View Full Version : What age do you start them?

Dec. 27, 2010, 10:23 PM
I know there are tons of variables as to breed, horses individual readiness, etc. That being said, in my experience, everyone has their own way of doing things and their own timetable. At what age do you 'typically' start your dressage horses? Also, by start I mean actually backing them. Walk/trot/canter.

Dec. 28, 2010, 12:40 AM
I put 3, but I'm a 3-4, depending on horse/situation.

You don't have an option for (gag!) 18 months like some breed show folks for whom I have no respect.

I think my OTTB was even started after he was actually a full 2.

Dec. 28, 2010, 12:50 AM
I will do as early as 2.5 and as late as 3.5. I like to start them for a few months. just to give them good basics, and then turn them out for a few months to finish growing and matureing.

Plus i really think time off can do wonders for a horse, mentally and physically.

Dec. 28, 2010, 02:22 AM
I typically start them around 3yrs+. I wtc right away with a good ground person in the round pen. I am talking like wtc 2nd/3rd ride. None of this 30 days of lungeing business and then get on them, but let's get with the program immediately instead. Horse is first confirmed to mounting from mounting block with me hanging over it's back bareback and then with saddle in the barn/safe enviro before heading to round pen. Up down, up down from both sides. I am then lead around with horse in a bridle and me at the reins turning both directions at the walk, so horse can feel my legs on it's sides as it turns both right and left.

The horse already knows wtc up in trans and down in trans lungeing by voice commands in the round pen, so what is introducing the rider (ME), and then the horse does the same wtc in the round pen with me on it's back? Sometimes I just put 5-10 wtc's on them and then they go back in the pasture until the brain is more in tune with the task at hand.

I have discovered that *magically*:eek:, the brain appears/is grown around age 6 in most horses. 6th Birthday happens and instant brain! Funny how that works! :winkgrin:

Dec. 28, 2010, 08:19 AM
My horse is being sent out on her 3rd birthday to be started, and my trainer starts them exactly as Fantastic describes...he wtc's the very first ride. My mom's horse was started at 4 ... although not intentionally, we purchased her as an unbroke just turned 4yo. She is very mature and willing, so it seemed to work well for her.

I think rather than putting my 3yo back out to pasture, i will only ride her lightly 3-4 days a week...mostly trails and just some light ring work. She LOVES LOVES LOVES going out on the trails in hand, so i feel like we can kill 2 birds with one stone...get some mileage under her belt and do what she loves :)

Behind the 8 Ball
Dec. 28, 2010, 08:27 AM
I put 3 because we back them, hack them out for a few months and then turn them out for the winter and start again in the spring. So 3, but 4 too.

Dec. 28, 2010, 12:11 PM
I put other because I didn't read the post first, sorry.

I want really solid ground work on a horse first. Easy to catch, lead, tie, load, stands for farrier, vet, grooming, bath. Gives to pressure by standing tied, backing up, turning head left, right, down, accepting blankets, bit, polos, saddle, bridle, etc. Depending on the horse's ability to learn, physical development, etc., lunge no more than 20 minutes no more than three or four times a week - I don't want to torque growing legs too much. I want them to lunge well, listen to voice commands, respond to whip placement and my body language, and for the love of heaven, WHOA when asked.

If I have the space and horse, pony the youngster in the pasture over varied ground, and out on the trail, or around the barn yard, so they go up and down hill, stand still while we get a drink of water, or take a jacket off/put it on, I think it is good for them to stand next to a horse with a rider on its back.

I want all this on my horse by 2.5 or so. then turnout and only bring in and handle once or twice a week. When they are a full 36 months I do a refresher of the lunging and stuff, and decide if the horse is ready mentally and physically. I have turned a three year old back out for a year to grow up, and never regretted waiting.

Dec. 28, 2010, 01:02 PM
I guess we have to define "start". I saddle broke my now 23+ year old gelding three months after his 2nd birthday. He was ground driven (very lightly, just for fun and to desensitive him to the reins) at 18 months (started in a halter, then added a bit). No on the bit work, very basic stuff.
I rode him for 2 1/2 months, then had to go away for work so he got 7 months off. He is happy and sound in his old age. He was well behaved even as a 2 year old. I tell everyone he has a $30 million brain.

Dec. 28, 2010, 02:45 PM
Usually somewhere between 2.75 and 3.5, but I have waited til 4 if the horse really needed to wait.

I always start ground work at late 2 yr- 3 mostly to see what we have. We'll sit on them and may be to W/T and trail ride.
But sometimes we don't if they are too immature.


