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So my teenage friend is somewhat of a know it all. She got a freshly weaned filly about 4 years ago that was bred up the wazoo. Her papers are fantastic and she’s a beautiful horse. Growing up, this filly was exposed to all sorts of things and environments and the girl was constantly messing with her in general. She started her very young and began riding her before she was barely 2 because she was impatient. She ended up moving and taking the filly with her to work on a dude ranch. For a while, the horse was amazing and the girl loved showing her off. Well now the horse is almost 5 and for the past year the girl is having all sorts of issues with her. Needing hock injections, explosive behaviors, bucking and just going mentally insane. I’m well aware that starting a horse too early is a big no-no but I’d like to hear some stories or thoughts on this topic. Has anyone heard of a similar experience?
 

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Yeah, the reason it's a 'big no-no' is that their growing, 'green' bodies aren't physically up to the task of weightbearing & lots of 'high impact' stuff. The major reason is that when 'kids'(of any species) are still growing, the ends of long bones & many others are cartilaginous epiphyseal plates - aka 'growth plates' which have yet to calcify. That is what has 'broken'(often just bent) when we talk of a 'green stick fracture' of a child. Even if not severely damaged, epiphyseal plates that are under too much pressure can also quit growing and just calcify as they are - which may be immature/too short/not quite the right shape.

Actually my dog (very long story of vet negligence but we will ignore that bit) damaged the epiphyseal plate of her ulna when she was a pup(why puppies shouldn't do agility & be allowed to jump things too), and because it wasn't addressed properly back then, with braces to stop the deviation, the ulna growth plate was retarded, while the radius continued to grow longer... & twist. As a result she now has a very distorted limb & is already lame after any long walks/runs at 4yo.

So... yes, unfortunately your friend's eg is not an uncommon one for horses ridden/worked too early. One reason racehorses are generally washed up before they're even mature. And QH futurities... won't go there either. After much deliberation & looking at info from many sources, I don't believe the above means a horse *necessarily* shouldn't be started under saddle at 2yo, but even more consideration should be taken with regard to rider weight & ability, and the horse should not be ridden for more than short, easy stints, until it's a fair bit older (say around 4yo) & then no hard/high impact work should be done until the horse is at/close to mature, around 6yo.
 

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Horses can and should be handled from birth as foals. Save tying until their necks are strong enough, but generally they should grow up being handled, picking up their feet, grooming etc. That just makes everything far better when it is to start them under saddle.

Horses can be saddled and handle light riding at about 18 months. They have really short attention spans at this age so a person doing training has to be able to get something done that requires them to pay attention in about 15-20 minutes and quit on a good note consistently. For the riding part you can move their body parts around, flex and just keep it light and that is fine. They aren't going to crumble or get injured as long as the rider is keeping it light and simple.

About the 2.5 yr to 3 yr mark it is fine to start teaching more advanced work and they can handle big horse jobs a little better but you still have to keep in mind that they just don't have the attention span to noodle and train new things for very long. Around 3 I think it is okay to start conditioning them so the amount of work you ask of them at 4 is not a sudden thing.

Keep in mind that mental and physical maturity is an individual thing. Some horses are ready for things a lot younger than others. It is possible in my opinion to have an 18 month old that can handle it or a horse that really needs to be turned back out until they are 4. Of course breeding, blood lines etc have a huge impact on all of this, more so when they are very young than older in life in my opinion. The Smart Chic Olena horses are famous for being late bloomers, so as the owner you have to go into it knowing what you have and be smart enough to not knowingly give yourself a big problem.

We have a 2.5 yr old Quentice Mecom Blue filly that has been so fun. She could do a lot more but I'm not going to really start with her on anything more than we've already got done until next spring.

The biggest reason the old timers didn't mess with young horses is their teeth, at least the that is the story I've been told.
 

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Horses can and should be handled from birth as foals. Save tying until their necks are strong enough, but generally they should grow up being handled, picking up their feet, grooming etc. That just makes everything far better when it is to start them under saddle.
That bit just can't be overstated IMO. And if you've handled them well, actual starting under saddle should be a non-event - just one more criteria - easy step on top of what they already know well.

**NB add; along with necks being strong enough before tying firm, another caution is when teaching them to allow you to hold their hooves, if they fight, they risk damaging their green bones & joints - so that and other things that can cause resistance needs to be handled carefully.
 

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I'm going to be the odd one out.



