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Talk to me about three year olds

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  • Talk to me about three year olds

    I've been looking (futilely) for a hunter prospect I can bring along with the help of my trainer. Haven't had much luck finding one.

    There is one that my trainer and I both like. He checks all the boxes except....he's three! Normally I wouldn't dare sit my butt on a three year old OTTB, but this one was born mellow. No doubt he's safe and appropriate.

    I'm a little cautious about this, though. I mean, he's three. I don't want to ruin a nice horse by overdoing it as a youngster. IMO, it should be at least a year before he jumps anything more than ground poles and the occasional tiny crossrail. That's a lot more of a time investment than I had planned on. Do I want to go a whole year doing flatwork only? Hmm.

    So talk to me about three year olds (especially OTTB). In terms of work, what can they do? What should they do?

  • #2
    I bought a 3 year old OTTB, like he was just turned 3. Raced a few times. Was super duper slow. He’s itty bitty at 15.1 (he’s maybe 15.2 now, ha)

    He stepped off the trailer dead lame. Pulled his racing shoes and he was legit dead lame for over a year. Pretty sure he also slipped multiple times and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has some fractures.

    Anyways. He sat out in pasture for like 2 years. He’s now 5. Has the most incredible horse brain ever! I originally bought him wanting like a 2’6-2’9 ammy hunter.. I’ve ended up using him to move cows in hard county and go elk hunting (?)

    Id buy another 3 year old (id do a PPE this time, this horse also has a funky knee but he happy and seems sound for the time being)

    Id let a 3 year old chill out in pasture at least til it’s 4. I would of ridden my horse more as a 4 year old but he ended up getting strangles and almost died on me.

    I lightly started him o/f this year as a 5 year old. I also haven’t been riding him regularly at all and he’s the same horse ever single time I get on him, even after sitting in the pasture for 3+ months.

    More power to you if you have a regular trainer/some sort of schedule.


    • #3
      Depends entirely on the individual horse. As a three year old, I'd be asking some serious questions about why he came off the track so early. Was he slow? Was there a soundness issue? Figure that out first.

      If he was actively racing or at least in race training he's been in some pretty significant work. There are studies showing that the appropriate amount of work/stress on a young horse helps increase bone density and ultimately can make them stronger. You don't need to treat him like glass and I don't think you need to do a year of only flatwork/ground poles. I am not a fan of jumping young horses a lot, but assuming this horse is sound, there is no reason you and your trainer can't get him started through some grids this fall/winter and work up to doing small courses. Gymnastics are great for young horses even if they're kept low, gives him an opportunity to learn where to put his feet and how to think through the questions in front of him. I personally like to hack out a lot and do flat work for the first few months but that's your trainer's call.

      I bought my current horse as a three year old and he was already jumping 2'6" courses (at shows) when I bought him. I thought given his level of experience that he was rushed in the fundamentals, so we mostly did some light dressage and hacking for the next six months, and he went into a full training program that following summer when I deployed. I did jump him once over some baby XC stuff during the first six months I had him. Once he was in full training he started with grids and worked up to full courses as a four year old.
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      • #4
        I got a 3 yo OTTB (he was about 3 1/2). Like you I didn't plan on any serious work until he was 4, but I wasn't in any rush and was looking for a project, so it didn't bother me. I follow the Tamarack Hill page on Facebook, and I got some good nuggets of wisdom from there. Denny Emerson talked a lot about "puttering" and I decided I was going to "putter" for a year. As vague as that is, for me, that helped define what we would do.

        We puttered on the trails, a lot. We puttered over some tiny xc jumps. We puttered in the ring. We puttered over poles and a decent number of TINY jumps -- I hadn't been jumping in a while so it was good for both of us, I think. Others might disagree but I don't think 12"-18" jumps are overdoing it for a late 3 year old - that was more mental than physical work. My goal with our flatwork (well, everything really) was to prepare his body and mind to do "real" work. He came to me without a lot of muscle, and Denny's facebook page also really made me think about building that baseline fitness and muscle that he would need before asking for anything that would push his comfort and ability level. I also spent time working on contact and basic things like moving off of my leg. My trainer made a point of keeping "work" sessions short and rewarding for the horse.

