BREAKING AND TRAINING HORSES #2
THE WILD HORSE!
There have been in the past and there are today, wonderful
and gifted horse trainers, that do things with horses above just
training them to be ridden.
Let's talk for a while on training horses and some on
"tricks" also. Really to take a wild horse and to start to even
do the basics of breaking is really doing tricks if we use the
word "trick" in an overall manner.
You take a horse that has never had a human hand on him and
trick number one is to get the horse to not fear you, to learn
you are a friend and not an enemy. Horses have survived out in
the wild, for one reason to begin with, and that is to look upon
anything that would come close to it as an enemy that might
pounce on it and eat it up. Hence the first instinct in a horse
is to RUN AWAY if danger comes close. Only if it is cornered will
a horse fight back. And if you have it cornered in a tight space
look out, it will do anything it can to stay alive, that horse
thinks you are going to kill him. Oh, and in passing, the horse
is one of the very few animals that can fight you from BOTH ENDS!
Now the first trick is to train a wild horse to not only
respect you but to follow you. All horse books will tell you that
if you are not "in charge" then the horse will put itself in
charge, then it is you who will have huge problems, I mean a
horse is a little bit heavier than us, right, well quite a bit
When I came to Canada in 1961 at age 18, I was blessed to
find a "horse/training/riding stable" in the West, owned by a man
who did just about everything with horses. He would buy "wild"
horses, now I mean wild, not green broke, I mean horses that had
never had a human hand put on them, horses never even coming
close to a human before. These were adult horses 5 years and
older. Now if you have never been close to a real wild horse (and
maybe you should not be) I can personally tell you there is
"terror" in their eyes. You and everything around you and them is
their enemy, and they being in a confined space, just want to
fight with all their might, they do not want to be hurt or
killed, and that is what is going through their mind, you and
everything is going to hurt or kill them.
Now, it's true, over a long time, you may get where they are
not scared of you anymore, where you can put a hand on them, and
where they will not jump away from you or attach you. But that
kind of result will take much time. The fellow who had this
"horse ranch" just did not have the time nor the man power for so
slow a working with wild horses. And he was not the old "cowboy
type" either, rodeo breaking style.
We had to get the wild horse to respect us and at the same
time to be willing to follow us. We had to teach the horse the
trick of us leading him. So a lariat would be used, it goes
around and at the back of his ears, down and around its muzzle.
This is known as a "nerve line" and the principle of pressure and
release is used, the horse gives and you reward it with release.
The horse will want to pull back but in so doing the nerve line
tightens, the horse, within a few steps back will just "freeze"
in place. The horse learns very quickly, and I mean very quickly,
that to stop and come forward the pressure is off and the reward
is good. It is amazing how fast you can teach a wild horse to be
halter and lead rope broken, following you around, still scared
in his new scary surroundings, but getting some respect for you.
And he soon begins to realize you ain't going to eat him up.
With this, you have taught your new wild horse trick number
one, to be led with a lead rope. And so you go with this till you
can show him that you are not a fearsome object. You get to come
closer and closer to him. Finally to one side of him at the head
and neck, and closer, closer, easy and gentle, soft tone of
voice. You are moving to trick number two, to be able to stroke
his neck. Now getting to trick two may take longer or shorter
time depending on your relaxation and his relaxation. Remember
every horse is different, you have got to know the horse you are
dealing with. Some are easy, some harder, and some can be darn
right sneaky, they try to fool you, put on a kind of act, and
when you think they are settling, burst out. Horses are not dumb,
they are pretty smart at times without being taught to be smart.
I personally have seen horses learning to un-tie themselves from
a slip-knot, and a number of other things, without any human
showing them how to do it.
So on we go from trick one and trick two (leading them with
lead rope to getting close to a soft "hello" to them and touching
their neck). You should now not have a big problem getting a
halter on them, but go easy, it takes time a patience and
slowness and calm talking, to teach them to move into trick
number three, getting a halter on them without any head-throwing.
