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Proper Age For Training a Horse Under Saddle
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Proper Age For Training a Horse Under Saddle

John Strassburger, esteemed horseman and journalist, believes that depending on the individual horse, three to four years of age is a safe time to start training a horse under saddle. At this age, a horse is generally physically and mentally ready to handle the work, yet still young enough to learn. Some horse breeds such as Arabians mature slowly and should not be placed under saddle until four or even five years of age.

A horse needs time to mature mentally. Two year olds are still youngsters mentally. Starting too young under saddle can break a horse’s spirit. Horses should respect a trainer, not fear him/her.

A light weight trainer is best for young horses. Most horsemen will agree that the young horse should be ridden for very short spans in the beginning (five or ten minute intervals). The intervals may be slowly increased at a walk or jog only. Limited loping and cantering might be considered for horses that mature earlier the following spring.

Riding horses before full maturity can prove physically harmful. Work on hard surfaces may strain the joints of a two year old. Heavier riders before full maturity may result in excessive wear and tear. This wear and tear may cause osteophyte formation (excess bone growth). The horse may begin having problems with joint disease and inflammation as well.

Unfortunately some horses develop osteoarthritis, which becomes progressively debilitating with time. The vet may prescribe pain killers and/or steroid shots to help keep the horse moving. If a horse with osteoarthritis is not exercised daily, the joints will stiffen. Some veterinarians recommend surgery to remove bone spurs; however, the bone spurs eventually return.

Spurs are nature’s way of stabilizing a painful joint by fusion or placing pressure along the joint edges. Fusion may totally prevent motion in a particular joint. Bone spurs sometimes detach or enlarge and rub against tendons resulting in pain.

Swelling of the joint and pain on flexion are definite signs the horse should be seen by a veterinarian. The vet may x-ray the joint(s) in question or perform an ultrasound to determine the extent of the problem. Per Dr. R. Reid Hanson, surgical faculty at Auburn University, horses with arthritis may be treated with oral supplements or joint injections.

Allowing horses to reach maturity before placing under saddle may prevent many joint and inflammation problems. Chris Irwin, Gold Certified Trainer, states, “I’ve never found that starting them later was more difficult.” The trainer prefers to allow horses additional time to grow and mature before placing under saddle.

*Royalty free photo courtesy of Imcreator, Horses by Paraflyer. 

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Leave a Comment

  1. Archippus
    Please do not put a horse under saddle before maturity! It is so dangerous for the horse's future health!
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  2. Charlotte
    Great information. A lot I didn't know so thank you.
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    1. Archippus
      Thanks for the support Charlotte!
      Log in to reply.
  3. bamabellejen
    Great job! I love this article & wish every horse owner could read it!
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    1. Archippus
      The encouragement is appreciated! Thanks for the vote! I hope it might make a difference!
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  4. immasweetiepie
    Very interesting information I was not aware of. Your articles are so interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing with information. I love horses! My sweet girlfriend! ?????
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    1. Archippus
      Thanks Immasweetiepie for the encouragement, vote and comments!
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      1. immasweetiepie
        Did u make tops o. Both?
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  5. TomCat
    Interesting article.
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    1. Archippus
      Thanks TomCat! Your vote is appreciated!
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  6. cheekyD
    EXCELLENT article! Clear,precise and informative. Interesting for even those who don't;and may never own a horse. But easy enough to understand that one could share the information with someone that does own a horse.
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    1. Archippus
      Thanks CheekyD for the encouragement, vote and comment!
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  7. LM McGarry
    We know understand some joints don't close until five or six. And horses joints, particularly their near and in the hooves are not designed to work in much circular motion at all which is what most horses will be put through especially when they are young. On the other hand young horses like yearling, two and three year olds do benefit from minimal, basic skill building which can be done from the ground. Perhaps it is time to recreate the horse training paradigm.
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    1. Archippus
      Your comments are greatly appreciated L.M. McGarry!
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      1. LM McGarry
        Thanks for contributing to the horse world with care! :)
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  8. trotability
    Here in the UK we generally don't start horses under saddle until they are 3 -4 years old its just a shame that some breed registrations require a horse to be ridden and presented at 2 years old. Good clear info will have to read more by you. Fyi even an older horse can learn my mare wasn't backed until she was 15 years old and I ride her generally of the leg and not the reins
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    1. Archippus
      Thanks for reading my article! I hope you continue to visit the site and read my articles!
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