Cody, my Friesian/Paint cross will be three years old next week. I've been riding him since a week after he turned two. He was ridden for a few months, given the winter off (4 months), and it's been back to work this spring. We trail ride and work in the pasture on patterns. I've always also done a lot of ground work with him.
The decision to ride him at two only came after discussions with two farriers and my horse vet. All three said go for it, but don't overdo it. I keep a very close eye on him before and after our workouts, and he's been extremely sound.
This is the second horse I've started at two, and neither have had any lameness issues. The other horse is now 16 yrs. Old.
Now, I'm not trying to start a debate, but I'm interested in hearing from people who've had experience, good or bad, with starting horses at various ages.
I know the arguments that are out there against starting a horse before 3 or 4, and I know the opposing point of view.
My personal belief is that a lot depends on the horse physically as well as the training done before a rider is ever put on its back. There are some two year olds out there I would never dream of backing until they were three or four.
My preference is to do ground work for up to a year before backing as it helps build muscle and bone density (not to mention respect!)
I have also seen aged horses that were started at two and competed heavily at that age, and they were nearly crippled in their teens.
Again, I'm not trying to start a debate--I'm interested in people's experiences.