I'm sure I'll catch some flack for this, however, here it goes.
I see ads all the time that read something like this: For Sale; 2 year old Quarter horse filly. Dead broke. $3000.
This is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. They're just BABIES! First of all, their tiny bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons are still growing and are fragile. Secondly, they're babies. They are in that stage where they would rather play and have fun with their friends, tormenting their mama's and racing around the fields still trying on their new legs. Third, what is the rush and why take the risk? Forth, did I mention... they're babies?
Horses don't hit maturity until they are 6 years old on average. Colts will drop their testicles sooner and can be gelded at 6 months of age "usually". There are exceptions to every rule when it comes to horses. Claiming them to be dead broke at an age younger than 6 is just not good sense and truthfully, there isn't a horse on this planet that you can claim is dead broke, bomb proof etc.. They may be dog gentle, however they're still a horse. Horses have quirks and they can & will choose inappropriate times to show you what they are. Especially young horses. By the time they reach 6 years old, their bones have pretty much stopped growing, growth plates are done doing their thing, muscles, tendons and ligaments have stretched and settled into place.
Now having said all that, I have to say here that I'm not against "starting" them at a younger age. I'm against riding any horse before they're at least 3 1/2 - 4 years old. I'm not talking about jumping on and going all wild west, chase the train riding either. I'm talking about basic stuff like forwards, backwards, left, right, flexing in both directions. Simple, easy things and keeping training sessions to no longer than 30 to 45 minutes at a time.
Here's another ( I would think anyways) No brainer. A child begs their parents for a baby horse. If the parents don't have the first clue about raising, training, riding horses... PLEASE do not get your child a "baby horse". They're not dogs, they grow to be over 1000 lbs, they will step on you, push you around, possibly bite and kick you when they take in play time IF you don't know what you're doing.
Horses learn best from other horses, especially babies. Foals learn the basics like space. This is a huge learning lesson for them. Their mama's will dictate as they grow up just how much space is necessary, as will other mama's and foals and other horses that are out with them. For the first couple of months, mama will protect their babies and run off other mare's, geldings, studs, burros etc. This act right here is the beginning lessons of space for that baby. Once you wean them, or if you let the mare wean them, you have to continue their studies in the whole "my space, your space" lessons. The longer fillies and colts are out with other horses, the less time you spend teaching them this vital lesson. You can actually learn a thing or 2 about a filly or colt when you watch how they interact with other horses who are at different ages. However, if you pull them out of the pasture and start putting heavy training on them at such an early age, they ha ve to figure out how to learn these lessons from you. They will also learn pecking orders in the field. I can almost guarantee a filly or colt will not start out being on top in any herd. Why is that, you ask? There is already a pecking order in place with the horses that are all ready out in the field. Now after a long time of being out in that herd, mares can and will fight for higher positions, even becoming the Alpha in the herd. Colts will fight other geldings and studs to rise in the ranks. This is not a bad thing, this is older horses putting younger one's in their place. In much the same way you would teach your children, especially teens that there is a time and place for everything.
A cold or fillies mind is also still very "young at heart". Mentally they cannot handle more than a few things at one time. When you start putting a ton of training on these young horses, they can lose their own spirit and personality. Allowing them to get more mature in their minds before asking a whole lot of them is more beneficial for you in the long run. Their attention span will be longer and will be able to handle what you're asking of them.
There seems to be a fine line these days as to when to start training a young horse. Some folks will tell you start them when they hit the ground. Imprint training isn't a bad thing. Getting a head start on handling them when they're first born helps them to bond with you and it's easier when it comes time to begin training. Even then, those who do imprint training are not going to begin riding them until they are at least 3 or 4 years old. Other folks tell you to wait until they're 5-6 years old before beginning to put human weight on their backs. I myself prefer to wait until they're at least 4-5 years old and even then it really depends on where they're at mentally. If I see them tearing up real-estate and acting like their tails are on fire, I'll wait another 6 months to a year before putting weight on their back. I'll put more ground work on them, even saddle them up and let them stand tied for a while with a bit on and no reins. I' m in no rush to push a horse to do something it's not quite ready to do, and I certainly won't push their bodies to handle weight when they shouldn't. I won't buy a young horse for $1,000's of dollars unless they're registered, bred really well, and have perfect conformation. Even then, if your ad says: Bombproof 2 year old, I'm probably going to pass it up unless it's free. Then I might come get it and turn it out with other horses for the next couple of years, put some solid ground work into it and then see how their bones and minds are doing when they're 4-5 years old.
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