When I started writing my tips for breaking a young horse I thought I must be mad, what did I know? There are loads of experts out there all offering advice and I was just a humble horse owner, not a trainer etc. Then I decided that if my story helps anyone to have the confidence to work with their own horse then I believe they will find it a rewarding experience and it will be beneficial to both the horse or pony and themselves.
Backing, Breaking and Training a young horse. Well its something that we are told is best left to the experts and to some degree I agree, as you can do a lot of damage to a horse at such a young age, but with the right support and information I do believe you can make a good job of it.
Its easy to say leave it to the experts but for most of us our horses and ponies are part of our family. We are the one’s who are with them every day and the one’s who have built up mutual trust and a bond with them.
I took a break from owning my own horse for about 15 years. Then found myself, in my naivety, being the proud owner of a 2 yr old filly. I fell in love with her, what more can I say, but she was 16.1hh and very powerful. A lot could have gone wrong. I did contemplate sending her away when the time came, to have her professional broken, backed and schooled. There were several problems with this idea though. Number one was the cost, I just didn’t have the money to do that as the quotes I had attained were extortionate. Number 2 was this was my horse, I had spent hours and hours in the stable with her, bonding, grooming and just sitting there gaining her trust. I didn’t want to send her away and lose all that. I knew she trusted me, she would follow me around the paddock like a dog, if I ran she would trot after me. Quite scary when you have a 16.1hh thoroughbred chasing you. I had never read a natural horsemanship book, but I realised that this was just what we were doing.
I also discovered she had never been walked off the yard, boxed, lunged or had a bit anywhere near her. I figured it was going to be a long drawn out process.
In reality I couldn’t have been more wrong. Although I did take things very slowly I found backing her to be extremely straight forward.
I used a lot of common sense, sought loads of advice from local tack shops and the people on the yard, and read as much information as I could find including everyone else’s tips on breaking a young horse. A lot of the techniques and equipment had evolved from when I had had my last horse. So I had to learn what to do with it again.
The things I learned and my 10 tips for breaking a young horse are:
1. Spend time bonding with your horse or pony, don’t just rush into breaking it. You will need time to build up mutual trust.
2. Learn your horses moods. Learn their normal behaviour and pick up when something is wrong.
3. Spend time before you try to back your horse getting it used to basic commands, both on the lunge and long rein. Stand, walk, trot will be invaluable once your horse is first backed.
4. Introduce the bit slowly – don’t just expect to put it in your horses mouth and leave it there for hours. Try a few minutes at a time over several week and get a bit suitable for a young horse. I used a copper key bit.
5. Introduce the saddle without girth, stirrups and leathers to begin with and remove again after a few minutes.
6. Before you even think of putting someone on your horses back get the horse used to wearing the saddle and bridle on the lunge or in hand.
7. When lunging the first few times in tack make sure stirrups and leathers are not flapping around and spooking your horse.
8. When you do introduce someone on their back ensure you are the one who is talking to your horse, after all you are the one who is built up the trust.
9. Try to get someone light to be the person who first sits on your horse. Start with them just lying over your horse and then gradually sitting. Make sure every movement of the rider is slow a fluid. Again make sure this isn’t rushed and is done over weeks.
10. Take backing your horse or pony slowly, take the lead from the animal. If they are looking stressed or anxious or are really misbehaving stop. There is generally a reason.
It took me about 2.5 months to back my horse from only ever having a head collar on to gently hacking out with me on her.
I introduced everything bit by bit and talked to her constantly. It might seem a long time to some people but I was left with a well adjusted horse who doesn’t get stressed or act up very often. She takes the lead from me and will attempt new things because I firmly believe she trusts me.
Make sure you are safe at all times and that someone is with you if necessary who is more knowledgeable but don’t be afraid and take the lead.There is no excuse when horse breaking to be cruel, and remember animals including horses are not born bad, they react to what we as humans do to them.