First of all a horse "bred out the wazoo" doesn't necessarily mean it was bred for long term soundness. And bred out of the wazoo for what?
I admit I know of a few performance lines that are successful in the showpen but aren't exactly built for longevity and end up with soundness issues. However! I have been met with horses in my lifetime who never should of have remained sound as long as they had due to abnormal conformation or conformation not in line with the job given.


Second, it sounds like your friend rode the feces out her colt and probably wasn't very forgiving to a young colt trying really hard for her. You can ride colts at two and not ride them into the ground. Ride them as where they are physically and mentally, not as a matured conditioned horse.



While some want to blame the issues on age alone I think it is only one of many factors. Age, bloodlines, conformation, footing, work load, etc. I don't think it is fair to blame soundness issues on the age started if the horse's welfare wasn't considered in the first place.
 

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I had my QH/MFT gelding started at two because I was having problems with him on the ground........leading, nipping, generally being sassy. He was basically two much horse for me. So I had him saddle broke at 2 and rode him until he was 8.........and he was still too much horse for me at 8. I finally threw in the towel when I realized we weren't a good match and probably never would be (our big problem was spooking).

At age 10 I gave him to a guy that rides him much harder than I ever did (lots of cantering out on trails and more rugged terrain) and the horse has never taken a lame step. This was a horse that was also born with a wonky (sort of slightly deformed) back leg. When he was a foal my vet actually recommended ponying him out and exercising him to help strengthen the leg. So he had been going out on trail rides next to his mother practically since birth.

So, physically I honestly don't think starting him young did him any harm. But it wasn't because I was showing or competing or anything like that. I was just trying to get more training on the horse for casual trail riding. I had no need to push him physically, I just wanted a well behaved horse. So in my one and only experience with starting a young horse I haven't seen any ill effects from starting him at 2. He's gotten consistently better behaved with age.........but I think that's mainly due to having a better rider. :oops:
 

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@trailhorserider
So in my one and only experience with starting a young horse I haven't seen any ill effects from starting him at 2. He's gotten consistently better behaved with age.........but I think that's mainly due to having a better rider.
Who is to say? Your colt might have been later to mature and with just more sweaty blankets you might have come to the same result. Don't think you are less of a rider. There have been times I have had horses that needed(not just colts) more work than I had the work for, sent them to someone who could "find the bottom" and send them home and they were where I needed them as far as work load.



--------


Anyhow I read the OP as an impatient teenager showing off her colt and over rode him and mistook his willingness to try for maturity to handle what was being asked of him.
 

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I'm going to be the odd one out.
Not sure what you're being 'odd' about? Sounds like you aren't saying you agree with a lot of riding of an immature horse, which would be contrary to our other opinions already said...
 

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Not sure what you're being 'odd' about? Sounds like you aren't saying you agree with a lot of riding of an immature horse, which would be contrary to our other opinions already said...
General consensus on most online platforms is starting a horse as a two year is frowned upon. Hence the comment of being the "odd one out".


Edit to add- meaning, it is usually an unpopular opinion.
 

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^Oh OK. Yeah I'm of that 'consensus' definitely *as a general rule* but depends what you mean by 'starting', how much you do, how much you weigh... etc. For eg I wouldn't be going for long rides on a 2yo, but sitting on their back & walking around for a short spell is not likely to be harmful IMO. As with almost everything, 'it depends' I reckon.
 

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I would guess there could be several possibilities for the horse's behaviours, none of which are really related to being started too young.

My first guess is that the horse may have a physical issue such as a genetic muscle problem like pssm ("well bred"), or something like Lyme or EPM. Part of this is based on someone giving hock injections, which suggest some type of stiffness or lameness was seen.
Another likely possibility is slipping stifles which cause pain and can cause bucking and such.

A second possibility is one I've seen, where a horse was rather mellow and sluggish when growing but hotter and more energetic once more mature. Sometimes growing takes a lot of energy and the real personality shows up later. So what the person thought of as training, such as not reacting to things, not spooking and stopping easily was really based on low energy.

Another possibility is that the training was done too intensely for a young mind and done negatively, so the horse is now burned out.
 

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I guess I "started" Apple at less than 3 years of age but this has simply meant getting comfortable with the saddle on her back, hand leading while saddled. I backed her by simply getting on and off her bare back and gradually extending the time I spent on her.


