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For those who start their 2 year olds under saddle

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  • For those who start their 2 year olds under saddle

    When do you decide a horse is 2?

    i was looking at a gorgeous colt this morning, looks nice, but I was kind of shocked to look at the papers posted to see that it’ was born in May 2018, so in my book it’s what 20 months old now, and lightly started under saddle.

    i know everyone has different views on this, but surely no one is OK with riding them that young? There is a huge difference between lightly starting one under saddle in the fall of its second year, then being turned away for the winter, and starting them before they even reach two...
    "He's not even a good pathological liar." Mara

    "You're just a very desperate troll, and not even a good one. You're like middle-school troll at best. Like a goblin, not even a troll." et_fig

  • #2
    I had my Dutch filly started at late 2, but she was 2 years 10 months. I wouldn't buy one started a year earlier for sure.

    Except many TBs are started as long yearlings, so I guess I have but I don't tend to buy them until they are several years older and looking pretty sound. But IMO WBs mature slower than TBs and QHs, so that would play into my opinion too.


    • #3
      Yeah, I've always thought it's a bad idea to start horses that young, and figured it was because with TBs that race, the sooner you get them started, the sooner they can potentially make money for the owners or be dumped for something else that might. Then again, I have generally had WBs, and when I sent my last one to the trainer at 41/2, she thought he was starting very late. For some perspective, though, he did learn very quickly in the next year and did well as a jumper.


      • #4
        The latest research indicates what many trainers have known for long time.
        If you start your horses young, they grow into the athletes they are bred to be.
        If you wait until they are more mature, you are apt to have more to adapt to and more injuries:

        Some times, we need to re-examine what we believe and learn some of it was not what we thought:
        ---"5. Conclusions

        At present the competition career, or functional life, of an equine athlete is comparatively short and in comparison to elite human sport there appears to be limited integration of clinicians and allied health practitioners in management or care of the equine athlete. The consistent rider trainer effect within epidemiological studies indicates the potential to utilise a holistic equine sports medicine team to proactively attenuate injury risk and reduce time out of training and competition due to injury. Limited data on current exercise regimens for sport horses restricts interpretation of how management and exercise volume could be modified to reduce injury risk. Alteration of the early growth and exercise environment of the developing horse could stimulate tissue development. The positive effect of early exercise on tissue development does not appear to be restricted to the period of rapid growth but may also be effective with an earlier introduction of the horse to the training and stimuli required for racing and equestrian sport, once the period of most rapid growth and development had been completed."---


        • #5
          I grew up in Europe where we would not start a horse before 4 under saddle.
          If an owner wanted one started late three year old, we would drive it to our farm wagon with an old experienced horse along.

          Well, live and learn, came to the US and so, so many horses, in the English and western worlds, had been started at two and were now old and just fine.
          I was starting two year olds and what a pleasure.
          They wanted to work with you, were eager beavers, loved having a buddy teaching them and doing things with them.
          Unlike four year olds, that you had to grow a work ethic and interest in you and wanting to work with you and they did that with reservations.

          Saying that, no matter when you start a horse, as long as you do it in a way that is appropriate for that horse, it is ok.
          You can start a horse badly at any age, or beautifully at any age.

          We are always learning, are we:


          • #6
            As a TB breeder for racing purposes, we started this year's 2 y.o. crop on Jan 6. Our process involves first wearing rollers in their stalls for an hour or so, then graduating to learning how to line drive before being backed.
            Every horse is different, and some take longer in each stage. We do not rush them. They are all now being ridden, in the school, outside on the road, and back through the fields. All are going nicely.
            Will they all race as 2 y.o.s? Only time will tell, but at least they will have a good foundation if we need to wait until their 3 y.o. season.
            What you allow is what will continue.


            • #7
              20 months would be 1 year 8 months, and that is much too young IMO to start a warmblood horse under saddle. I could see potentially putting the saddle on the horse's back, or training cues on the lunge, but I wouldn't be bearing a rider's weight on this animal.