        I second the comment about doing some digging about why he came off the track. Mine had a good story (slow, then got strangles, recovered but not fast enough to be worth bringing back) but long story short I'm pretty sure he had some soundness problems back then. I got lucky - he's 8 now and much sounder than I am!


        • #5
          I have brought along a few three year olds for hunters (back when I showed hunters), and we did start them over fences at three. Three were thoroughbreds, but only one was off the track. We jumped little jumps with flower or brush fill more or less as part of our flat work (so not a dedicated jumping session, more like fitting in a few jumps into our canter work). By the spring of their four year old year, they were ready to show baby green and the hunter futurities. We didn't do tricky turns or trappy courses, just simple stuff learning to jump out of stride.

          What I do think is important for a three year old is lots of turn out and the ability to have friends. Some show barns don't allow for that, and I would be reluctant to put a three year old in a program where they have very limited turn out. I think lack of turn out is worse for a developing horse vs potentially pushing them too hard.
          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


          • #6
            I have two homebred WB 3yos. Both wear a saddle and bridle, but have not been backed yet. I think it's highly dependent on the individual horse. I've sat on 3yo TBs who were happily w/t/c and small jumps. And there are also WBs who are physically and mentally mature enough to do the same. Mine, however, are still fairly immature looking, and so I'm holding off until fall, or maybe even spring of their 4yo year to do more than tack up, lightly lunge, and lean on them.

            3yos are still babies in many ways. They need good turnout and friends to romp with. I wouldn't expect them to have the attention span of a more mature horse, and so you'll need to adjust your training plan accordingly. And there are lots of good training exercises and experiences that are low-impact physically, but will help develop the horse into a solid citizen. Things like trail riding or cross country schools, just to learn how to balance over different footing and terrain. Going to horse shows to hang out and hack around so they learn about tents, golfcarts, loudspeakers, etc.
            A good man can make you feel sexy, strong, and able to take on the world.... oh, sorry.... that's does that...



            • #7
              I got my horse as a 3 yo, just off the track. He’s now 5. I think it says a lot about him (and probably OTTBs in general) that I was able to bring him along with the help of a trainer - I got him after taking a handful of lessons, after a 12 year break from riding. He has overall been very kind and appropriate for a more timid ammy type rider.

              Initially, we taught him groundwork/lunging, but it wasn’t long at all before I started riding him. We trotted for what felt like months, and if he cantered, I was to let him canter a little, etc. I’ve never really ridden a green horse before, so this was even more about me than about him - I learned a lot about letting go and not expecting to micromanage the horse, which was really great for my development as a rider. We started jumping tiny stuff (2’ or less) around mid 3 yo, started with single fences and one line at a time type stuff, trot in and canter out - he was more timid about this, and I was really timid, so I needed my trainer to get him started over fences, but he was very capable and athletic in terms of physical ability.

              I do wish we’d spent more time taking him off-property - the retraining game has been much more mental than physical - he’s physically capable of doing anything I could ask of him. As a 3 yo, I took him on one trail ride and twice to ride in a friend’s field. As a 4 yo, he started jumping small courses, and he went cross country schooling once, and to a show once - my trainer had to ride him for most of the XC, and I wasn’t able to show him at all for that show. He had some pretty significant stalling anxiety, does better with stalls that are more open. I was able to take him XC schooling and show him in a crossrails division in the spring of this year, which was good - but we should have gone off-property more frequently, even to do nothing, way back in the beginning. I love my horse and am very happy with him - and I think a 3 yo horse that has already had a job on the track will be capable of doing a fair amount of work, even as a youngster.


              • #8
                I think 3 can be a bit of a sweet spot for any horse, where they are ready to please and learn but haven't figured out how to say no yet and throw their weight around, and OTTBs can come with a great baseline of manners, work ethic, and lots of exposure to chaos from the track life.

                I bought a 3.5 yr old OTTB that ended up very slow to physically and mentally mature - 3 was a sweetheart year, and we took it easy, with time out in the herd, and lots of figuring out how to circle while keeping all 6 spider legs going in the same direction. Turned 4 with a solid quiet w/t/c on a loose rein and was happy to be ridden by the preteen pony girls. Now I wish I had done more during that brave baby time. More puttering, as mentioned above. Not necessarily more time in the saddle but just continuing the habit of trying new things instead of perfecting the w/t/c routine.

