How to break out a horse and not die, part 1

In college, some people go to bars for fun. Some people join sororities or clubs. Some people just study all the time. Some people join bible studies, or dance, or row crew. Some people run charity events. I, however, really like breaking horses.

I guess I ought to begin by explaining the term: “to break a horse.” Non-horse people seem to believe that this has something to do with breaking the horse’s spirit or his will. I do not know where the term originated, but now it simply means to to the first part of his training. Once a horse walks, trots, canters, stops, and picks up leads (this is a reference to the asymmetry of the canter–the horse must canter left and right), he is typically said to be broke or green broke. The term is NOT “broken” (even though that sounds more grammatically correct), because nothing about him is broken, he just knows more stuff.

Here I’m going to tell about breaking out a 3-year-old quarter horse mare: Mac. She’s pretty much the cutest. She’s dun (tan/gold with black mane and tail) (I’m going to try to add a picture of her at the end of this) and she’s super smart and willing to do what I ask.

I started working with Mac at the beginning of January, about twice a week. I started by introducing her to the saddle and working her on the ground (leading at the walk and trot, stopping and backing up). I didn’t know her before I started this training, so I was also getting a feel for her personality. It’s really important, when training horses, to know what kind of individual you are working with: is she brave? is she smart? is she cooperative? If the horse is none of those things, you’ll have a long, difficult road ahead. If you’ve got one of the three, you’ll be OK. And if you’ve got two, or even better, all three, you’re set forever. Of course, there are other quirks and personality traits as well. But, when trying to explain horse personalities to a person who has never been personally acquainted with a horse, those traits are the first that come to mind.

After Mac was used to the saddle and I had taught her to trot and back quietly when when I was leading her from the ground, I started getting her used to weight on her back. I leaned over the saddle like a dead body (legs on one side of the horse on a step stool, arms on the other, torso draped over her back, gradually putting more of my weight on her and less on my feet.

After these steps have been completed (and, depending on the trainer, sometimes many other steps), it’s time to get on. Once you’re on, you’re committed. You have one leg on each side. It’s hard to bail if things start going wrong. You and your horse, in my case cute little Mac, have to be ready. I took a deep breath and got, very gradually, on. She didn’t care at all. I sat on her for about half a minute, just enough time for her to think about the fact that I was there, but not enough time for her to get worried about it. Then I got off, told her what a good horse she was, and quit for the day.

 

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