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How to Break a Horse

Five Parts:Getting StartedHalter Breaking the HorseTeaching the Horse to Longe/LungeSaddle Breaking a HorseTraining the Horse to Be Mounted

In general, a horse's loyalty greatly depends on the type of training or breaking that it receives. Horses that are broken to follow their leader out of respect are much more enjoyable than those that follow out of fear. Follow these tips to build a bond of trust with your horse as you break it.

Part 1
Getting Started

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    Gain the trust of your horse. Having a personal relationship with your horse is imperative in building trust with him, leading to training later on. Spend time with your horse everyday, starting with just being near him and grooming him. Grooming helps connect you with the horse and forms a bond between the two of you. Work around him in the pasture, giving him time to build confidence in you. Talk to him and reassure him if he is spooked by something.
    • Horses are prey animals, so they get spooked easily. If your horse hasn't grown up around people, he may be scared of people.[1]
    • If you have a foal or horse too young to be trained, go ahead and start getting the horse used to people and gaining his trust.[2]
    • You should spend a significant amount of time gaining the horse's trust before starting to train him.
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    Practice safety. Horses are powerful animals that can cause a lot of damage. While training your horse, you want to make sure you are safe. Stay where your horse can see you most of the time. If you have to move where he can't see you, run your hand along his side so he knows where you are going.
    • The best place to stand is on the horse's left side, aligned with his ear, angled towards his head. This spot is easiest for the horse to see you.
    • Talk to your horse when you are out of his eyesight. This helps him know where you are.
    • Don't walk behind your horse. Also don't stand directly in front of your horse.
    • Don't kneel or sit around your horse. When working on hooves, bend down to work instead of squatting.[3]
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    Take it one step at a time. Breaking a horse is a slow process. You have to fully make each step a habit before moving on to the next step. When you are training the horse, each new concept you introduce needs to build off what you have just taught him. Remember, you want the horse to fully develop a habit because otherwise, he won't be fully trained.[4]
    • Never give up. Some steps may be easier than others for your horse. Breaking the horse is a big commitment.
    • End each lesson on a success. Even if it's just a little bit of progress, like the horse letting you get the halter near its face, always end on a good note.[5]
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    Never get angry at the horse. Never scream at the horse, hit him, throw things, or act aggressively. This could scare the horse and break any trust you have built. Talk to the horse in a calm, low tone.[6]
    • If the horse disobeys you, correct it in a calm manner without showing aggression.[7] Try using a "shh" sound to let the horse know he is doing something wrong.[8]
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    Reward the horse for successes. Giving the horse positive reinforcement helps train the horse to do what you want. This includes giving him treats or stroking him. You can also use negative reinforcement. This includes a finger push or whip tap, if the horse isn't afraid of that. You can also try light lead, rein, or leg pressure.
    • Never use negative reinforcement as a frightening or painful motion. They should be consistent and steady, not abrupt. Continue holding the negative reinforcement move until the horse corrects himself. Stop immediately after the horse does the right thing.[9]

Part 2
Halter Breaking the Horse

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    Get the horse used to your hands. The first way to start halter training the horse is to get him used to having your hands near his head, ears, and neck. Do this slowly. Stay within the horse's eyesight so you don't startle him. Reach out slowly. If you reach out too fast, he may misinterpret your action. Continue doing this until you can touch the horse.
    • Make sure to give the horse verbal praise each time he improves. It might just be that your hand got closer to his face this time, or that he lets you touch him for a few seconds.
    • Reward the horse for each success by giving him treats.[10]
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    Get the horse used to the halter. Start by letting the horse see and smell the halter in your hands. For the first few days, simply keep it near him and allow him to see and smell it and recognize that it is not dangerous. Then, start slowly placing the halter over the nose and onto the head. At first, you may want to leave it on without buckling. When the horse gets used to that, then you can buckle the halter behind the ears.
    • This may take multiple attempts. Be patient and calm, trying to make a little bit of progress each day.
    • Leave the halter on for a few days after you finally get it on.[11]
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    Introduce the bridle. Start by introducing the bridle to the horse along with the halter. Rub the bridle all over the horse's face gently. Try to get the horse to open its mouth for the bit. Be very gentle.
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    Add the bit. In addition to halter breaking the horse, you will also have to break the horse into using the bit. Slowly introduce the bit into the horses' mouth. At first, only do this for a few minutes. Slowly build up to having the bit in the mouth for longer.[12]
    • Adding a layer of molasses to the bit can help encourage the horse to put it in his mouth and make it more enjoyable.[13]
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    Put the ear pieces on. Once the bit is in the horse's mouth without the horse fighting you, put the ear pieces over the ears. Do not fasten the straps yet.
    • Gradually work your way up to fastening the straps. Remember to let the horse get used to the feel of the bridle on its head and ears.

