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Take the Poll: At What Age Should a Young Horse Be Started Under Saddle?

By April 3, 2013

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The age at which a young horse should be ridden is fairly controversial. Many trainers start 2 year olds in a regular training program, others prefer to wait. I tend to lean toward waiting. But new research out of the Thoroughbred racing world suggests that sooner might be better than later. Forum members are also struggling with this question. At what age should a young horse be started under saddle and ridden? What do you think? Take the poll, and leave your comments below.

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Comments

October 9, 2008 at 4:42 am
(1) Phil Tragear says:

In my opinion, if your horse is less than two years old you should not be on his back for any reason. Seriously. That includes your (oh but she’s small and light) child.

October 9, 2008 at 10:20 am
(2) Marie Brock says:

I bred my Belgian and my Percheron. First time to have newborn foals. I read, researched everything I could get my hands on to “do it right”. Horses on RFD-TV, veterinarian advice-”Horses of any breed are usually started to soon before their bones and ligaments are developed, causing inflammation and arthritic conditions later in life”. Draft breeds are not developed completely until 5 years of age. I ride my Drafts. Ground work, ground work, age four, no longer than 15 minutes under saddle only at a trot! Top trainers start 2 yr. olds, I personally would wait until 3 years of age, under saddle. Do ground work.

October 12, 2008 at 12:53 pm
(3) Lucinda Lundell says:

No scientific research so far has proven a relationship between the age horses are started and an increased number of athletic injuries. However, there are scientific studies proving the value of proper training (to include rest time) of 2 year olds to condition the musculoskeletal system and stimulate remodeling of bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons to strengthen them and decrease the risk of serious injury. The potential for this remodeling process decreases greatly once the bone is mature. Leaving young horses to mature before working them limits their ability to become stronger and properly prepares them only for an inactive career.

October 14, 2008 at 3:17 pm
(4) Susie Wright says:

I agree basically with Lucinda. She has her facts correct. Otherwise, to ask such a question, a definition of ‘what starting a young horse under saddle’ is required. It will mean diferent things to different people.

October 14, 2008 at 3:22 pm
(5) Chris Grantman says:

I have Quarter Horses and Quarter Horse/Friesian Crosses. I don’t start them until they are at least 3 but closer to 5 as they do not seem to reach full size until closer to 5. I have a 3-1/2 year old cross gelding that may be almost 17 hands but he still has the build of a horse that is too young for saddle. They also seem to be calmer at that point in time. In the long run I would wait.

October 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm
(6) Gwen says:

While I basicly agree with Lucinda surely there are many variables, type, personality, future plans, etc.
My belief is early start but gently, gung ho early starts seem to shorten the working life or even (without having done a serious study) life generally. As horses are at their peak 8-9 to 15ish and in our home tend to live and work into their 30s time comes for free, slow and steady wins the race. And what a great race!!!

October 14, 2008 at 6:42 pm
(7) Sandy says:

I prefer to focus on ground work until they are three, then start putting a saddle on while doing ground work and begin actual ‘saddle time’ when they are four – starting with 30 minutes and gradually working longer periods. Depends entirely on the horse and how it’s progressing.

October 14, 2008 at 7:56 pm
(8) Yvonne says:

Personally as my own personal choice, i have always started my youngsters under saddle at 4-5 years.Lots of ground work and exposure to outside things ie floating crowds traffic etc getting them used to the feeling of the saddle on their backs I also do some light work in the final year Reasons for this being:
1. There is far too much going on in their mouths with incisors and molars coming through
2. Bone structure and proper development of joints
3. I also find the brain is more settled and not so young,
Yes I too have nearly driven everyone insane with the waiting till the horse was able to be taken out for extended periods, I learnt old school with horses (natural horsemanship methods not the old break there spirit type!)The only other thing I have found to differ from this is some youngsters are a little more switched on or mature for their age and I may start them at 3-4. The larger breeds tend to take a little longer to mature to I feel. Only my opinion though :)

October 14, 2008 at 8:20 pm
(9) Linda says:

I also agree generally with Lucinda. Breed, stature of horse and rider are other things to consider in my opinion. Setting futurities back a year would be good also.

