The best age to start training a horse has been a highly debatable topic for years. Some say start under saddle once they reach the age of two, this being the prime age for Thoroughbreds. But what about for horses that won’t see a track? When should their training begin? There are many factors that should be taken into account for each individual horse.
It is known that a foal starts learning once their feet hit the ground. They learn to adapt to their new environment and how to use their legs. It doesn’t hurt to start teaching a foal that humans aren’t scary monsters and lessening the flight response. In fact, teaching them not to use the flight response to sound, sight, and touch at a young age could help their under-saddle training processes go much more smoothly.
Not all horses develop at the same psychological rate, and groundwork training should not be longer than the horse’s attention span, especially under the age of 2. The trick is to make the youngster want to learn instead of making them perform. If long groundwork sessions are being conducted past the horse’s attention span, it could result in a negative response, which could worsen as they become of age to be under saddle, putting the rider and the horse in danger. Always end on a good note that the horse will remember for the next time.
When starting a horse under saddle, their physical development should be taken into account. It doesn’t hurt to start a horse at the age of 2 to 3 if their body can handle it. Ensuring that they have leveled out and are not still high in the rear end is also valuable. The only true way to tell if a horse has reached that state is by x-raying the growth plates. Many people use the term “closed knees” because the growth plates in the knees are the last to develop besides in the vertebrae. Horses don’t reach complete maturity until they are between the ages of 5 and 7.
Exercising a horse under saddle early can help strengthen bone density if done correctly. When we start exercising, we start off with low impact and work our way up to avoid injuries, the same applies to starting a horse under saddle. It is important not to push a young horse into overexertion as it can lead to injury that the horse will carry for the rest of their life.
On the other hand, not touching a horse until they are 5 could be extremely difficult and a longer process because you must erase what they have learned in the field. Teaching a horse not to use the flight response is much more dangerous due to their size.
This debate will continue to go on for years. When deciding to start a young horse, both their psychological and physical development should be a priority. Think of it as a domino effect; teaching a foal not to run from experiences can turn them into a yearling that wants to learn more groundwork exercises, resulting in a young horse that will have a lesser chance to buck the first time a leg is swung over their back. The trick is to start early enough but use the less is more method.
About the Author
Dani Buckley is a small-town resident in Montana. She is a veterinary technician manager and mom of eight four-legged kids – 5 dogs, 1 cat, and 2 horses. When she moved back home to Montana, her horses and her dogs moved with her (Carbon and Milo). The pack grew by three when she moved in with her boyfriend, Cody. Altogether there is a German Shepard (Lupay), a Border Collie (Missy), a Blue Heeler (Taz) and her two adorable mutts.
Her horses are her free time passion – Squaw and Tulsa. Dani has owned Squaw for 17 years and this mare has made 2 trips across the country with Dani! Squaw is a retired rodeo and cow horse. Her other mare, Tulsa, is an upcoming ranch horse. The girls have an unmatched personality and bond with Dani. She has been around horses her entire life and rodeoed throughout highschool and beyond. Now, she enjoys riding on the ranch, working cattle and trail riding.