I got her going gently under saddle when i felt she was ready, never for longer than 25 - 30 minutes, never faster than a walk and also just worked her mainly in straight lines while she learned to balance with me atop.


This weekend gone I went for my first real foray on her into quite challenging terrain and uncharted territory for her. We still only rode for 35 maybe 45minutes at the most but that was enough. She is turning four in November but I still consider we are in the building phase of her development and probably will be for quite some time.


Below are two pics:

First one was taken in September 2018.
Second one taken October 2020 (Saturday just gone)
 

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There are two separate issues, physical and mental. Physical: growth plates do not close for a LOT longer than most people realize. It does vary some, but horses are comparatively long lived, and pushing a horse too hard when it is two and three years old, so that it is spazzed out or broken down by five, what is the point when horses are ridden into their twenties?

Sure, handle a horse from birth, pony him on trails, drive him in long lines, put a saddle on him, and eventually get on and start walking him around. Make sure he is happy and curious and relaxed and wanting to keep trying for you. Be patient. Or if you can't be, get another horse to ride while you're waiting.

That said, some horses are going to break down anyway, because they were born without the right structure. Also, you can start riding a horse at five and still ruin him. How many hard-pushed performance horses in any discipline break down under it because horses are not in fact designed to spend their lives galloping around barrels, sliding twenty feet to stop from a dead run, jumping over five foot jumps, over and over and over and over. People want their adrenalin rush, no matter what it costs. And that always makes me sad.
 

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What keeps springing to mind for me is the vast number of OTTB's who seem to have more or less successful post-racing careers. Granted, I'm aware that some of them come off the track with injuries that take time to heal, but then many go on to be at least sound enough for pleasure riding. I'm in agreement with those who say that it's management and how the horse was used, not so much the age, with genetics also being something to consider.



P.S. @kiwigirl Apple is so cute! Really nice, solid horse you have there.
 

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When I raised young horses I did a LOT of ground work, handling with them and their manners were good because of this and in the fall of their second year I would back them, they had so much handling and saddles and leading etc that not one of them ever misbehaved, it was just another thing that I wanted them to do, no big deal.
I would ride them for about a month just learning to walk and trot a bit, turn and stop quietly when I asked, then leave them til next year and they never forgot the previous work and we progressed from there as the horse could handle things, never rushed them and they were always good with that.

I do have a pet theory, very young horses are not so sure about this riding business and they are willing to follow your guidelines if they have been handled as youngsters. they will behave well and progress nicely. Then they get a little older and I kind of compare them to a snotty teenager with an" I don't have to do anything you tell me" attitude. This is where careful handling is important and they should not be allowed to "get away with even small things' as this can escalate into bigger things. A rebellious "teenager" horse can turn into a bossy horse that doesn't listen to you if he can get away with it.

I have seen young horses start out very nicely and somehow after a bit things seem to go sour and the horse starts misbehaving and if not corrected properly you have what the op is stating.
 

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What keeps springing to mind for me is the vast number of OTTB's who seem to have more or less successful post-racing careers. Granted, I'm aware that some of them come off the track with injuries that take time to heal, but then many go on to be at least sound enough for pleasure riding.
'sound enough for pleasure riding' is just not sound, if that's all they can manage. And many is the OT horse I've dealt with that has lumbar or SI deformity, or is really stiff picking up hinds, or has low/neg plantar angles.... but they're not lame so have been pronounced 'sound' and their injuries are very often not even recognised. Horses are stoic, we all know they generally 'give' far more than is good for them. They tend to 'keep on keeping on' until they're just too broken to be able. And even these days, the vast majority of OT horses I see are washed up with osteo arthritis or 'mystery' lameness by their late teens.
 

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Thank you horseluvr2524! I really like her, she is a very sweet little thing.


I know what Woodhaven means. My theory is that when breaking in a young horse there's about a years grace period of easy riding as the youngster develops not just confidence but also better physical capabilities. Roughly a year in they seem to go through, yes, like a snotty teenage phase where they do some testing of the boundaries. However having said that, if the initial training base is solid this phase passes relatively quickly and bad habits don't stick. As always and in all things with horses a solid foundation of basics will always win the day.