Again some learn easy, some learn harder. A few can have a touchy
ear, left or right. If it's both, then a much longer time you
will have to be. In all of my experience as a young horseman
breaking and training, I did not have too many with halter
problems after trick one and two was learned. Then again, many
just do not understand how to go slow and gentle, when to back
off, to take more time stroking and soft talking, when to be so
very slow with the hands.
We have one horse out at the ranch that is used in the kids
summer camp. I do not know its background, it was there way
before me. In tacking it up, there is no problem UNTIL you come
to putting on the bridle/headstall. Usually you will be on the
left side of the head, the side you mount up on. With this mare
you must go over to the right side to put her ear inbetween the
brow band and the poll leather (comes up and around the back of
the ears). If you do not do it this way, you have big problems
with head tossing, which could mean her head smashing into your
head. Everybody that works there tacking up before the kids
arrive, has to know this particular way to get the bit and bridle
on this horse. You come to the right to work with the right ear
and she is fine. I haven't (and don't have for sure any time in
the summer when the camp is in) taken the time to try and teach
her any different. You just remember that one ear, do it from the
right side, and no problem, so it's easy to just do it that way
and so we do.
Many of you have never thought about horse training from the
perspective of totally WILD horses. But we have three tricks so
far, and that is what a horse trick is, a something that a horse
has to learned with a set situation. You do have to be able to
put this horse in a halter and lead him about so that process is
calm and neat and easy and relaxed. With some horses it's easy,
with others it's harder.
It is important to get to KNOW the inner workings of that
horse, its personality, its response to everything you do with
it, and you must analyze if what your doing is the best way for
that particular horse, or should another way be found. Often
there is no "one absolute right way, written in stone way" to
move a horse into these first very important "tricks" that I'm
We haven't got on him yet, but we are teaching and
implementing ground work tricks, and as many horse trainers today
know GROUND WORK IS important!
So ... so far we have taught the horse trick number one,
respect the lead rope, and the person leading with it at the
other end, and moving with him/her to follow the leader around.
He is learning some respect for you. He's learnt you are not such
a bad guy/gal after all, and he's safe in you company. Time,
slowness and patience, with soft talk will help him and he'll
accept the halter, and you leading. Of course a young horse or
pony that has grown up around humans, and had a halter on from
being young, will be no problem at all, unless you've done it
very wrong in the first place and now its scared stiff of the
halter. Yes a weaned young one still has to learn to move forward
when you walk and pull on the lead rope. It does not take too
many lessons to learn this if you have another person at its side
with an arm around its rump, down near the hocks. With a little
pull and push, it learns to move forward. Young horses or ponies
that grow up around humans (who are kind and gentle) will accept
humans as just part of their life. Do not "spoil them" or they
can grow up to be "spoiled brats" as the saying goes. You just
talk to them, let them come to you, pat and stroke them for a few
minutes, then let them go their way and you yours. They will grow
up to be friendly towards you, not scared, but also will still
have some respect for you, because you have not "spoiled" them.
I've worked with "born on the ranch" horses and ponies, I've done
many times what I'm instructing here, and it is an art to know
when and how much to "be friends with" the young ones, so they
will like you, but also respect you, and when it comes time to
break them to ride you do not have a "spoiled brat" on your hands.
Back to breaking wild horses. We do a lot on the ground
from here on out, walking, stop, walking, stop, finally trot,
stop, or trot to walk. When I stop I say "whow - stand" - I may
stand for a minute or so, before walking again, when I start to
walk I say "walk." We have not yet got to "trick" number 3. But
we are trying to do things to make it easy or easier for trick
And that trick is hitching your horse up to a post and have
him learn how to stand there, for long times, or as long as you
have him tied there. In a Western horse riding ranch, the horses
may have to stand tied for quite a while before they are used.
Always use a quick release knot when tying up your horse.
