What’s in a name? I’m talking about what we label our horses, of course.
I’m not referencing to registered names, nicknames or bad names, though I’m sure most (lovingly) sport all three at times. By “label,” I’m referring to adjectives. Mainly, the four big ones in my book:
I hear and read these four descriptions often, especially on sale posts and in catalogs. Though they are all positive, honorable terms that may overlap, I don’t believe they are interchangeable.
And since this is my blog, here is my take on each one.
For some, a broke horse is one you can ride. For others, it goes much deeper. My understanding is that a truly “broke” horse represents the highest art form of the four adjectives I previously mentioned. It is a treat and a wonder, to ride a very broke mare, gelding or stud. It describes a horse who has learned to think through lots of different types of pressure, and there is little to no resistance throughout all maneuvers.
A broke horse travels straight and through the bridle. He understands cues, respects your hands, feet and even seems to be on the same page mentally with his rider, no matter how subtle or radical the request. He has been through many hours, experiences and situations that have helped him elevate his mind and body to becoming broke. He is willfully guided and presents a fluid, confident picture throughout his tasks. It is a complicated term, but one I believe most horsemen are proud to achieve. It doesn’t always mean they are champions or excel at any one thing, as many ranch horses (among others!) that never make it to town are extremely broke and can boast the term proudly.
A trained horse is also a wonderful thing, but the method is a bit different. Training is a lot of repetition. It is a horse taught and patterned how to perform a certain desired result or maneuver when asked. A broke horse can be trained, and a trained horse can be broke, but they don’t always go hand in hand. It is a disciplined, well-versed, equine schooled in a particular area(s). For example, a carriage horse could be very trained to his job but not at all broke. There’s no doubt, a trained horse takes many hours, knowledge, thoughtfulness and commitment to achieve. And there’s a lot of value in a horse that’s trained well enough to bring home checks and prizes, especially with a rider that maybe hasn’t had near the saddle-time as the gelding she’s riding. Which brings me to my next term — the seasoned horse.
Oh, what a fine horse it is that’s been seasoned to the world. This is the weekend warrior, the rope horse that can be tied with a shoestring to a loose panel without a wreck, the kids’ pony that falls asleep during the cannon salute in the grand entry. These are the been-there, done-that, worldly equines. I see very little of this in my life, as we spend so much time with colts, who are at the beginning of this journey. They are here, they get going, get exposed, and then they go to the next phase. Generally, in the years that follow, those same colts will learn how to travel, settle, adapt and stay level in many different situations. By the time they’ve grown up, life has stopped surprising them. A horse can get extremely seasoned without being very broke, trained, or honestly, even gentle. They’ve just got to learn how to self-soothe and see the big bright world.
And lastly, is the gentle horse. A horse doesn’t have to be started, broke, trained or even handled in order to prove that he’s a gentle one. We can do a lot as riders and owners to help a horse become gentler for sure, and there’s no doubt that time and age often brings a softer, quieter mind. But gentle is often a personality trait that is easy to spot. The gentle gelding isn’t tight, touchy or reactive to stimulation. There is little skepticism, even less excitement and often a calm confidence that accompanies tricky situations. He may not ride around well, he dang sure won’t win any ribbons, and he may have never left the ranch, but darn — he sure is gentle!
Write it in your journal, post about it on social media and make out your sale descriptions for your gelding. Make sure to call him what you will — broke, seasoned, gentle or trained. If he’s got any of these traits, I’d call him a good one. If he can boast two or more, I’d call him impressive.
And if he can genuinely claim all four on his resume, I know of an even better (and well deserved!) title: