Tuesday, July 15, 2008

At what age should a horse first be ridden?

How young is "too young to ride" is often a heated debate among horse people. My opinion is just one of many but I hope that you'll take the time to research some things (don't just take my word for it) before you form your own opinion of when you should begin riding a horse.

Many people are under the impression that it's okay to begin riding a horse at 2 years old. When I'm talking to people with this belief, the next sentence that follows (without fail) is: "they run racehorses at 2 years old". And I might as well go ahead and say it: This must be one of my #1 pet peeves when it comes to horses.

What many people don't realize is that yes, racehorses are ridden at 2 (often at 1 yr old) BUT racehorses are usually retired by 6 or 7 years of age. Many are retired before that. The most sickening part is that many are permanently lamed and many have to be euthanized (put to sleep) by the age of 2, 3 or 4. I wonder how many yearlings are injured while in training and euthanized before they ever make it to the racetrack that we will never hear of?

If a horse survives the training for racing, and lives long enough to be retired, almost every one has arthritis and joint problems from being ridden so hard at such a young age and are no longer rideable after racing. To me, it's a sad, sad thing to see a horses life ruined at such a young age as 6 or 7, just to "entertain" and make money for people.

Before you begin riding a horse, please consider that a horses skeletal system is not matured until they are around 4 years old, (some breeds take even longer to mature). Their bones are simply not fully formed, not strong enough and not designed to carry a persons weight at 2 years old. Riding a horse too early causes all kinds of joint problems.   Update 8/31/2016:  Please read this article:   TIMING AND RATE OF SKELETAL MATURATION IN HORSES, With Comments on Starting Young Horses and the State of the Industry

If you want to do what's best for your horse and help to lengthen their lives, it's best to begin "light riding" (such as in the ring or on easy trail rides) when the horse is around 3 years old, and no "hard" riding (such as galloping with a rider) until 4 years old or more. I know some people who do absolutely no hard riding until the horse is 5 or 6 years old.

There is lots of ground training that needs to be done and many ways you can spend time with and enjoy your young horse while waiting on them to get old enough to ride. And it's worth the wait. Think of the long run: If you are patient and allow your horses' bones the time to grow and mature, you can have a strong, healthy riding partner that can happily carry you well up into their twenties. 

UPDATED NOTE 8/31/2016:   

I know this is a subject that generates a lot of passion from horse owners and trainers.  
I BESEECH YOU to read this informative article by Deb Bennett, Ph. D.

TIMING AND RATE OF SKELETAL MATURATION IN HORSES, With Comments on Starting Young Horses and the State of the Industry

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is sooo sad is, I just heard today that a trainer down the street, told one of his boarders it was time that she start riding her 18 month old horse, which is about the same size as my six month old filly. It is so sad that they think this is ok. Thank you for posting you info, I hope people read it and then think about the damage that can be done.

Anonymous said...

i agree with you and also what about them being sent to slaughter houses for there meat and hair, just so the owner who spent 2 million dollars on a racehorse, who only made him back 50,000, can get more money for his "investment". sickening. i do hate the sport or any to do with animals.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. The information really answered my question. I hope that I will be able to ride one of my favorite horses (not by its looks) at the stable that I go to soon.

Anonymous said...

Really riding a 18 month pony now that is just wrong

Jingle said...

Anon, about riding an 18 month old "pony" - I'm hoping I'm mistaken and not you, but "pony" isn't an age. A pony is a horse that will never grow taller than 14.2 hands, no matter how old it gets. Anything taller than that is considered a horse.

But I completely agree, this is crazy. A woman nearby who owns and boards tons of horses (owns 15, boards 30 or so) breaks her horses before they are two and rides them on a professional drill team at 2-3. We're talking galloping, sharp turns, etc. It's insane, and I wish she wouldn't do that but I'm not in any position of authority to speak to her about it unfortunately.

Sarah Schwieterman said...

can you saddle them but never get on the horse to do light work so they accustomed to it before 2-3?

Unknown said...

How do I send these comments to someone?

Sanae said...

How do I send these comments to someone?

Unknown said...

I'm thinking about adoption a rescue that is almost 3, she has mostly had ground work. It looks like that have poot a saddle on her but only once or twice. Your info is helpful thanks.

Nico said...

This info is much appreciated. My daughter ( 11 years old ) has started horse riding lessons and is reading everything about horses. She now wants a horse for Christmas but I'm not sure how to gift wrap a horse LOL. What a pity that people can be so cruel towards such an amazing animal. Thanks again for the info.
Regards.
Nico.

Robert said...

So what age would you recommend for a horse that'll most likely be walking with a rider most likely not galloping he is a biginners

~ Melanie ~ said...

Robert - I think for that type of light riding, 3 years old is about perfect.

Anoriea Gwadhen said...

I read this then asked a professional trainer what she thought on the matter. She said 3 is the best age because the bones are pretty much formed and the muscles are strong but most importantly the horse is still in a high learning state (kinda like a toddler) She also said that when they turn about 4 it becomes harder and slower for you to teach them what you actually mean because their brain is shifting from the baby state to a ignorant, cheeky, stubborn teenager state. Once in this state they are more likely to ignore everything you are teaching them and your most likely to get hurt because they're not listening. Although this is not in every case it's very true.
I take this trainers opinion very highly since she helped train my competition horse.

Eponas Child said...

Thanks Melanie, I hope you don't mind I quoted you when responding to a comment after an article about recent Preakness deaths that of course completely ignores the dangers of racing to young horses. keep up the good work!!!

Danielle Reynolds said...

Yes! To be honest once they're used to a saddle getting them to do light saddle work is like us working out with weights. It will help them more on how to carry themselves and balance and such.

SnowandNova FurEvr said...

I have a horse that I home bred. She will be 2 this april. She is mostly Arabian and I wanted to start her early because she has a sharp mind. Loves to learn and work with people. And has been going on trail rides since she was 3 months old (she would tag along. I would ride the mother and she would stay close or when she got bigger I'd pony her alongside me). She loves going new places and learning new things. I was afraid of waiting too long because I didn't want her to think we didn't pay enough attention to her or take advantage of her mind. Also, Arabians have a history of being on the wild side when maturing. So I started my baby very early. I had a 5 pound child's nylon pony saddle I used on her when she turned 1. I did not tighten it, just enough so if she moved when walking it didn't slide off. When she turned 22 months I started tightening it but still not to the point of riding. Just enough to trot with when lunging. When she turns 2 I plan on putting a 10-15 pound leather saddle on her a little bit tight. But still not enough to ride in. In August I plan to sit on her bareback. 5 mins a day, 2 or 3 times a week til she is 3. Then after that light trails with a saddle, then at 4 maybe trotting and learning the barrel path, and at 5 canter the barrels. 6 comes in galloping and really starting to ride and compete.yes she knows more than she maybe should. But I believe it depends on the horse, breed and mentality along with the physical maturity. My Arab baby loves to learn, do new things and go new places. Who am I to not take advantage of that to a degree? If she is loving it and accepts everything I throw at her with ears up. Why stop? If she is happy, I say it's okay. Listen to your horse. They will tell you

~ Melanie ~ said...

@SnowandNova FurEvr : I couldn't agree more and I think your plan of action is pretty much perfection! for any breed!

Thanks for commenting.

~Melanie

Nene said...

I agree as well. I have a foal that was born with me as well. At 2 weeks he had halter and dragging lead rope. At 4 months he was standing tied next to his mother. At 5 months he was walking a circle with lunge line, stopping, changing directions. At 6 months old loading in trailer and trailer rides. By 7 months perfection of trailer loading, standing tied, bathing, leading, and lunging at a walk or trot both directions. At 7 to 12 months getting used to a saddle pad and saddle, also getting used to a small point size rubber bit, learning what and how to work in a round pen, being ponied on trail rides on flat land and some hills, being seen by farrier regularly, also getting used to winter blankets which help with desensitizing of back legs. At 12 months to about 18 months learning how to line drive, learning a stop, bridling up, flexing, moving away from pressure also more ponying on trails, being hauled many different places alone and with others. Have set young child (no more than 50 pounds) on him at a walk couple times in a circle. At 18 months to 24 months perfection at basic ground work, lunging, leading, giving to pressure, moving away from pressure, loading/unloading (forwards and backwards),tying, farrier, bathing, saddle, bit, trails, desensitizing to cars, bags, tarps, dogs etc. Plan on very light riding between 2-3 years of age on trails with persons weighing less than 60 pounds plus light saddle weighing 10-15 pounds. When closer to 3 years will be sent off to learn discipline of either reining or cutting. This is just my preference and the understanding and limitations of my particular yearling. All activities were spread out and not done on an everyday basis. Foals do need still lots of time off to be a baby and also to rest. Average focus on something is about 15 min for a young horse.
Thank you!

~ Melanie ~ said...

Thank you for your comments Nene! :)

~Melanie

deborah falero said...

I have a guy I rescued at 4 months so I'm all he knows. He is a willing great guy Some folks are pressuring me to get on him. He is turning two this month (JUNE). my plan is to maybe get on him at Christmas (for a minute) and then off. I don't plan on riding him till 3+. I have put a saddle on him (to see what he would do) nothing. I put a bareback pad on him and lead him around. He will come to the mounting block and I lean over him and give him a BIG HUG. He's fine. I just really feel waiting till he is fully grown will be a WIN WIN for us. I did with my other horse who have a fabulous life for 30+ years. THanks I feel much better now. Deborah and Renny

~ Melanie ~ said...

You're welcome! Thank you for sharing Deborah!

~Melanie

Please feel free to email me your horse questions and I'll do my best to answer them or at least point you to someone or someplace that can. (Scroll down to the "About Me" section and click on "View my complete profile" to send me an email) I look forward to hearing from you! ~Melanie