Make sure the post or railing is absolutely as solid as a
rock, if he should pull back you do not want that post coming
loose. Your imagination can tell you what horrible situation the
horse is in if it does come loose.
I like to use a narrow kind of chute stall to teach a horse
this trick (of standing tied). Just less room to get tangled up,
down, sideways, whatever. You will notice the cowboys at the
rodeo using a narrow chute stall for the bare-back and saddle-
bronc events, it's logical to do so.
The narrow chute stall is also for the benefit of moving to
trick number 4, once trick 3 is learnt. We still have to get the
horse used to us touching him further back than his neck or head.
You certainly do not want to "get inside the chute" with him,
that is asking for serious trouble. The cowboys do not get
"inside" the chute with the horse at the rodeo, common sense
tells them why.
Remember I am here talking about the 4 basic tricks that a
WILD horse has to be taught, before you can ever think of trying
to saddle and ride him. And just putting a wild horse in a chute,
saddling and riding him is far from a rodeo show per se.
At the age of 18, coming from Britain, to Western Canada,
that very first summer they took me to anything but a pro rodeo.
It was on an Indian Reservation, and they were indeed using WILD
horses. It took them forever to get a saddle or bare-back rigging
on. And when those horses came out of the chute, it was not like
a pro rodeo (where those bucking horses are trained for the job
as such) - the horses were like the BULLS in how they bucked,
jumped, twisted and turned. They were wild horses and acted as
such. When I think back .... it was crazy for cowboys to be doing
this kind of rodeo, with literal wild horses.
With the narrow chute you can slowly, carefully, softly,
teach the horse that touching it further back than its head and
neck is okay, you not going to hurt it.
With time and patience, with gentleness and a soothing
voice, you have this wild horse through the basic 4 tricks. They
are in that sense "tricks" - anything you teach a wild horse to
do, is a trick, when you think about it. Tricks are just a
progression of things from what most people do not even think
about (because most people work with, or buy, domestic, green-
broke, or fully broke horses, or horses they have born on their
home property, and grow up around humans, which are not anywhere
near the nature of a wild horse) as "tricks" but they are really.
When you have broken truly wild horses as I have, you know every
teaching you give them is a "trick" - it is a great feeling to
get a totally wild horse to learn the 4 basic tricks, ready to
move on to teaching him it's okay for a human to get on his back,
and teach him the tricks of basic riding.
I've never read if Glenn Randall (the trainer that Roy
Rogers used) ever broke truly wild horses, maybe he did in his
days before becoming the trainer for Roy Rogers. I did read where
Dale wrote that Roy never broke horses, and that's fine, most
riders of whatever horse skill they are doing, jumping, dressage,
endurance, western, have never broken wild horses. I as an 18
year old, just happened upon a horse training/riding school where
the owner did teach us young guys to break truly wild horses.
There's some great horse trainers out there today. I was
recently sent, via email, a short video of this young lady at a
horse show. She came out on her horse in the center of the arena
bareback and with no bridle. The horse did a long side-step to
the right and then a side-step back to the left. She rode around
the arena in figure eights and other figures, then she did a
large circle around the arena on the outer walls, got to one end,
came galloping fast down the center of the arena, and did a
sliding stop. She then took the horse around with more figure
eights etc. and repeated the gallop sliding stop, all with NO
saddle and NO bridle.
Great horse trainers in the past, such as Glenn Randall,
great horse trainers in the present. Yes, they are still out
there doing some incredible things with horses. But remember not
every horse learns at the same speed and some horses just do not
have the ability to learn more than the very basics. That's just
the truth of the matter, so if your horse cannot be a master
"trick" horse, you'll just have to be satisfied with the basics,
and if you want a master trick horse you'll just have to keep
looking and trying to find that horse, which sometimes can take a
long time to find, depending how much time and effort you want to
put into finding that "special" horse for whatever you want it to be
To be continued