Part 3
Teaching the Horse to Longe/Lunge

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    Understand how to longe. Longing, or training with a rope, lets you lead a horse around an arena as you train it. When longing, make sure to use the largest circle you can. Circles that are too small can hurt the horse's legs, ligaments, and tendons. Make sure your circle has a minimum diameter of 60 feet.
    • As you start training the horse to longe, don't do it longer than 10 minutes in each direction. Build the horse up for longer sessions, because long periods of longeing can put a lot of strain on a horse's body. Longing should take around 15 to 20 minutes total.
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    Train the horse from the ground. Before attempting to mount the animal, it is important to gain its trust with ground breaking. Attach a lunge line to the horse's halter.
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    Make the longe line comfortable in the horse's mouth. If you hit the bit abruptly, you can make the horse uncomfortable. Making the horse's mouth uncomfortable or painful will make the horse fear longeing.
    • Move your body with your horse so that the longe line has a steady contact. The horse will eventually accept this contact and walk in a circle to maintain that contact instead of pushing and pulling away.[14]
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    Longe/lunge your horse. Longeing a horse is the process of showing leadership through working them in an arena. Spend time at least once daily longeing your horse. Use your body language to direct and speed them up. Eventually, build up the speed and intensity of longeing, until they can do a full canter, all while listening to your cues.
    • You may want to have a second horse person stand behind you or otherwise near you as you longe, moving with you. Whenever your horse tries to turn inwards, have them walk towards it until it returns to its circle.
    • You should never touch your horse while longing; all cues should be given through changes in energy and body position, or with swinging the end of your longe line.
    • Longeing is a trust exercise; every time your horse does as you ask, break eye contact and release the pressure you're applying.
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    Train the horse to follow your commands. Teach the horse to properly walk beside you while leading it with a lead rope. As the horse moves in the circle around you, you need to teach it voice commands. Introduce the horse to the words: "halt," "stand," "walk," and "back." Make sure that you train the horse to understand "halt" and "walk" before doing anything else. Then, you can start introducing them to other faster commands, like "trot."
    • Try using "wait" instead of "halt." The words "halt" and "trot" can sound very similar, and might confuse some horses.[15]
      • "Woah" should be reserved for riding, to tell the horse to slow under saddle.
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    Teach the horse to respect your space. Horses will test you when you are lead training them. They may try to shoulder you out of their space to see who the leader is. You must assert that you are the leader. When the horse moves too close to you, place pressure on the horse's ribs about a foot behind the shoulder. This is where the lead horse in a herd would discipline the horse. The horse will move sideways and give you space.
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    Teach the horse to respond to pressure. The horse should learn how to respond to pressure on the halter. Attach the lead rope to the halter. Stand to the near (left) side of the horse, standing parallel to it, looking straight (as it should be). Hold the lead a few inches below the clip. Pull the lead to the right, away from you, and the horse should eventually give in to it and turn its head to the right. Immediately release the pressure and use positive reinforcement.
    • Alternatively, stand on the right side of the horse. Pull the lead rope to the right to apply pressure. The horse should learn how to turn his head towards you from that command.
    • Repeat for turning left, doing the same things as for the right except pulling in the direction that you are.
    • Do the same thing for forward and backward by applying pressure on the halter in the correct direction.
    • The horse will learn to follow the pressure to release the pressure.[16]

Part 4
Saddle Breaking a Horse

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    Introduce the saddle. A horse must become familiar with the weight and sound of a saddle on its back. Just like with a halter and bit, spend a few days getting the horse used to the sound of the saddle, how it smells, and how it looks.
    • After the horse is used to the sight of it, hold the saddle over the horse's back without touching.[17]
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    Place the saddle pad (English) or saddle blanket (Western) on the horse. After the horse has gotten used to the saddle, place the saddle pad/blanket on the horse's back. Leave it on for just a few minutes. Then, if the horse responds well, take it off. Repeat several times. Do this on both sides so the horse gets used to you doing this from both sides.
    • If the horse becomes very frightened, more than is controllable, quickly remove the saddle pad/blanket and start again when it's less stressed.
    • Whether English or Western, if the horse's saddle fits less than perfectly, and you plan on showing it or otherwise want it to look 'prettier', you may want to introduce both, as a saddle blanket provides little comfort for the horse, but is available in pretty patterns and colors, while a saddle pad provides comfort (hence 'pad'), but is not as pretty. If the saddle fits perfectly, the saddle pad is optional.
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    Place the saddle on the horse. Slowly introduce the saddle onto the horse. Make sure to give the horse a lot of reassurance by talking to it and stroking it.[18] Leave it on for a few minutes, then remove it. Do this from both sides of the horse.
    • Make sure you remove the stirrups and leathers while saddle breaking a horse.
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    Fasten the girth on the horse. Do this very slowly. Tighten the girth little by little each day, especially if the horse seems skittish. If the horse seems too scared, stop and keep getting it acclimated to the tack.
    • When your horse allows the girth to be tightened all the way, lean gently on the horse's back.
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    Get the horse used to stirrups. Next, longe with the saddle on and the stirrups down. This helps the horse get used to things by his sides and legs.[19] Also start placing the leathers back onto the saddle.
    • Do this slowly. Only introduce one new element at a time. Let the horse lose his fear of the item before introducing him to something new.[20]
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    Longe with the saddle. When the horse can wear the saddle for longer periods, start longeing around the arena with the saddle in place.

Part 5
Training the Horse to Be Mounted

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    Prepare the horse for your mount. Until this point, the horse has likely only seen you at or below eye level. Move the horse near a fence post crossing. Climb up on the post and stand at a height so that you are above the horse's head.
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    Introduce weight onto the horse's back. Get an experienced rider to help you introduce the horse to the weight of a rider on its back. First, leg the rider up and get him to lie across the saddle. He needs to lower his weight on to the horse gently so you don't spook the horse.[21]
    • When the horse accepts this, stroke him and reward him.
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    Get on the horse's back. The rider should slowly and gently place his left foot in the stirrup. Keeping the weight on the horse's back, ask the rider to swing the right leg over the horse's back, making sure the rider doesn't kick the horse. Then the rider should place his foot in the right stirrup.[22]
    • Remind the rider to stay low as the sight of the rider on the horse's back will spook him. Get the rider to hold on tight to the saddle, but not to grip the reins tightly because if the rider is bucked off this will spook the horse even more.
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    Walk the horse slowly. With the rider on his back, walk the horse around slowly, gradually moving further away from the animal.
    • Ask the rider to collect the reins and start making contact with the horse's mouth, gently as not to spook the horse. Get the rider to slowly ask the horse to walk on using the verbal command and a gentle squeeze.[23]
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    Try mounting. After having an experienced rider mount the horse, you need to mount the horse. Mounting your horse for the first time can be very dangerous, and should not be done without the supervision of a skilled horse-person or trainer. Carefully get on your horse, being sure not to kick or pinch him in the tack. Have the horse walk out for a few strides, stop, and dismount.
    • Slowly build up the time you are in the saddle over a period of several weeks or months. Do not attempt to increase the speed until your horse is 100% comfortable with you while walking.
    • It may take a full year or longer before you can trot and canter on your horse. Don't rush the process, as it could train your horse to be fearful or to have bad habits.


  • Use single word commands and keep the same word every time, in order not to confuse him.
  • Reassure your horse if their ears go back, or if they show signs of fear.
  • Each horse is different when it comes to the length of breaking session that it can successfully tolerate. Learn your horse's cue for letting you know when it has had enough.
  • Always carry out warm-up and cool down exercises with your horse before and after breaking sessions.
  • Before attempting a new task in horse breaking, practice or review tasks that the horse has already learned and then build on it.
  • Before you are going to mount your horse, jump up and down beside him, to make sure he's not spooked when you get on him. After you do this, pat the saddle a few times, to tell him what's about to happen.
  • If your horse seems to be scared during a new exercise, calm him down and do other exercises he's comfortable with. Then try again later.
  • Let your horse know who is boss. If he throws a fit, don't stop. That would make the horse think that he can get away with it.
  • Know that it's unlikely that you will be able to break a horse if you have never done it before. It's better to pay a trainer than risk getting bucked off and killed.


  • Horses take cues from your emotions and body language. If you are tense and anxious, the horse will be, too.
  • A horse is not ready to be ridden whatsoever until it is 2 years old. If you start before then, you have a chance of the horse being injured, possibly for the rest of its life.
  • Be on your toes and watch body language. If the horse is pinning its ears or thrashing its front legs without rearing, calm the horse down. Or give it a break, maybe it's had enough and is getting irritated, panicked, or confused. Remember it takes time, not force.
  • Be careful around horses with their ears pinned. It's one thing for the horse to have its ears simply turned back, which means it's listening to what's behind it; it's another thing to have them pinned. A horse pinning its ears against its head is frustrated and ready to bite or scare someone off - either you or another horse.

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Categories: Horse Training | Horse Care