively programmed to perceive potential threats and to flee when danger lurks. Understanding this is the first step towards successful horse breaking. Knowing that a horse’s first response to something unfamiliar or intimidating is to run can help a trainer approach the process with the necessary patience and gentleness.

A horse’s temperament is another crucial element in the breaking process. Some horses are naturally more anxious or high-strung, while others are more laid back and adaptable. Trainers must be able to adjust their methods to accommodate these individual characteristics. For instance, a highly strung horse may need more time to adjust to new experiences and should be handled with a gentle touch and soothing voice. In contrast, a more laid-back horse may be more receptive to new experiences, requiring a slightly different approach.

Investing in books like “The Horse Behavior Problem Solver” by Jessica Jahiel or “Horse Speak: An Equine-Human Translation Guide” by Sharon Wilsie can greatly assist in understanding horse psychology and behaviour. These resources are invaluable tools for anyone attempting the horse breaking process and seeking to understand their equine companions better.

Factors that Affect the Duration of Horse Breaking

The process of horse breaking is influenced by myriad factors, not least of which include the horse’s age, breed, past experiences, and the approach and skill level of the trainer. It’s not a simple ‘one size fits all’ process; it’s an intimate dance between two individuals that takes time to perfect.

Age plays a role in the speed and ease of horse breaking. Young horses, for example, are usually more adaptable and less set in their ways than older horses. However, they can also be more energetic and playful, sometimes making them more challenging to focus.

Breeds also differ in their temperament and learning speed. For example, Quarter Horses are renowned for their calm and trainable nature, making them often easier to break than a more spirited and energetic Arabian.

Previous experiences, whether positive or negative, will also significantly impact the process. A horse that has had negative experiences with humans might take longer to trust and cooperate than one with positive interactions.

The trainer’s skills, patience, and approach are pivotal. An experienced trainer, can effectively speed up the process by using proven techniques and understanding horse psychology.

Techniques for Horse Breaking: An Overview

Horse breaking methods have evolved significantly over the years, ranging from traditional techniques that were somewhat forceful, to gentler, modern methods prioritizing the horse’s welfare.

Traditional techniques were often rooted in the belief that the horse needed to be dominated, ‘broken in,’ and made submissive. The methods employed could be harsh, causing the horse fear and stress. In stark contrast, modern techniques focus on building trust, understanding, and mutual respect.

Contemporary horse breaking, often referred to as ‘gentle breaking’ or ‘natural horsemanship,’ prioritizes communication, understanding, and cooperation. A key component of this approach is groundwork. Groundwork is about establishing leadership and trust with your horse through various exercises on the ground before you ever get in the saddle.

Books like “Natural Horse-Man-Ship: Six Keys to a Natural Horse-Human Relationship” by Pat Parelli and “Horsemanship Through Life: A Trainer’s Guide to Better Living and Better Riding” by Mark Rashid are must-reads for understanding these gentle techniques. Pat Parelli also offers an instructive DVD series ” Ultimate Horse Behavior Series,” providing practical demonstrations of his methods.

Each technique has its pros and cons. Traditional methods, while generally quicker, can often result in a horse that is obedient out of fear rather than respect. On the other hand, while modern techniques may take longer, they result in a horse that is willing, confident, and trusts its handler.

Ultimately, the best method to choose depends on the specific horse, the handler’s philosophy, and their ability to execute the techniques with patience and empathy.

The Role of a Horse Trainer in Breaking

A horse trainer plays a pivotal role in the process of horse breaking. Their knowledge, skill, and the bond they form with the horse are all critical aspects of successful horse breaking. It’s the trainer’s role to understand the horse’s innate nature, to respond empathetically to their needs, and to guide them gently into becoming a reliable, confident riding partner.

Great horse trainers embody patience, empathy, firmness, and intuition. To further understand the qualities required, consider the insights shared in “The Man Who Listens to Horses” by Monty Roberts, an experienced horse trainer. His techniques, widely admired, emphasize the importance of non-violent training and establishing a language of trust and respect with the horse.


In conclusion, horse breaking is a multifaceted process that involves understanding the horse’s nature, the trainer’s skills, and the selection of appropriate techniques. Remember, it’s not about how quickly you can ‘break’ a horse, but rather, how effectively you can forge a bond of trust and respect, allowing the horse to accept you as a partner rather than an oppressor.

While there are many ways to approach horse breaking, the emergence of gentler, more ethical techniques has certainly been a game-changer. Engage with reputable resources, such as those by Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, or Clinton Anderson, to learn more about these methods. Always remember: the journey of horse breaking is as much about learning and growing for the trainer as it is for the horse. Choose methods that nurture trust and understanding, and above all, respect your horse’s individuality and spirit.

About The Author

<a href="" target="_self">Issabella Mitchel</a>

Issabella Mitchel

Isabella is a remarkable equestrian and racehorse trainer, hailing from the horse capital of the world, Kentucky. Growing up in the heart of bluegrass country, she developed a deep affinity for horses from an early age.

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