October 15, 2008 at 12:00 pm
(10) Diana Maloney says:

6 years – if you believe Dr. Deb Bennett. She makes a very persuasive argument in an excellent article, “Timing and Rate of Skeletal Maturation of Horses.” It’s unfortunate that the horse industry (and most horsefolks) can’t wait this long.

October 15, 2008 at 3:22 pm
(11) ShirleyVH says:

I like the idea of riding the horse late in the three year old year and then wait for serious riding until four.
One of the articles about training them early so that their bones grow to withstand the stress they are preparing for was, of course, written for the TBs. They start riding at 19 months!!!!! How else could you race one as a two year old?
Their fast work training was very limited as to distance tho, not like a whole race. A horse growing up in a large pasture gets the same advantage.

October 16, 2008 at 7:40 am
(12) Katherine says:

RYC: Shirley–That was my feeling too. Would a horse kept in a stall for most of its young life not develop the bone density of one of one spending as much pasture time as possible, playing, climbing hills and dealing with the natural terrain?

October 16, 2008 at 10:33 am
(13) Lucinda Lundell says:

Actually, if you read the articles linked to on the forum, turn out is proven to NOT prepare the bone for weight carrying.

No disrespect, but Dr. Bennett is a paleontologist, not a vet. There is no evidence cited in the article mentioned above, it is an expression of her opinion.

October 16, 2008 at 8:22 pm
(14) Yvonne says:

Hi back again- just wanted to add another comment re thoroughbreds . Such a terrible shame the racing industry yes they are backed at 18 & 19 months so they can race as two year olds (which technically alot aren’t as here in Aussie we set all thoroughbreds birthdays as the 1st August so they can be raced)But these horses are “disposable” they are not looked at on a long term riding structure (Yes some do go onto bigger & better things) a small percentage are kept for breeding, some are given away etc. The larger portion end up where we all know and don’t like to think about at the “doggers”. Also the stress on the bodies of these horses is so intense for racing that they are “aged” at a different rate than your normal horse :)

October 22, 2008 at 11:33 pm
(15) Yvette says:

It depends on the breed also, the Arabian for example has an extra vertabra in its spine. They shouldn’t be ridden until mature & gorwing has stopped at 5 or 6 years old.
I know the draft crosses & warmbloods are big babies,but I would wait until they are 3 also. But you can always work on your ground work.

October 23, 2008 at 6:25 pm
(16) Katherine says:

I think you meant one less vertebrae. Arabs have one less lumbar vertebrae and one less in their tail.

November 15, 2008 at 4:54 pm
(17) Ron Brown says:

I agree with the majority, ground train gently from birth to 3, then more challengingground work (never harsh)then moderate saddle for a year, partly dependent on breed. I made the mistake this year of taking a Percheron/quarterx 2 year old on a field trip. She bolted and in bringing her down, I came off and she hurt her right shoulderI should have known better.

March 30, 2009 at 8:30 pm
(18) Mary Jones says:

I believe that you should start a horse when they are in there late 3rd year of life. you should do lots of ground work before mounting and get to no your horse reallt well.(make a special bond)

January 3, 2010 at 10:09 am
(19) catherine hilton says:

Arabs can be one short, or one long in the vertabrae.
All breeds and individuals within a breed develop at their own rate, especially crosses…
The longer you take,with intelligent training, on the ground, before you get on,the longer the horse will be healthy, and willing…
You must taylor your training to the horses development, both mental and physical, 5 years is best for out-crosses.

June 15, 2010 at 6:34 pm
(20) Joanna says:

Anyone who believes that it’s ok to start a horse at 2 or even 3 needs to read this article by Dr Deb Bennett:

http://www.equinestudies.org/ranger_2008/ranger_piece_2008_pdf1.pdf

NO HORSE is physically mature (ie the growth plates haven’t fused) before they’re about 6 years of age. There is no fast or slow maturing breed, they all mature at approximately the same rate. The earlier you start your horse the more chance you have to wreck them. Racing needs to justify running horses far too young so I wouldn’t believe a word that they say.