              We started my youngster at 2 years 6 months, when she was fairly proportionate, and many people thought that was very young. She was only in a 4-week program before she was turned out (and is still turned out) until her third birthday in April. I understand that thoroughbred race horses are started very early due to the demands of the sport, but warmbloods, as stated above, mature at a much slower pace and thus I wouldn't be overly eager to jump on the horse's back any time before 2 years of age.

              Ground work is definitely appropriate, but I wouldn't be considering a horse started that young under saddle, personally.


              • #8
                Most stock breeds start them between 18-24 months. They're bred for it, and they mostly hold up well. If you do it correctly (i.e. - don't over do it), I don't see a problem with it.

                I actually ran into a problem finding a trainer last summer for my 3 year old. She hadn't been backed as a long yearling, or her two year old year, because she's giant and mentally immature. Because she hadn't been given at least 30-60 days at the trainer's as a long yearling, several people wouldn't take her.

                This is my first ride on my Feb 2017 filly, pictured in June 2019. She was mentally and physically ready to live at the training barn for 90 days, so she did. It wasn't hard work - walk, trot, canter, stop in each direction and get used to the hustle and bustle. The barn she was at also hosts shows and weekly barrel races and all sorts of crazy things, and the owner has dogs and goats and chickens - so it was really good for her to "grow up". She came home in September and I've ridden her a handful of times over the winter. If I could do it like this 100 more times I would. Most people that are starting them at 18 months aren't pounding on them and truly "training" them. They're teaching them to live within the confines of a program and structured routine (in the morning we eat, then we get tied up for a little while, then we learn about the vacuum and leg wraps, then we have a saddle on our back, then we go do what the people say for 15-20 minutes, then we get hosed off, etc). It's incredible for them emotionally and mentally, because the older they are when you start this - the more set in their ways they are - "You want me to do what now? Why?" It's easier and less stressful for the horse to learn these skills as a toddler instead of an adolescent.
                Click image for larger version

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                Veni vidi vici. With a paint pony, nonetheless.


                • Original Poster

                  There has to be a cut off point though?

                  I grew up in England, in my part of the world they were probably lightly backed in their 2nd fall, then left to grow again over the winter, still being handled of course.

                  Spring of third year start light work, ready foe real work at 4.

                  I understand cultural differences, and different disciplines, but well take TB’s are they still born as close to Jan 1st as possible? If so then starting them in January, they are close to 2. 18 months just sounds really young to be carrying a rider, yes to getting a work ethic as a youngster, ground work, long lining, being bitted carrying a saddle, but again, where do we draw the line in actually putting a person on?
                  "He's not even a good pathological liar." Mara

                  "You're just a very desperate troll, and not even a good one. You're like middle-school troll at best. Like a goblin, not even a troll." et_fig


                  • #10
                    Ultimately, I think there are industries where starting early is encouraged (or required) from a competition or financial standpoint. (Disclaimer: Generalizations below. There are, as always, outliers on either side.) Racing (TBs and standardbreds) is an example, but you'll also find it in the horses that are tracked for the futurity classes, IME. In dressage, I see the YH candidates getting started earlier and earlier - same with some of the flashiest young stallions.

                    In some industries, this is really the reward for breeding for early January babies. Your "2 year old" is actually a 2 year old, as opposed to, say, the late may foal that is nearly six months behind the first-week-of-jan baby. For people involved in industries with age cut offs, this is one of the challenges. Even in dressage, doing a "4 yo test" at the first show of their 4yo year may be a January or February show, and they don't turn four until June, if they were particularly late or bred in a location that rewards later foaling dates. Right or wrong, this is the impact of classes with age designations.

                    My 2yo (come April) post-weaning was out in a herd of seven fillies total. Four of the seven are now in positions where they are being started under saddle, and none of them have actually hit 24 months. I expect another will go very soon for training - if/when that happens, that means only two will not have had a rider prior to 24 months.

