View Full Version : Spinoff from difficult horses: starting a horse late

May. 3, 2012, 08:37 PM
Has anyone experienced that horses can be more difficult under saddle when started later?

May. 3, 2012, 08:57 PM
Yes but I also felt like once I was established as the leader they actually had less spook and less antics that are more young horse and new world related :lol:

Note i said ONCE i was established as the rider... That may or may not have taken a rather colorful few days, weeks, months.

May. 3, 2012, 09:06 PM

May. 3, 2012, 09:08 PM

Hmm, I will take this as a YES?

May. 3, 2012, 09:27 PM
yes, I started a 4 year old last summer, and from there he went to a cowboy and then an event trainer and a year later, he is still not very willing to go with the program.

May. 3, 2012, 09:28 PM
The *problem* with starting an older horse is that they are big :yes:.

Now, that being said, establishing who's boss is the issue.

I love 1" cotton ropes for working with older horses.

And there is a difference between an older horse that hasn't learned bad habits and an older horse that has.

If they are well mannered in what little they do know, then you have a much easier time of things.

May. 3, 2012, 09:31 PM
Posted by rthonor:

yes, I started a 4 year old last summer, and from there he went to a cowboy and then an event trainer and a year later, he is still not very willing to go with the program.

I don't consider 4 to be older necessarily, but if they have had no ground manner training, then all of a sudden they are sent to a "cowboy", then on to eventing, I see maybe where there could be an upset horse.

May. 3, 2012, 09:51 PM
I did all the ground training...and realized I he was too much for me. He spend the next 4 months with a cowboy being riden in the woods. Then the next 4 months after that with an event trainer. I wouldnt say he was "old" but he definately liked his life of hanging in a pasture better;)

May. 3, 2012, 10:09 PM
I feel its actually easier. Started a 9 yo been out to pasture because two "professional" trainers could not get him going under saddle. Had him riding walk/trot in a week, imagine that :D Super great boy and is now packing my dad around. Got my mare as a 6 yo and restarted her. She had many jobs before but was so scared she was not even considered broke to sit on. She took a year to be show ring ready from the ground up! I would never start a horse younger than 5, they don't have their minds before then. Ground work ect sure but no reason to really push. However, I am not in need to flip horses or make money off of them.

May. 3, 2012, 10:12 PM
I am working with an OTTB right now (client's horse) who raced and then was turned out to pasture for a couple of years. He is quick and bright and willing to learn. But he also thinks that he knows how to do his job and we just don't get it. It is only starting to sink in that everything is different now. I think this is easier than a horse that has been allowed to grow up as a pasture pet, at least a racehorse has had a job and understands working.

May. 3, 2012, 10:13 PM
I've been re-starting mine since he was 8. :sadsmile: He suffered a back injury at 5 that took 3 years to resolve, and since then his work has been on/off. We're finally on a roll right now, getting much more consistent and he's doing really well, but its been a long 6 years since that injury.

What I've found is because mine has been in his comfort zone all these years, he gets unreasonably excited when taken off the property. Took him to a show last month just to hang out and it took almost an hour before he stopped kicking his stall door. I still consider it a win, because he eventually DID calm down, just never enough to be safe for riding.

With the older horses, you have to find a way to over-ride their own opinions regarding what they think they should be doing, LOL. With youngsters you take things slowly so you don't overwhelm their brains, but with the older horse, you take it slow so that you don't overwhelm their bodies. Or piss them off. But once you've established a system with them, they're usually really quick to 'get with the program', and the learning goes faster.

May. 3, 2012, 10:26 PM
Depends on the horse.

I started Spy as a 10 yo. He was the most agreaeble, anxious to please,
horse I have worked with, and he loved the attention.

The only thing that took a LITTLE longer was learning to trust the rider about going near/though/over scary things.

May. 3, 2012, 11:27 PM
My mare was eight. I thought it was very easy. You don't have the baby issues of insecurity. She's a very dominate and secure horse, though, so maybe that makes a difference.

May. 4, 2012, 07:15 AM
I have started 2 five year old dressage horses... both were not straight forward as someone else had tried and failed to start them properly. They both took longer to "back" but then once they finally accepted the rider (and the indignity of their fate: a daily job!) they progressed quicker than a typical younger green horse. Being more physically and mentally mature helped them make the leap from straight, forward w,t,c to more carrying ability, lateral movement and counter canter quickly. Also need to mention that these horses when sold Pre-Purchase Exam'ed super - crisp, clean joints.