Personally I wouldn’t back a horse until at least 4, preferably 5. Until then I would do ground work, in hand and long reining so that they build their muscles without a rider’s weight on their back.

June 29, 2010 at 7:01 am
(21) visser says:

The skeleton of the horse is not mature before he is around 6 years old. The grow plates specially in the back are not closed. Light sprain or strain can cause injury to the growth plates, so it is not wise to ride your horse when he is young. It is exactly the same risk as in sport for young children. I advise everybody to read:
http://www.equinestudies.org/ranger_2008/ranger_piece_2008_pdf1.pdf

July 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm
(22) Tamara says:

I too believe that starting a horse under saddle before age 3 is a bad idea, for the horse and you. Even at 3 years old, ridden work should be done lightly, at a walk, and for short periods only. I have a 22 month old, beautiful Percheron/Paint filly I have been starting on the ground. She’s had a saddle on, but no bridle/bit, just a rope halter. She’s coming along well. Her birthday is late, in September. I am currently training her to pony with her mother for short sessions. It’s hard to resist staying off her, as she is large for her age, but I know it’s for her own good. I’ve seen horse friends of mine start riding their youngsters at 2 years, some even younger, and to me it never works out well. They seem to be more agitated, and spooky under saddle than average. I don’t know if that has any bearing, but just my opinion.

October 25, 2012 at 10:12 pm
(23) Mia says:

I’ve been wondering for a long time if I could ride my horse at the age of 1 year and 18 months. Please give me a specific answer. Thank you.

:) <3 ;) XD

October 29, 2012 at 7:25 am
(24) Katherine says:

Most people would agree that a horse should not be ridden, and then only lightly, until after they have turned two. Many believe that waiting until they are three or even four is best. One, however, is much too young to be ridden.

April 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm
(25) Matt says:

I person think to start riding at ages 3 and haft
And to do parell and to get the horse to want to do it and to not make it do because then you can have a lot of health problem

April 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm
(26) Christine says:

3 years. Horses are still growing!

However, some will breed their filly/mare whilst waiting for her to be of an age to ride but this can be draining on the system too!!

I think each horse should be assessed individually as some grow/develop faster than others.

April 26, 2013 at 10:33 am
(27) Tammy says:

as young as possible. We have had colts we started 2days after being foaled wit haltering and had them saddle by. 6 months of age and they turned out to be fantastic all around horses. It doesn’t hurt them

April 26, 2013 at 12:26 pm
(28) salena says:

I have a pure breed quarter horse and he is 2yrs old and ive been doing ground work since he had turned 1 and he loads ties and lunges and can be trimmed but he is 2yrs old now and i need some advice should i starting putting the bit and saddle on him for him to get use to not to be ridden but to get him use to it and lunge him with it on like maybe 10mins or less? intel he turns 3yrs of age?

January 13, 2014 at 11:10 am
(29) J C says:

I think my child should stay indoors and watch TV until he is fully grown. Playing on the playground, piggy-backing with a friend, doing cart-wheels, and playing leap frog or hop-scotch is way too stressful for his joints. I’ll let him take a short stroll every now and then, but he has to walk slowly until he is in his late teens. (Obviously sarcasm)

Each breed, and each horse is different. Seek the advice of your vet. Get frequent exams, and use moderation and wisdom. Also, it is VERY important to make sure the horse is getting proper nutrition.

When cleared to start by your vet, do it gradually. Slow light work for five minutes, and don’t forget to stretch him afterwards. Just like working out at the gym, walk before you run, only use light weights for a length of time before you begin to increase the weight. It is a known fact that bone density increases with weight-bearing exercise. — I hate when people start horses too young and go too hard; but the timing depends upon the individual horse. Be smart about it!

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