                    While studies show the benefit of working young horses, I'm cautious to use that as carte blanche to greenlight any-and-all work. There have always been questions I've had about these studies (what is the baseline horse they use, for one: I would love to see the young horses in/out of work that are kept stalled 23 hours a day vs those that live out in a herd 24/7 in/out of work, because I suspect this might show some key insights). Ultimately, teaching and training young horses isn't a bad thing - but asking too much too soon is, and for me, it really can be a case-by-case scenario. Different horses develop at different rates (and in different ways). Would I personally have rides on a horse before 2... no. (Before 3...honestly, probably still no.) But would I turn away from a young horse who had 30 days of light under saddle work with a competent professional I trust not to rush training, especially if the horse seemed developmentally capable of tolerating the work? No. If nothing else, I can pick up the young horse, turn it out in a field again, and then bring it back in for periodic refreshers when I feel it's suited to the task, so a horse has a solid foundation when they're really ready to begin under-saddle work.


                    • #11
                      The point recent research has made is that a body that is going to grow up to be very good at a task is best served by learning all along to do that task.

                      A young horse growing up out to pasture and brought in to become a riding horse when older will have to do much remodeling to become that kind of athlete.

                      A young horse growing already with the "proper" conditioning and careful stress on it's body to grow best for it's task, the physical body and muscle memory for that, will be best and soundest all along by growing "into" that task.

                      We don't expect a twenty five year old human to train at any sport and become as good as the ones that started dribbling a ball or in gymnastic training since they were five.

                      If your horse will never be expected to do more than a bit over being a couch potato type his whole life, any kind of physical exertion will be moderated, then any time you start your horse is fine.

                      In todays very competitive world, the ones that "grow" into what they will do will have an edge at doing that best.
                      The old thought "oh, they may get injured because they are not mature" really doesn't depend on age as we used to think, but that we train sensibly.
                      Many, many horses started early twos have shown us that, we just were ignoring that, all those old horses started very early that are still doing fine, which studies today show us.

                      When a horse started very young was injured, we immediately were assuming it was because of the early start, ignoring all those started later that also were injured.
                      That added to the firm idea that you should not start them early.
                      We kept confusing cause with effect.

                      That is what those studies have been showing.


                      • #12
                        If we look at how a horse's skeleton develops, if we really think we should wait to ride a horse until fully mature, we would have to wait until a horse is considerably older than four:


                        • #13
                          Bluey I happen to agree with everything you've said, and the reasons behind it. Having dealt with horses not started until their "teenage" stage........


                          • #14
                            I have zero problems buying a horse started at two or earlier from a connection I trust. My experience has been the horses appropriately started younger are miles ahead in terms of soundness than those that are started later.

                            I have almost exclusively off-track TBs, and most of them are started as long yearlings and raced moderately (30+ starts). By and large the majority of them have been extraordinarily sound - some in spite of injuries sustained on the track. The nature of those injuries being speed related (such as condylar / sesamoid fractures), which I don't associate with being started too young, and rather, associate with the level of work asked of them, and their management (such as being kept in stalls for ~20 hours of the day).

                            As Bluey mentioned, there is much evidence out there that appropriately starting at a young age is enormously beneficial in terms of longevity and soundness.

                            AETERNUM VALE, INVICTUS - 7/10/2012


                            • #15
                              I think it largely depends on what kind of work a young horse is put through.

                              Time spent desensitizing, being ponied on trails, in-hand work (and there is a lot you can teach them in-hand without the weight of rider), standing on a trailer, going off the property, etc.. I think are all great to do with them at a young page.

                              Would I want to spend 60 minutes on the back of a 2-year-old? Probably not. But that doesn't mean they have to sit in a field until they are 3 years old before learning how to be handled.