                4 was the difficult year, the airs above ground year, we had to take a step back and do some maturing, some groundwork, and we eventually finished that year having learned to go on the bit, baby lateral work, and hour long trail rides. At 5 the sweaty-saddle-pad method fixed the lingering naughtiness, we started over fences, and at 5.5 went to the first show.

                I consider the above example to be the worst case scenario for how it could go with a quiet baby OTTB. The signs that that suggested this would be a difficult OTTB were: anxiety on race days, normal manners but a general disregard for humans, side eyeing new things even while behaving, and spindly legs with a butt half an inch higher than the withers suggesting physical immaturity.


                • #9
                  He’s late in his 3 year old year, not 25 months and he has been trained and competed so you can relax a bit about need to treat him like glass.

                  But, he’s trained in something completely different, And so are you. So is your trainer unless she had worked brining these career changers into a new career. Common sense is required and it will take the better part of the year of “ puttering” ( Like that description). I don’t get the fear of jumping anything for a whole year. Going forward over anything around 2’ is just basic flatwork, it’s a forward and obedience exercise. It’s a step over, NBD. No courses, just stepping or cantering over a single after they are confirmed WTC and, certainly, you need that if you hack out. On any horse in any discipline.

                  Two concerns here. First is soundness. He’s a little old to be diverted to another career simply because of the slows. You need his race record to confirm when and how often he raced. It’s free, All you need is his registered name or tatoo#. COTHers can help. And you need the PPE. Not the 2k version but start with observation at all three gaits both directions on the lunge. Then flexions then basic x rays of feet, knees and hocks. If at any time vet finds a red flag issue, stop. Don’t pay for more past a DQ find. And be brave about saying no, it’s your money for the foreseeable future. Trainer and seller can just say “oops, sorry” and walk away after making money off of you buying it.

                  The other thing that that sometimes comes up is the mellow horse you buy is not the horse you end up with three months later. Know everybody thinks drugs but more often it’s just that sale horses out of serious regular work are out of shape and condition. They are living an easy life, don’t have to do much. They have strangers coming around all the time so get a flurry of prep work, get a bit tired. Most sellers with half a brain show you the horse doing what it’s comfortable doing and knows well. Not a thing wrong with that.

                  Then you get them home, get them healthy, fix their feet, they get comfortable, make a few horsey friends and you put them on a regular work schedule. Then you find out what you really bought, sometimes they thrive on it. More often the brat comes out, they see where things are going and don’t care to participate. Then you post here on COTH about your new horse reducing you to tears. We get one every few months. At least.

                  Just be aware that the mellow you are seeing might just be lack of condition and ambition that won’t last when he has to go to work and gets that condition and ambition back. Be aware as well then a regular work schedule can reveal unsoundnesses that were not evident in the more relaxed lifestyle but become problematic in regular, harder work.

                  Usually a better bet to buy something currently in regular work doing what you want it to do. Doesn’t have to be great, just doing it soundly but needing polish, groceries, foot care and maybe some remedial work. Those can be priced pretty reasonably. More up front but way less in continuing training, lessons and maybe vet services and layups.

                  My most successful buys back when I did a little buying and selling were 5 to 7 years old, broke and trained in the desired skill set that were being....under utilized. Kid went to school, kid lost interest, looked like crap for some reason. But sound and in decent physical shape, not show ring ready, just basically heathy and well started. Going a little off type can get you a good one too...not to far off just unpopular color or size.
                  When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                  The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                  • #10
                    Vet vet vet this horse! I was messing around clicking through Canter horses last night had almost every one of them was funny behind. I’m sure plenty of horses come off the track sound, but plenty more don’t. Vet, X-ray, blood test, drug test!
                    People work and jump 3yo’s all the time. I can’t imagine you’d be putting him through anything that would compare to the work he did on the track. I don’t think popping over some little flower boxes and logs will hurt him physically and it’s great for their brains. Like another poster said, it’s important for him to get to socialize. Good luck!


                    • #11
                      I bought a 3yo ottb and did spend a year doing flatwork with him. By the time he started jumping, the flatwork was installed enough that he picked it right up. This video is actually three rides, shot in his first month over fences.
                      Horse when on to be competitive in the children’s/adult hunters at rated shows.

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