If she were mine, she would be taught to ground drive and longe for a few weeks this summer, then backed a few times (like, human on horse under half a dozen times) and then turned away until late spring of next year, when I would start her up again with some ground work, then get her going under saddle. Of the three I bred myself which have come to riding age, two had 4-6 weeks under saddle as three year olds before being turned away again to grow until spring of their fourth year, when I put them in serious flat work with jumping to come in the fall, and one went under saddle at three and did trails and flat work all summer and through the fall. That filly was prone to obesity, and I felt trail riding and hacking in the fields 2-3x a week and maybe one day in the ring was better than being grossly fat.
I am the queen of slow and steady wins the 20+ year race, but many other people do things differently with good success. No horse has a mature skeleton until 5-6 yrs old, and I think that they need a certain amount of positive stress to develop strength but not so much so as to break them down. You'll never get a group of horse people to agree on what this magic zone it, though!
Well, you're farther along than I am! Mine will be 3 on July 4th and has yet to even see tack. I've started walk/trot on the longe line and will probably send her out in another month to get backed. She still seems to be growing slowly, so I'm just biding my time...
I have one the same age. My trainer's program (unfortunately due to my job I can't do this one myself) is to do some ground work first and then get on them over the course of about two weeks, turn them back out for another two weeks and let them "think about it," then bring them back in and do some more light undersaddle work for a couple of weeks, back out for two, and so on, until gradually after 2-3 months they are in regular light work. Seems like it's working out well.
With my first one, when he was 2 1/2, I taught him to longe first in a round pen, and then once we had the voice commands down I started the process of backing, over the course of a few days. After that I got on him twice a week and walked/trotted, then started going for some trail rides with an older steadier buddy, then added in some cantering, and by the end of the summer he could w-t-c under saddle. Then in the fall I turned him back out until the following summer to let him finish growing. I did some long-lining with some other young ones that belonged to the breeder where he lived, and it helped a lot, but my baby was terrified of the lines, so I decided it wasn't worth it with him.
I think as long as you don't push her too much, she'll end up just fine. I know what you mean about people starting them a lot earlier these days but I think slow and steady is the smarter way to go. I'm sure she'll let you know if you're doing too much!
If you are looking for a 3 year old Materiale champion, then you likely should be looking at doing more with her now.
I prefer, (and will only) ride a horse when it is actually 3 years old. I don't lunge them when they are younger than 3 either...other than perhaps a few circles each way just to give them the idea.
A client has a just turned 3 year old that she spend the last year ground driving and lunging 3-4 days a week. He is no further ahead than the 3 year olds I started this spring. I just don't find the actual part of getting on their back to be such a big deal that it needs to be done sooner. I would rather their pelvis and spine is more mature, so they can better balance without tension.
My boy just turned three and he's off at boot camp for a month to get broke. I'd like to get him solid under saddle (and by that I just mean consistent and confident at the walk/trot/canter) and then he'll go back out to pasture until next summer at which point I'll progress with him at whatever rate he "tells" me to proceed at. I'd like to have him in the Young Jumper classes, but I'm fine with waiting until he's 5 or 6 to pop into the bigger classes at that point (meaning that he may not be ready to do 3'9" at 4yo, but I'm sure we'll be fine at 4'/4'3" by 5/6).
I think 2 1/2 is a reasonable age to be working with them as long as you are comfortable managing the amount of stress on their bodies. I agree with EiRider....it's helpful to put some stress on them but harmful if you over do it. The challenge is that the line falls in a different place for each and every horse.
Pretty much agree with bfne, with the exception that I'd probably put a very few more miles on her in the form of a week or two of easy walks around the farm...15-20 min, tops. Nothing exciting, just something easy, fun, and no pressure so that she gets that her job is fun and that her job is to go forward. Then, chuck her out in the field for another year.
Where am I and what am I doing in this handbasket?
Last year my plan was to start my 2 year old in August, put a relaxed 90 days on him - no stress, no worries, no hurries and maybe finish with starting the canter if his balance and brain permitted it. Then kick him out for the winter and start back in spring. He showed on the line so he was used to being braided, hauled, bathed, clipped, ground tied, lunged and wearing a bridle, so I started ground driving him in April and around late June I was sitting on him in the stall and going on what I call "walkabout" (we had an indoor aisle so I mounted in the stall and walked out and around the aisle once or twice and we went visitin' It was a very social affair. Then I got hurt in July and wasn't officially cleared to ride until late October so that plan went to hell in a handbasket... I'm not saying that's when I started riding again, I'm just saying that's when I decided it was OK to get on an unbroken 2 year old I got 40 days on him and by then weather was making riding hit or miss ... never a good thing with the youngsters so I kicked him out until Mid March. No worries, within 3 rides he was right back where we left off and now we are about 90 days in and he is a rockstar.
But there is a lot to be said for getting on a youngster the first time in the heat of the summer.
Definition of "Horse": a 4 legged mammal looking for an inconvenient place and expensive way to die. Any day they choose not to execute the Master Plan is just more time to perfect it. Be Very Afraid.