                              If I chose to get a young horse, I think my ideal plan would be to spend the first few years working mostly on their brain and doing in-hand work to build their muscles without having to balance a rider's weight. That is the kind of work I think will really benefit a lot of horses in the long run. Introduce the saddle at some point, then introduce the rider around mid 3 years for a few minutes, but focusing on their muscle strength mainly in-hand until their early 5 years.

                              I think strengthening their muscles in-hand so their body is strong enough to take on the weight of a rider is kinder than immediately hopping on their backs and doing all of the beginning work in the saddle. Hill work, poll work, learn lateral movements, small jumps, and transitions can all be done in-hand.

                              I follow someone on Instagram who introduces her horses to cross-country jumps on a longe line so the horse can figure things out without the rider throwing them off balance.


                              • #16
                                Starting can mean many, many things.

                                Future soundness-wise? I'm more likely to take a bet on a 3-4 y/o that's not been backed, as long as it's been turned out and moving about a lot (and has had the basic handling to be well cared for and not kill me immediately), than I would be to bet on 3-4 y/o that was backed at 18 mos and then moved consistently into work work work under saddle.

                                But in reality "starting" is a spectrum and I personally believe it's in the horse's and handler's best interests to start early and keep the work light and appropriate. I won't personally do more under saddle than sit on a horse before it's 3, but I sure as heck will long line and do groundwork and *just enough* longeing so it gets the concept. Put the mental work in early, and by the time they're 3 you can actually work on building more physical fitness and strength. It's especially great to be able to work them in hand out of the ring as a 2 y/o so you can slide right into hacking as a 3 y/o and get the benefit of varied terrain and avoiding ring sourness.


                                • #17
                                  I also think it's relevant where the unworked baby lives.

                                  A horse growing up on true rangeland or feral is going to be fitter, more balanced, and moving more than the same horse growing up in stalls and paddock turnout


                                  • #18
                                    Those recent studies indicate that what we want is to load that growing skeleton, teach that body the dynamics of what is going to be doing for the rest of it's life, that for most domestic horses is to be ridden, to be asked to perform according to each discipline, to carry that weight on it's back.

                                    To do that is what helps it grow the body to do so, not longing, not ponying from another horse, not "staying off it's back".

                                    Sure, you don't want that immature youngster to be ridden by someone without the skills to help it learn to balance and what it will have to do, or someone way too heavy for that horse to carry.

                                    At least that a body (and mind!) grow from early already doing what it will be asked to do, as tests haven shown in horses so trained, the first such best I remember came from TX A+M vet school two decades ago, is what I think the modern training theories are showing.
                                    In those early studies they, best I remember, those results were part of some Equus articles, the colts started at two, compared with those started at three, had better physical parameters in bone and joint development and soundness than those started at three, which surprised them.
                                    They were expecting that starting earlier compared with later would show why starting later was better, as everyone was thinking then.
                                    Some of the fitness they were detecting gave an advantage to those started earlier for several years, as long as it took the ones with the later start to get there.
                                    Later studies in race horses confirmed that.

                                    Just more to consider for all that handle young horses.


                                    • #19
                                      I don't want a 2 year old anything more than halter broke. I prefer to wait and start mine until 4 or 5. The nicest (and soundest) horse I've ever had wasn't even halter broke when I bought her at 6
                                      Wouldst thou like the taste of butter ? A pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?


                                      • #20
                                        Back in the days that I was involved in starting young ones, we would get them going the fall/winter of their 2 year old year, so the one OP mentions that was born May 2018, we'd not have done anything until this coming fall/winter 2020/2021. And when I say get them going, it was just doing enough to get them to the point of w/t/c under saddle a couple of times then back out to grow up. And that depended on the horse and kind of how mature both physically and mentally they were.

                                        That was how we did it 20 years ago. I'm more inclined to let them go a bit longer and maybe not get on at all til the 3 year old year, but still with the same idea of letting them go back out and grow up as much as they need to. No rush. But I don't need to get them sold or shown so I have no set timeline.