I have started 2 older TB's from off the track and they were pretty darn normal having already seen and done so much. I liked them. Someone had been very kind to both.

I have re-started 1 that was off from lameness (started and ridden by a great pro, went lame, 1.5 years off) and he was awful to deal but has gone on to be a very successful.

I am currently backing a 3 year old and must say he is easier and more straight forward than everyone I listed above!

May. 4, 2012, 08:26 AM
BTDT Not a fan.

Have been helping my friend with a 5yo Friesian. This is the oldest horse I have started personally. And... I will not do it again.
I think that starting a horse younger is a benefit- this mare had 5 years of hanging out and living the dream and went through a major phase of "this is NOT how my life is supposed to be" and really was rotten. She was FAR pushier and harder to get a response from than the 2 and 3 year olds I started who also lived out in a herd. Starting them young is the only way to go, IMO. At least when they are younger, they don't have quite the amount of braun to put into their "Oh heck no!"s I'm not a fan of starting them young. I definitely don't think they should see a showring outside of in hand classes until they are 4 or 5. But at least start them on their way and get them to the point that they accept that their life involves having a job on occasion.

May. 4, 2012, 08:51 AM
I rode a mare that was started at 8, that had been used as a broodmare before that. I didn't start her myself, but started riding after just c aouple of months training. First I heard, "It's harder to start them late." Then I heard "You're so lucky that she's already mature and sensible and learns more quickly" ;) I think early handling may be essential but not necessarily early training.

May. 4, 2012, 09:52 AM
Pposted by Discobold:

I think early handling may be essential but not necessarily early training.


May. 4, 2012, 10:29 AM
BTDT Not a fan.

Have been helping my friend with a 5yo Friesian. This is the oldest horse I have started personally. And... I will not do it again.

I think the problem there is Friesian, not 5 years old. :lol:

I don't consider 4 or 5 late, other than if they haven't been handled as someone before me said.

I have a friend who has started quite a few horses. She got great deals for two very talented mares who for various reasons (economy and health) had not been started. One was 7 and one 8, I believe. She expected them to be more difficult, but since she had started so many other horses she figured she was up to the challenge. Easiest horses she ever started.

I think it really does depend on the horse! However, my friend's horses are much more concerned about going places than I would expect a young horse with their temperaments - I think socializing a young horse is a huge plus even if you start it a bit later.

May. 4, 2012, 10:41 AM
For those who have had bad experiences starting a horse late, I also wonder if it depends on the reason why the horse wasn't started sooner. I don't see a problem with starting late. IMO, if a horse has the potential to get to X, it will get there with proper trainer whether it was started at 3 or 5 or 8. Sometimes, though, I'm a tad suspicious of people who claim the horse wasn't started because owner was too busy or had health issues, etc. There may be another reason why the horse wasn't started sooner (e.g., owner afraid, horse had issues) and THAT - not the fact that it was started late - might be the problem. Pure speculation on my part.

May. 4, 2012, 03:25 PM
My current horse will be 10 this year, and was started when I bought her about a year and a half ago.

It has been difficult to say the least. And I have started many horses. The problem is that she acts like a baby in so many ways, but the things about a baby that make them nice to train-they learn quickly and retain well-are just not present with her. She's very athletic and talented, but she just doesn't understand things as quickly as most babies. But she's just as hot, spooky, and athletic as any 3 year old I've ever seen!

To me the difficulty has not been with her size or strength or anything like that-if you're training them correctly, these things shouldn't have any importance-it's about learning a skill while their brains are still growing. It's like learning a language or gymnastics (dressage is really a combination of the two!) when you are young versus when you are older. My father teaches people who are working toward getting their GED's, and believe me, it's easier to just get it done when you are younger! You have to teach your brain how to learn, and it is the same with horses.

That's not to say that I think all horses should be backed as two year olds and ridden into the ground. I just think it's easier for everyone if the horse is tacked, lunged, and lightly ridden at the beginning of their 3 year old year and then put out to pasture to grow, then started again as a 4 year old, having already learned some basics. But obviously that is in a perfect world, which ours isn't.

But I'm not giving up hope on my pretty mare! She's super sweet, talented, and intelligent, and if I didn't believe in her, I wouldn't bother:)

May. 4, 2012, 04:02 PM
Been there, done that (a 6 year old). Wouldn't do it again. Talented, smart horse with remarkably little work ethic.