Dec. 28, 2010, 03:05 PM
My girl (Holsteiner) was started briefly at 3 (tacking, lunging, rider on back on lunge), then turned back out, and re-started shortly after her 4th birthday. For her, mentally and physically, this appears to have been a great plan :).

My OTTB -- of course a different story. I got him all broken down when he was 9. He is in much better shape now at almost 18, but his hard youth took a toll on him, both mentally and physically.

Dec. 30, 2010, 07:11 AM
No fixed age but definitely not younger than 3.5 years. In Australia many of our horses go on to be schooled on less than ideal surfaces and to train and then compete in various different locations. I prefer the horses to be as mature as possible.

Currently I am starting an ex-broodmare who is 10 years old and a 7 year old gelding that has only now been declared sound from a difficult injury.

Eclectic Horseman
Dec. 30, 2010, 09:11 AM
Start them as three year olds in the late summer or early fall. Basically 90 days (3-4) days a week 10-20 mins a session. Teach them to longe and/or long line, back them and learn w/t/c. Then put them away for the winter and let them miss the attention. Re-start them again in the late spring as 4 year olds.

They really shouldn't do much as 3 year olds without stressing their young bodies, so if you work them continuously after backing them sometimes they get too strong and fit before you can keep their minds occupied. Just like children, then they get bored and can become behavior problems.

Dec. 30, 2010, 12:34 PM
I am not a breeder and I am not a pro- I start my young warmbloods at 4 because I am not in a hurry and would rather wait until they are more mature and closer to done growing. My girl now was started as a 4 year old... from 3 to 4 she grew a full hand and change from 16 to 17'1.

Dec. 30, 2010, 12:50 PM
I will start ponying and ground driving at 20 months, saddled and bitted. I'll get on and walk, trot around in big circles, straight lines for a few minutes but really not much until 2.5 years of age. I mostly like to pony them and take them for walks over ditches and through the brush, get the spook out of them so when I ride them at three everything is easy. They get tied up for up to two hours at a time, ride in the horse trailer, clipped, trimmed by the farrier, groomed. I hobble every colt I start which I think is really, really important for many reasons. I got caught in barb wire this weekend and it didn't even phase my horse. He's been literally trapped, all 4 legs in wire while riding and he just stops, waits for me to cut him out of it. This is an OTTB who is not generally a patient type of guy! I've never had one hurt hobbling but I know it scares a lot of people. I also use a trainer and he feels the same about hobbling, even though he only shows, he feels it changes their minds somehow and gets rid of a lot of bad fights he used to have when he didn't hobble.
I'm not asking for any bodywork or collection until three. Just working on forward, stop and minding manners.
Really, the ponying and ground driving is more important and that is walking and trotting straight lines. No lunging or side reins until serious business starts in the winter of the 2 year old year.
If they are really quiet though, like my yearling I have now, she might go on some hound walks next fall.

Dec. 30, 2010, 02:49 PM
I put two + years - but not for real riding. The early stuff, bitting, backing, etc.
IF the horse is not one of those wired ones. Then forget about him until he is 3.
They never forget, but the basics are done - "break him before he is big enough to break you". But there are lots of vaiables and so much can be done very early without physically straining or frying their brains if you want to have some fun with your horse....it depends.

Dec. 30, 2010, 03:01 PM
I "start" at 4, as in riding. They are broke to death way before then and have done everything from tying to ponying to long lining and everything in between. Everything is done to death by the time they get ridden. I may get on and sit on their back and get them used to all that, but no work. They are in great shape from being ponied and accompanied all over the hills and a lot of the muscling is already there.

I firmly believe a lot of lameness issues come from starting and pushing horses too young. The Deb Bennett article on one development shows that. If you read it, you can see how the bones are not closed and what it can do. Really, the bones in the neck and head don't close until they are 6 or 7. I can't attack a link, but if you look up key words, it will find it. It's called the Ranger piece, or something like that.

Hampton Bay
Dec. 31, 2010, 02:34 PM
I tend to sit on them a couple times in the 2-yo year, just very very basic work with mounting, steering, stopping, etc. No real work, and for just 10 minutes at a time, maybe a dozen times before they are 3. I don't do any real work until about 3.5. Maybe a couple small hacks, a short walking trail ride, that kind of thing, but that's it until they are 3.5 yo.

No real lunging until about 4. Just enough to get the idea, short periods of time. I do more ground driving at the walk and a bit at the trot to teach steering, forward, stopping, but not in circles.

Of course they are broke to death as foals to bathing, leading, trimming, loading, being petted all over, clipping, that kind of thing. They all get blanketed, just generally messed with.