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Are You Compromising Your Young Horse's Soundness?
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Are You Compromising Your Young Horse's Soundness?

In today's horse show world, it is common to see classes for two and three year olds offering huge payouts and lots of competition. Some would presume these horses were green under saddle, due to their young age. Unfortunately, it has become common practice to put these horses into full time training long before they are physically mature. These practices ensure the young horse is ready to enter lucrative fall futurities, but can have a negative impact on the longevity of his riding career.

Horses may appear to be mature at around two or three years of age, but they are not skeletally mature until the age of six. This goes for horses of any breed. Many people believe that certain breeds mature faster or slower than others, but skeletal development and the closing of growth plates occur at the same age in every breed. The horse's many growth plates, also called epiphyseal plates, close at various stages of development. The growth plate located above the knee, which some people x-ray to determine if a horse is ready to be ridden, closes between three and three and a half. The growth plates in the horse's vertebrae are the last to close at five and a half to six and a half years old.

Waiting until a horse is four or five to start him under saddle, and then only riding him lightly until he is fully mature, will increase his odds for staying sound because his bones will be fully mature before he has to balance the burden of a rider. His soft tissues-muscles, tendons, and ligaments will also be protected. Young, growing horses can be awkward and gangly; adding a rider's weight to the young horse's growing body will put him further off balance and increase the likelihood of his injuring soft tissue. In addition to riding, the heavy longeing many people do to prepare a horse for riding is very taxing on a young horse's body. The repetitive motion and force placed on his joints by going in circles can cause wear to the cartilage in the leg joints and strain tendons and ligaments.

The safest way to prepare a horse for a future of soundness is to allow hours of daily turnout when he is young and growing. The short sprints of a playing youngster trigger natural bone remodeling, leading to stronger bones. It also encourages normal musculoskeletal development and is necessary for his psychological health. The young horse who is turned out daily will strengthen his growing body at his own pace and will be better prepared to start under saddle work than a young horse that is stalled most of the time.


Photo credit to the Bureau of Land Management via Flickr's Creative Commons. Source material obtained from Falling Star Ranch and Equine Studies online.

Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.

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  1. makeeler
    I applaud this article!! Our youth oriented culture has polluted, yes polluted even the horse world. Let the babies grow up so that they can have long. happy, sound lives. Think of them as animals not objects that are "throw" away. Bring horsemanship back, in every sense.
  2. jst4horses
    both the article and the comment below are so right, thank you both for courage to speak up, and it is NOT just horses, it is all animals and even children. I have seen a six year old child who had tried to commit suicide several times before he was brought to our equine therapy program. He had a minor brain injury, and would never be the neurosurgeon or President his mother wanted, so she made it clear he was a useless and unwanted piece of waste to her. I have seen a TWO year old who had watched an older sibling die and his mother fade into mental illness over the illness and death............both of them recovered in equine therapy programs, and their mothers had serious mental health treatment themselves. As to horses, I HATE the Kentucky Derby and it has drawn more and more people to do horrible things to horses. My younger son, a horse trainer since early teens, sold his ranch and quit horse training except to work with owners who need help learning how to be better horsemen and women and as the dog whisperer says each show, to rehabilitate their animals, and train the humans. No one has any idea of how many foals die from being taken away from their mothers way too early so the mothers can be rebred. Some farms do give the foal back to its mother after she returns from the stud farm, some do not. We as humans treat animals and people so badly. The Spanish Riding Academy in its old, formal days, long ago, used to take in new recruits who were paired with a weanling or even a foal and its mother, and took care and trained the young horse until it was FIVE before it began formal riding and training. ALL of the groundwork in place the boy might then be old enough to qualify as a new trainee in the program and get to be the rider and caregiver of the colt he had loved and brought along for all those years. We let some awful people tell us what life should be. Horses used to live in herds, and they came in when called, they knew grain and goodies, and they worked. The horror of the old west horse abuse (Pat Parelli calls it horse rapists) (Monty Roberts hated seeing his own father train that way and learned new methods from some of the greats of natural horsemanship) and all our own animal abuse in all areas are sickening and we need to stop. Thank you for writing this article.
  3. RAC
    Loved Your Work

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