Now, it so happened that Maggie owned a horse which had been broken in but was still a bit wild.

Honestly, I have no idea about the meaning of break in. Maybe it stands for being almost domestic, but still a bit wild.

Didn't find anything useful in dictionaries.

  • If you google "break in horse", you'll find the meaning you're looking for. Interestingly enough, the more common usage seems to be simply "breaking a horse", not "breaking in a horse". – stangdon Apr 15 '16 at 15:22

To break in means to train a horse (see No. 5 definition in the link).

The sentence could be rephrased to:

Now, it so happened that Maggie owned a horse which was not trained but was still a bit wild.

When you break in a horse, you don't mean you separate it into pieces as to break literally means. It metaphorically means you interrupt a continuity of its wildness (being wild) and get it domesticated or trained.

Many English idioms and phrases have metaphorical senses and you need to understand them on a case-by-case basis.

Wild is antonym of trained or domesticated.

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  • 2
    Break in also has a more general meaning of "to use for the first couple times" for various purposes. You can "break in" shoes (e.g. new shoes will typically be tight until you wear them a number of times), or a vehicle engine (e.g. you're supposed to drive a new car carefully for a while and change oil more frequently during that time), or similar. – LawrenceC Apr 15 '16 at 15:47

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