May. 4, 2012, 04:31 PM
He is no longer with us :cry:, but my little horse, Ralph, was 7 when I started him (his history prior to my hay guy acquiring him was VERY sketchy, so he MAY have been broke to saddle, like all baby race horses, as a two year old, but we never knew for sure....he certainly didn't ACT like it!). He was fantastic. At 3 months under saddle, he was running around novice horse trials. A year-ish later, he was going prelim.

I consider him the exception. :yes:

Anything else I have either started or dealt with that was started later (and I do mean 4, 5 and on, with some MINOR exceptions for a few 4 year olds) have been varying degrees of tough. The easiest things I have dealt with were either OTTBs (usually) or babies that got started at 2 or 3. The EASIEST baby, with maybe the exception of Vernon- OTTB- was a little draft cross filly I got off a PMU truck as a very young weanling, and gave to my cousin at 15 months old. I urged her to get her started in the summer of her 2 year old year, which she did, by a QH trainer. I rode her at about 30 days and she was so nice! She hacked out and everything. She got a year off, a few more weeks the next summer, then I got her at Thanksgiving of her 3 year old year. She was a GEM!!! :yes: Much quieter and wiser than her years.

To give each side equal time, there are exceptions to EVERY rule. The WORST horse I ever attempted to start (I refused to get on him and eventually sent him back to his owner) was a 2 year old Oldenburg. He was HORRID! No amount of ground manners and training could be instilled in that asshat. He routinely would just RUN AWAY from me while being led, often jumping (crashing) through gates and fences for no real reason. He was an idiot...not a brain cell to his credit. Supposedly, he became a very nice horse, but I HIGHLY doubt it. The horse community is small, and I never saw or heard anything about him!

May. 5, 2012, 05:50 PM
I think if a horse was handled properly from the ground, it wouldn`t matter too much how old they were when they were first backed. If you handle them properly and set up a good line of communication with them, riding them isn`t that much of a transition from groundwork or ponying.

My wb cross mare was started at 4 at my request, she was still a little downhill at 4 and a lot downhill at 2 so I waited. At 8 she is a lovely well balanced uphill horse so, it just took that long for her to physically mature. I am glad that I waited until she was more balanced.

It depends on the horse what age I want them started. I see people taking 2 year olds on long 2 hour trail rides and they wonder why the horse ends up crabby and not wanting to be ridden. Duh.....their introduction to carrying a human on their back was painful and considering how downhill most 2 year olds are, you can just imagine a saddle sliding forward, pinching the withers and hampering the movement of the shoulder and forelegs. Some people think the horse should tolerate that and still end up happy. Horses never forget. Plus when an owner sends a horse out to be started, they want it ridden and those 2 year olds get very sore but still they keep riding them because the owner wants to get their moneys worth.

I will probably never start a horse before they are 4 and I might even wait beyond that....just depends on the individual. I build up to riding all their lives until they are ridden so there is no big surprise. If I get a horse young, I might even lead them around with a saddle on their back as a weanling. They have already had blankets on and surcingles at a young age too. They get used to seeing things above their heads and changing eyes. All of this in preparation to carry a rider.

I have lots of horses to ride, so I am not in any hurry. I want a good horse to last.

May. 5, 2012, 06:05 PM
Has anyone experienced that horses can be more difficult under saddle when started later?

yeah often done more horses and ponies though my life than i can remember lol

personally no difference thing to remember keep the horse on a low diet as in dont give it any high energy feeds if feeding keep it on a cool mix or low mix

as the horse isnt and hasnt done any work to warrant the excess feed
so until he/her is broken in and riding out and actually working to a proper exercise plan then keep the feeds small and simple

thus then doesnt blow its brains out when you get on - lol

May. 5, 2012, 06:09 PM
Is anyone familiar with typical German program? I'm just surious. What type of ground, in-hand, lunging is typical? Once they are backed, what is there program like until 4 or 5?

May. 5, 2012, 09:55 PM
"Break them before they are big enough to break you" is a saying I heard.
That being said, I don't like the word break - but the point is that a horse handled young and properly never forgets. He can then be put out to grow up and will be ready to continue his education.

I knew two horses that were raised on a large ranch, never handled, and they always seemed to have "the cougar is about to jump on me" attitude. They did not make very good driving horses at all.

I only saw Pat Parelli once, in Cloverdale, years ago. They bought him a Welsh cob from Saskatchewan, never handled, and he got nowhere with her the entire demo. I gave him credit for not whacking the horse, he kept his cool, but in tht environment, with an audience, it was just too much for a wild horse and he should have known that. One wonders how they got her haltered and trucked over.

