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Green Broke
Doris Eraldi

I grew up using the terms “broke” and “green broke” to describe levels of horse training. Those terms have fallen out of favor in many circles, being replaced by terms like “started,” “made”, and “built. I understand why. “Breaking” horses the old fashioned way, at least in some circles, did include some violence. I still use the term “broke” for a well-trained horse because the horsemen I learned from used it. “Natural Horsemanship” wasn’t the buzzword then as it is now, but that would best describe their training techniques. Trained or well-trained are probably better terms than broke, but for some reason green-trained doesn’t have the same ring. Accompanied by an appreciative whistle, I can still hear my Uncle Bill whispering, “Now that horse is broke!” when watching a particularly good Bridle Horse run.

One of the advantages of Dressage training is that there are defined levels of training. A horse that has achieved Level 1, for example, has proven that it can perform at that level of training, and so we have a good idea of what that horse knows just from the description. Unfortunately there is no such system for most other disciplines, and vague descriptions such as “green broke,” “started” “finished” or “made” are used to describe how much training and experience a horse has. To make matters worse, these descriptions can vary widely depending on who is doing the describing! I’ve ridden “green broke” colts who had 3 months of training by excellent trainers (I would agree with calling them green … these were youngsters two or three years old and still in a snaffle bit) but the colts knew more than many older horses, some even doing flying changes of lead or working cattle. Other trainers call a horse green or started when the horse can be sat on without bucking, or has had hours of training instead of months. When discussing the training level of a horse you are considering buying, or riding, it is a good idea to ask detailed questions.

A green broke horse of any age should have basic “gas pedal, steering and brakes” – he should move forward on cue (and only then), and stop when asked. The horse should also guide by direct reins, meaning that pressure on the left rein turns the horse to the left. He should be able to walk, trot and lope both directions when asked, though I don’t expect a totally collected transition in all the gaits. This might seem pretty basic but I’ve ridden a lot of horses who were described as “trained,” who couldn’t pass this test.

It can be easy for the novice rider to confuse a lazy or quiet horse with a trained one. Just because the horse doesn’t buck, doesn’t mean he is trained. Another thing to consider is that a horse gets used to behaving in a certain way in a certain situation, such as following his stable-mate down a familiar trail, and appear way more trained than he actually is. Take the same horse to a new situation, or try something different, and the rider finds that the horse doesn’t actually know the basics – he’s not even green broke! The ultimate well trained horse will respond correctly to the cues in all situations; a green horse might make mistakes, but improve with work. The more experiences the green horse has – if he’s been out on the trail, hauled to new places, and had a few wet saddle blankets – helps to determine if the horse truly understands the training and the cues, and adds up to becoming a solid mount – a broke horse.


Doris Eraldi and Blue, 2005Doris Eraldi of Potter Valley has over 30 years experience training and teaching. Contact her at dyan@eraldi.net, or check out her web site at www.eraldi.net

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