Breaking in the horse – The First Steps

Riding your own horse is the dream of many people. But you should not underestimate this project and never try it on your own. Horses are very sensitive animals, so there must be a clear structure, especially in the training of young horses, and praise and blame must be used in the right place. How you can break in a horse, which factors play a role when breaking in and other tips, we have recorded for you in this article.



What does it mean to break in a horse?

Breaking in is the horse's first experience with saddle and rider and should be made as comfortable as possible. Usually it is the job of a trainer or the breeder himself, because it is the beginning of a horse's career, so to speak. Whether as a leisure or sports partner, a horse can only become a reliable companion with solid basic training.

The 2.5 - 5 year old horses start working on the ground. This includes lunging as well as cleaning and touching the whole body. In addition, the horse must be accustomed to the equipment and the stable atmosphere. Only when the horse is safely wearing a saddle and responds to commands on the lunge line can the rider come in and work “under the saddle” begins. However, it will be some time before the rider can sit up in the saddle with his full weight and communicate with the horse via weight, leg and rein aids .


Breaking in the horse: explained step by step


Step 1: assessment

Basically, it is important to get to know the horse at the beginning of the break-in period. This includes the assessment of the body, health and character traits . You have to be clear about how far the horse is already physically developed, i.e. whether it is in the middle of a growth spurt, how good the condition of the feed and the muscles are. The horses are often allowed to roam freely in the hall, because this way you can see how the horse is using its body and how balanced it already is.

In daily dealings, in new situations and on the pasture, the character of the horse becomes obvious over time. Is it perhaps a rather cautious horse or does it hide its sensitivity behind rebellious behavior? Is the youngster calm or does he get scared very easily? What is the behavior like in the herd with other horses, is it more dominant or subordinate? Of course you also have to keep an eye on the age of the horse, because this plays an important role in planning the training.


Step 2: Groundwork

The ground work is the beginning of the work with the horse. Here the trainer and the horse get to know each other on a whole new level. The horse should learn to focus on the human and willingly accept his commands . The aim is to take away his fear and build up trust in people. The aim is to train the horse to become an attentive and motivated student. To do this, the trainer must assume the role of leader. So he behaves dominantly, but trustworthy and fair. The horse will be so willing to submit.

Ground work is the first exercise of the horse's body . The first exercises that the young horse must master are leading and stopping, crossing the hindquarters and backing up. The obedient reaction to commands for future equestrian aids is already being trained. Crossing the hindquarters also practices carrying the load with the hind leg, which will be of great importance as a riding horse in the future.


Step 3: Lunging

Lunging is the next step in training. It is a type of training that the horse will experience throughout its life . For the first exercises on the lunge, it makes sense to use a round pen or to stake out half of the riding arena. This gives the horse a boundary that gives it security and shows the way. Horses that are not yet familiar with lunging can also be guided around the circle by a second person. This person walks away after completing a few safe walk laps on the lunge line.

Lunging serves to keep the horse gymnastic and should thus enable the correct muscle build -up . The young horse must learn to tighten the abdominal muscles and arch the back. Stretching the neck and back ligaments is also extremely important. All of this is accomplished through diligent forward-downward trotting. Forward-down means that the horse stretches the neck down, arches the back and keeps walking to the beat. This is the only way it can find its balance and rhythm and develop the muscles that a riding horse needs.

It is possible to use auxiliary reins when lunging. However, caution is advised here. Auxiliary reins are used to show the horse the way down. You also get the young horse used to some pressure on the bit. However, young horses should initially be lunged without auxiliary reins, as they need their neck as a balancing pole and should learn that walking forward is fun and that stretching down is good.


Step 4: Bridle

As soon as horse and trainer trust each other, the snaffle can be used . Of course, a suitable snaffle and bit for the youngster must first be found. The bit must be the right length, i.e. protrude about half a centimeter to the right and left of the horse’s mouth and must not be too high or too low in the horse’s mouth. The bit must be placed in the horse's mouth so that there are no more than three folds above the crease in the mouth. The horse should first be allowed to sniff the snaffle. Then the bridle can be practiced.

Tip: During the familiarization phase, it is possible to only attach the bit to one side of the snaffle so that you can pull the snaffle open and only then push the bit into the horse's mouth from one side. This way you have everything securely fastened and you can calmly teach the horse to pick up the bit.

