I grew up in the mountains of Colorado in the 50s and 60s. I'm afraid at that time most horses were left to run out until they were 4 - 6 years old. They were gelded and branded as yearlings and never run in again until they wre 'broke'. Many I watched were blindfolded, snubbed to a broke horse or a snubbing post, or 'Scotch Hobbled', saddled and mounted. Every big ranch I was around had a round pen --- but it was 15 to 20 feet across and frequently leaned out so the cowboy did not get is knees broken. Horses bucked and ran (as fast as one can in a 20 foot pen). They slapped them up-side their face while they pulled on the hack rein and as soon as they could guide one a little bit, someone opened the gate and they headed out across the sagebrush. These horses were terrified, squealed, fell over backward, anything could happen.
Has anyone here been to Cheyenne Frontier Days? The 'wild horse race' is just a replay of what went on on a lot of these early day ranches except the ranches had the little bronc pen and did not 'race' them. They just got them out around a big mountain pasture.
Most of these were Hancock bred if they had any registered stock behind them or draft / mustang crosses with a shot of TB from the Calvary Remount stallions given to the Indian Tribes and turned loose with the wild herds (that were really numerous at that time) in 1947 when the Remount was disbanded.
These horses were tough and could go for 20 years on the rocks and the only way you could hurt one was to cut his head off and hide it.
It was my exposure to these 'bronc breakers', many of which went from ranch to ranch getting paid to put 3 or 4 rides on each horse and then move on that convinced me that there had to be a better way.
I went to the National Western Stock Show to help a show-horse barn clean stalls and take care of horses when I was 12. I watched mostly Saddlebed and Morgan horses being ridden and watched the roadster and fine harness horses. I watched the grooms drive them to a buggy and back them into the shafts and then watched them drive them to the main show-ring with some rich old lady in a fur coat sitting up there like she knew what she was doing. From that stark difference I decided that if you could actually 'teach' a horse to accept the harness and pull a buggy or roadster, you could teach a stock horse to accept a saddle and rider and teach him to ride like a trained horse. I had always been told that it was a man's job and that horses had to be conquered and broken to be any good.
From that beginning, I developed a way to teach horses to accept a rider and to do what the rider wanted.
In later years (early 70s) I took in horses (still 5 or 6 years old) to 'train' from some of the same ranches that I had watched the broncs being Scotched, eared or snubbed and ridden with absolutely no preparation. Norrell ranches (then at Silt, Colorado) held a production sale back in the 70s and they advertised in the sale catalog that several of these geldings were 'lady broke' because I had ridden them. I was so pissed off I did not go to the sale. Back then, a 'lady broke' horse was one that no cowboy wanted to be caught dead on. I heard that they brought more at the sale than most of the other horses.
I watched the traditions change through the 70s and by the time I moved to OK in 1979, I had a 3 - 6 month waiting list to take in horses to start, would not take one for less than 60 to 90 days and kept 5 or 6 for an entire year to have finished enough to show. I had won the Western Slope QHA Futurity and the Rocky Mountain QHA Shows in Hunt Seat, Western Pleasure and Reining more than once. I had several owners that sent horses to OK for me to ride and show. Some of these horses came from the same big ranches that I watched break broncs in the 50s.
When the Dorance brothers and Ray Hunt started doing 'clinics' at the big ranches, it was to show the cowboys and ranch owners / managers that there was a better way. The Four Sixes, Pitchfork, Xit, JA and the rest of the big ranches still had bronc riders start their horses when Ray Hunt went from ranch to ranch giving demonstrations. I first heard about him in the 60s when the Western Horseman published an article about him.
So, things on the big cattle ranches have changed drastically in the 60 years that I have watched them. As big a change as the cowboys' methods is the quality of the horses. The big headed, thick skinned, big footed ugly ranch horses of 60 years ago have been replaced by cutting / cow bred horses with a LOT more quality and ability. Sadly, the bone and feet have also gone with the big ugly heads in a lot of the horses.
Just my perspective.