There are many variations to the definition of a horse being ‘broke’.

Those terms may mean something totally different to each person. It’s all in your individual perspective.

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What Is ‘Broke’?

The term ‘broke’ can be somewhat misleading anyway. The goal should never be to break/squash/fracture your horse’s spirit or try. The goal is to have unity and harmony between a willing horse and a supportive human.

Some people consider a horse ‘broke’ if you can simply get on him and ride him around. 

Others don’t consider a horse ‘broke’ until some fundamental training is in place.

To me, it’s more about how they think and respond rather than how gentle, skilled, or desensitized they are.

Listen to my Podcast: What Is Your Definition Of A Broke Horse?

Broke Horses And Natural Horsemanship

The natural horsemanship concept has been steadily gaining popularity since the 1980s. But the origins go back thousands of years to master horsemen like Xenophon (430-354 BC) who made highly educated horses that could perform a job with speed and finesse.

In the last 40 years, with the notoriety of the Dorrance brothers and Ray Hunt, the once common way of breaking a horse where you throw ‘em down, bite an ear, jump on, and ride it out have been replaced (in most instances) by methods that are more considerate of the horse and his natural instincts. Good for the horse.

But with an incomplete understanding of that gentler approach, we’ve also lowered the bar on what’s considered higher-level horsemanship. Bad for the horse.

Broke Horses And Social Media

In our current social media culture, you could watch horse demo videos all day long and never run out of new content. Hours of desensitizing, endless groundwork, slowly loping a big circle with a dead expression, riders bending a horse’s neck around and calling it flexion, etc. etc.

Not much on loping squares or doing fast work that doesn’t fall apart, especially if it’s out of an arena setting.

Many horses are ridden in an arena so much that they actually have a hard time going straight. They don’t even know what it means to stand up, square up, and travel between your legs and reins. Either their hip is off to one side, their shoulders are unlevel, or they’re dumping onto their front end. It’s no wonder that spine and joint issues are so common.

You don’t see a lot of horses ridden from the back to the front with emphasis on controlling the hips and hind feet.  Western riders are often guilty of riding the front end of the horse and ignoring the back end. 

Many of today’s ‘finished’ horses have a sleepy, slow, flat lope. In an arena setting, they can stop fast and turn and do some cool stuff. But could they do those same maneuvers out in a pasture? Is the horse thinking what I’m thinking and actually feeling for me, or just repeating a pattern? It’s a question I ask myself often.

Go to my YouTube Videos here: Carson James YouTube

Raise The Bar

We’ve got to raise the bar and start doing more than loping circles. Back in Xenophon’s day, a ‘broke’ horse was on that was so maneuverable, you could go into battle and rely on his lightness and responsiveness to keep you alive. The standard of a horse being ‘broke’ or ‘finished’ was pretty high. Those horses had to do more than lope a flat circle with their nose tucked in or lazily sidepass at a trot.

The next time you ride your horse, try loping squares instead of circles. Give your horse the opportunity to stand up square and elevate his front end. 

Try walking some straight lines and see how often you have to make an adjustment to keep the ribs from bowing out, the nose straight, and the base of the tail directly behind the withers.

Trot more often. Give your horse somewhere to go.

Learn more about The Value Of An Extended Trot

Concentrate on riding the hind end of the horse with emphasis on hip control and the footfall of his hind feet.

Work on adding some speed and quickness to your maneuvers while keeping the form correct.

Even if you don’t care about more speed, it will greatly improve the lightness.

It will take your horse and your horsemanship to a whole new level.

Instructional videos demonstrating all this and much more on

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Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.