When snaffling and snaffling, make sure that the bit never hits your teeth or mouth . The horse would otherwise associate the bit with pain. Care should be taken when lowering the bit, especially when clipping, as some horses will hold it in their mouth and as soon as they let go the bit will fall down and hit your teeth. So a bit of finesse is required here.

Step 5: Saddling

You should be able to get to know the saddle just like the bridle by sniffing it. The horse should also be used to having something placed on its back . You can start with a rubber belt and then move on to a lunging belt with a saddle pad. If it works well, the girth can be placed around the horse's belly for the first time and loosely fastened on the other side.

The horse is then allowed to take a few steps forwards and backwards to relax and not be startled by the pressure of the girth. Then it can be strapped on. After that, you should carefully lead the horse for a few laps in the saddle before the actual work begins.

The horse should never show defensive reactions to the saddle or trainer . If this is the case, the saddler and the veterinarian must be informed. However, one or the other leap when trotting with a saddle is completely normal in the adjustment phase. However, the saddle must not slip. It makes sense to have a helper with you when you saddle up.

Step 6: Ascend

Mounting is prepared by the horse becoming acquainted with the stirrups and a weight on its back . So you will first lean against the horse and lay over the horse's back. Then a second person can come along, who also first lies down on the back of the horse. This is similar to getting used to the saddle. At first the rider will only lie down on his back. As soon as the horse knows this, the first cautious steps are taken. If the horse is stress-free, the rider can mount.

Step 7: Lead

In the first steps with rider weight, the horse has to learn to balance itself. The rider's only responsibility is not to disturb the horse and to follow the movement. No action is necessary . The trainer is responsible for communication. But don't forget to give praise.

Step 8: Lunging with rider

Even when lunging, the rider initially only goes with the movement of the horse . Reins and thighs may accompany, but not confuse the horse. The weight, rein and leg aids are gradually introduced until rider and horse get along so well that the longe leader is no longer necessary.

Step 9: Riding without a lunge line

Tempo and direction can be determined by the rider? The horse is not excited and allows the rider to help? Then the time has come to take off the lunge line. The couple can now do the first laps in the hall at a walk and a trot . The gallop is usually only required after some time. You have to make sure that the horse starts directly in hand canter, which can take some practice. Once riding without a lunge line at the walk, trot and canter has become a habit, the first rides and discipline-specific tasks can also be included in the training. When riding without a lunge you should have dealt intensively with the  scale of the training  .


When is a horse broken in?


This depends on the horse breed and the horse individually. Icelanders, for example, are not developed enough to be broken in until they are 5 years old. For warmblood sport horses, on the other hand, it is not uncommon to already have a rider at the age of 3, with most owners breaking in their youngsters at the age of 4. Horses are usually broken in at an age of 3 to 5 years . The older a horse gets, the more difficult it becomes. However, there are cases in which horses are broken in late and still develop into good riding horses.


Is there an optimal time to break in a horse?

There are many different opinions on this. What is decisive is the basic developmental status of the horse in relation to its anatomy. Any peculiarities of the horse  and its musculoskeletal system should be taken into account.

The character of the horse is also of crucial importance. If a horse learns faster or slower, it also depends on its character. In addition, the parentage or the breed of the horse influences the timing of the training. Icelandic horses, for example, are only broken in at the age of 5, whereas Quarter Horses usually have a rider on their back at the age of 1.5 to 2 years.

If you have decided to break in the horse, you should start with the  ground  work first. This gives the horse the opportunity to build trust in the rider. It represents a first form of gymnastics and enables the horse to get to know the first basic exercises such as turning backwards or crossing the hindquarters.

The work on the lunge should not be underestimated either. Lunging helps to strengthen the horse's muscles. A sagging back can indicate insufficient musculature. The muscles can be   specifically strengthened by lunging . In addition, the ground work is used to check whether the horse is balanced or whether it often goes into cross canter. The lunging of the horse is therefore an essential preparation for the first mounting of the rider, since the horse is already used to a lunging belt here. Not only the exterior , but also the interior of the horse are significantly influenced by the ground work.

In order to strengthen a qualitative  human-animal relationship  , simple activities such as grooming or going for walks can help to take away the horse's fear of working with humans and arouse its curiosity.


Lunging Serves to gymnastic the horse and should thus enable correct muscle development


Laying the foundations at foal age

The foundations for a successful horse training are laid as early as the foal age . Getting used to people plays the most important role here. The animal's fear and stress reactions are reduced and the foal becomes more sociable with humans.