Don't even get me started on the racing industry. I have some very unpopular opinions. A very good friend of mine got her trainers license roughly five years ago, she has trained a mix of horses bred by her family and ones that she bought. Not one of the original horses that she started is still racing today, every single one of them has been retired from racing due to physical ailments. She loves horses and is definitely one of the most considerate and kind trainers that is out there but just blindly believes, as does everyone within the racing industry, that thoroughbreds are purpose bred for the industry and purpose bred to be started as early as yearlings therefore they can handle the stress. Yet young horse after young horse never even has a racing career and instead has a list of physical (and mental) problems that render them incapable of racing. What does this cost the industry? You would think that more money would be made and saved if horses were started at a decent age and therefore had better prospects of having a racing career. It seems ridiculous to pay huge expenditure to breed ten young horses, pay all the costs incurred to bring them up to racing form only to have nine out of ten of them break down before their first year is up and all that money is down the toilet. All in the hope of finding the one that will make it.


When in reality so many of those young horses destroyed by to much stress too early could have been the next Phar lap or Sea Biscuit or whatever. It makes me so sad. What a waste. And yet those within the industry will defend it to the death, despite watching horse after horse break down, they will still insist that thoroughbreds are bred to take it.
 

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I am not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic. I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
 

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So my teenage friend is somewhat of a know it all. She got a freshly weaned filly about 4 years ago that was bred up the wazoo. Her papers are fantastic and she’s a beautiful horse. Growing up, this filly was exposed to all sorts of things and environments and the girl was constantly messing with her in general. She started her very young and began riding her before she was barely 2 because she was impatient. She ended up moving and taking the filly with her to work on a dude ranch. For a while, the horse was amazing and the girl loved showing her off. Well now the horse is almost 5 and for the past year the girl is having all sorts of issues with her. Needing hock injections, explosive behaviors, bucking and just going mentally insane. I’m well aware that starting a horse too early is a big no-no but I’d like to hear some stories or thoughts on this topic. Has anyone heard of a similar experience?
I think we need to be careful to define "Starting" and what it consists of and what ages are "too young" for what parts. For instance, I handle mine several times/day from the day they're born, haul them in the trailer even if it's just around the block several times a month, teach them to halter and lead from day 1. By 6 months I expect them to halter, lead, stand for farrier and vet, bathe, load, ride and unload with no drama. I take them to shows once they're weaned, even if it's only to walk them around the grounds (in hand) and sleep in a stall away from home. I start ground work by the time they're 6 months old, show them in hand from weaners to 2 years and around 18 months start teaching them to carry a bit & saddle, in hand. Once they're 2, they go to the trainer's to be started under saddle. They're there for about 90 days. At least 30-45 days of that is more ground work, ground driving, being ponied off of another riding horse, in hand trail obstacles, getting tied, getting used to cattle, donkeys, dogs, cats, cars, trucks, ATVS. 30-45 days is actually spent having someone get up on the horse and sit. Then walk around in a circle, then trot in a circle (round pen work). Most won't make it out of the round pen in that time but a few do. They start following cows, pushing the cows up from the bottoms (all at a walk and maybe a few trot steps). I try to have this training coincide with cooler weather, so say Oct-Dec. Then after the 90 days they come home and are out on pasture with their friends just being horses and decompressing until spring. Then they go back for 90 more days, so April-June and home for the heat of the summer. In the 2nd 90 days we try to get them independent enough to ride out on the back 500, push some slow cows, maybe start trying to rope a slow cow (they're not roping horses but any training and exposure is good), chase a hot heels at the trot and for the last 30 days lope big, slow circles on the correct lead. By then I expect them to let me clip them if needed, bathe, put a blanket or sheet on & off, no drama.

By the time they're done with the 2nd 90 days, if they're a sale horse, we do video and pics and advertise as a prospect. If they're staying here to be shown, then we keep doing the 90 days home, 90 days trainer until they're 4. Then they go into full time training for whatever their "grown up" job is going to be.

Here's a video of Mort the Minion (Mort) as a 3 year old, 30 days under saddle. He was a very precocious horse, so I held him back a year because I didn't want him pushed. He just never found a reason to say, "NO" to anyone. Following this plan, we have never had a young horse need injections or any other interventions.

 

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Nice colt @Dreamcatcher Arabians. Very solid 30 days :)

Off topic, I giggled seeing the red clay dirt, my friend got back from the Pink Buckle in Guthrie and I let her take my beach cruiser bicycle which is seafoam green with white tires. She was so embarrassed to bring it back the other day after it being in that red dirt. I laughed, I lived there a short time, it's a fact of life there.
A Cremello horse in red dirt...oye!
 
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