May. 6, 2012, 03:02 PM
You guys aren't making me feel good about waiting to start my Haffie filly until this summer. :) She's a modern type Haflinger and turns five soon but she was SO slow maturing (both physically and mentally) that I just felt bad breaking her before now.

May. 6, 2012, 03:56 PM
Starting work a little later can do them nothing but good. I once bought a horse
sight-unseen at ten years old. He had been on the track, never raced but bucked his shins and was sent out to pasture, where he remained lame every time someone started him up. I once said to one of my wise old mentors that it was a shame such a nice horse had not done anything sooner - not even a caveletti - and she said some horses like him need time for their minds to grow up. This turned out to be the truth. He went up the eventing ranks quickly and someone approached me re selling him. I sold him ready to go intermediate - which he did by winning his first Intermediate event three months after I sold him to a Young Rider. He gave so much confidence and was a superb Hunt horse. He was never lame here since our footing and farrier work might have been better. Ended up going Advanced, and retired as a husband horse, still sound.

While it broke my heart to sell him, I'd have probably killed myself attempting Intermediate!

May. 6, 2012, 04:12 PM
I think there is a big differentc between "started under saddle late, but well handled" and "unhandled".

May. 6, 2012, 04:24 PM
Is anyone familiar with typical German program? I'm just surious. What type of ground, in-hand, lunging is typical? Once they are backed, what is there program like until 4 or 5?

I guess the typical German program depends on the Person doing it....

Like over here, there are different ways to start a young horse, depending also on your aims...
If you want to market a young horse via Auction or similar events, you have to start rather early in order to present the youngster properly...
If you want it to keep it for yourself, it might be completely different what you want to do

So I´m not sure what a typical German program is???

May. 9, 2012, 12:33 AM
BTDT Not a fan.

My thoughts exactly. In my limited experience (2 years), I've worked with and started around 10 horses who were between the ages of 5-8. Most of them were at least halter-broke, but overall they were a pretty feral bunch. Only pro is that their bodies can handle the work. Of course you have to base your training on the individual horse, but I'd estimate that 6 or 7 out of the 10 were (and still are) difficult. And that's putting it nicely. I'm sure they would be at least a little easier if they had been handled properly from a young age.

May. 9, 2012, 08:31 AM
IME it does depend on the horse, but all things being equal I like starting them at 3 (slowly). Studies on horse development show that horses are most open to new things between 2 and 3 (when they would be leaving their herd and going to find a new life)

Now if the horse is shown on the line and played with at that age etc etc I don't think its a big deal. However those that sit in fields CAN present problems. Not saying it can't be done. Oldest I have been involved with was 16 years old and not much handling. Started just fine but stayed a 'nervous in the service' type in new situations.

Currently I am starting a 6 year old (mostly dutch mare) who is being VERY dramatic about being backed. I have never had anything need such incremental steps just to be backed before. Every next step is met with an explosion. On the other hand a friend of mine just picked up a super cute and chunky untrained 6 year old who I can tell is not going to be an issue. (I did things in the paddock when we went to look at her and she just stood calmly, though looking at me like she thought I was crazy)

May. 9, 2012, 08:46 AM
My mare was eight. I thought it was very easy. You don't have the baby issues of insecurity. She's a very dominate and secure horse, though, so maybe that makes a difference.

Agree with this. The only older horse I've found that was more difficult than the babies was my then 9 year old mustang gelding who was a feral stallion until he was 7. He also had physical issues, including being half blind, that factored in. Teaching him to not only trust me but to use his body correctly and to rebuild his entire muscling was a LOT of work. A 7 year old mustang stallion is pretty set in his ways and used to getting what he wants LOL ... even after being gelded. That said, I've been told by pretty much every trainer/clinician I've ridden him with that he will be, by far, the most difficult horse I'll ever have to work with. So far, they've all been right. :)

I like having a fully engaged brain and a thinking horse, as well as a fully developed body to work with. Most older horses also understand herd dynamics very well so your natural horseman round penning techniques work REALLY well with them. Most of the older (5+) horses I've started are very quick to accept things and move forward, while babies can just be a little more insecure and scared, as well as FORGETFUL *sigh*. We have a two year old at our barn that is going through a forgetful stage right now... forgetting the bring in routine, or how to go in his stall, just silly little stuff that we chalk up to baby brain. I personally have a hard time connecting with baby brain and tend to not like the babies until they are about 4 years old LOL ... then I feel like I have something to work with. Though I do enjoy watching/helping the babies learn new things and develop their confidence.