In addition, the foal should already be used to a halter during this time. It would be optimal to get the foal used to being led with a rope and to take away his fear of unknown things. If a positive human-animal relationship was able to develop as early as the foal age, the young horse will trust and accept the rider more quickly

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How useful is it to break in a horse?


A young horse is a challenge and should be trained by a professional. If you have no experience with training young horses , it is generally not advisable to take matters into your own hands. You should at least do it with a coach.

The costs for riding and training a horse are made up of stable rent and the costs of the trainer. Between 500 and 800 euros per month should be budgeted for, but the costs can be higher for some professionals or in certain regions.

The advantages of hiring a professional basically lie in the experience and expertise of the person . The trainer should know exactly how horse-friendly breaking in should look like, what structure the young horse needs and how to optimally adapt to the animal. Finally, the animal is placed in the hands of a third party so as not to make mistakes in training yourself.

It is therefore important to find the right trainer for you and your horse. It is best if you have known the person for a few years and know how they deal with the horses in everyday life, in training and at tournaments and how the horses behave towards you. Breaking in and training a horse takes a lot of time and patience . If a rider thinks he can produce a safe riding horse within four weeks, it's better to let him or her go.

So what are the downsides of not breaking the horse on your own? In addition to the costs, there are, for example, the loss of control and liability in the event of damage . Liability lies with the trainer only in the event of intent or negligence. If problems with the horse occur afterwards, the burden of proof lies with the horse owner. A contract should be concluded in which, among other things, the goals are precisely defined.

Putting your beloved pet in the hands of someone else isn't always easy, but as an owner and prospective rider, you shouldn't be completely left out of the process. Quiet is necessary for the professional and important when getting to know and riding. Nevertheless, it makes sense to show the owner what you have worked on with the horse and how to deal with certain quirks.

Breaking in the horse: Which factors play an important role?


How good am I and how far is my horse? These two questions cannot be answered in a nutshell, but that is exactly what plays a very important role when breaking in a horse.


Horse owner experiences

As a horse owner looking to break in their own horse , you shouldn't need to read this article to know exactly what to do. When training your own horse, you should always work with a professional . It's not only safer, it's also more comfortable for horse and owner thanks to fewer mistakes. Basically, horses are usually broken in in pairs by a trainer and a helping hand/rider. So you shouldn't just go it alone, but seek support and leave the leadership to the professional. Now all you have to do is listen and watch carefully to learn as much as possible.



education before entry


Whether a horse is fresh out of the paddock or has already developed a deep bond with people definitely makes a difference. The young savages from the paddock only know the behavior of the herd and are more difficult to desensitize. Horses that have been spoiled a lot by their owners may already be familiar with some exercises, but often do not understand why they should suddenly be working. So every horse should really go through every step from ground work to getting used to the equipment and lunging until the rider can come into play.


race and ancestry

Just like the stallion, the mare of the young horse passes on her genes to the foal. So it is helpful to know a bit about the horse's parents to have an idea of ​​what to expect when training your horse. The sensitivity also depends on the breed and type of horse. A thoroughbred will usually be more sensitive than a draft horse or pony. But physical conditions also depend on the breed and must be taken into account when breaking in.



The equipment has to fit and there are no compromises. The saddle must be checked by a saddler at regular intervals, as the young horse is constantly changing and an unsuitable saddle can have a negative impact on health . Saddle girths with elastic bands are particularly suitable for young horses, as they give slightly when moving. The bridle, the bit, the gaiters, the halter and everything else must not be uncomfortable or rub the horse. The horse must never feel pain from the equipment, as this would massively impair physical and psychological development.


Getting used to the bridle

Getting used to the bridle and saddle beforehand is also essential for a relaxed and careful break-in.

Here the  character of the horse plays  a crucial role. Some horses are quicker to put on the bridle, while others need more time to get used to it. In addition, the equipment should be adapted to the horse in advance. Sharp bits and tight-fitting bridles and saddles provoke pressure pain and remain in the memory of the young horse as a negative experience.

When putting on the snaffle, the horse should first be allowed to sniff it, then the bit should be slowly pushed into the mouth.

It is important to be very gentle when first fitting the saddle. Here, too, the horse can sniff the saddle extensively. If you drop your head slightly when putting on the saddle pad and saddle, or when putting on the girth, this is a sign of acceptance of the saddle.


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