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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hey there, if anyone has any good sources and references about studies on when it’s ok to start riding a colt or filly, I am trying to find more. I would prefer a primary source— something that merely describes the study and the outcome.
 

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I'm not sure you will find a cut & dry written at this month you do this, then that, then something else....
Since horses physically mature at a individual rate to me that is far more important they reach milestones first than the calendar declare they are so many days old so we now do this, that and the other and it is to soon.
For me, it would be skeletal milestones met and exceeded along with mental ability met and exceeded for understanding, retaining that which you want to teach them.
I want to use that sponge, the brain, to soak up and retain the knowledge taught, the body to be ready for tasks but not to soon because some study said it...

But published studies, no...surely they are out there but....
For me it was common sense and watching babies grow and develop for years makes me know they all "ready" at different times to being taught, really taught...and the vets doing films to show bone development.
🐴...
 

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The old time catch-all Rule of Thumb was no riding the horse until the knees are closed. Back then it didn’t tKe x-rays to know that — the long time horsemen were experienced at feeling the knees to know.

Mentally ready is another subject. Some Trainers try to force a horse into training that may not be mentally ready because “time is money” and they don’t care what the horse thinks.

At home, it is up to the human to know their horse and figure out what and how much the horse is ready for.

When I was training my granddad’s young ones, his philosophy was baby steps and quit while you‘re ahead. That did not always mean the same thing for each horse.
 

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I haven't really read through this. It isn't a study perse but brings up another factor that we don't look at which to me means looking at heritability of defects. Heart defects, kissing spine...
 

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Like others have said, you’re not going to find a cut and dry study on when to start horses at a certain age because different breeds mature at different rates and even then there still can be large individual differences. I don’t take much of an issue starting some breeds very slowly and under a very educated hand at 18 months. Others I would wait until older for sure. Your best bet for studies is to find ones examining how exercise affects growth (the one I posted above does just that) but there are many more out there. I only did a light search as it’s early and I need to prepare for class. It’s not super long and it’s not difficult to read but it goes over how exercise can affect bone, tendon, and cartilage in horses that exercised (what exercise means is explained in there) at younger ages
 

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There's a big difference between getting a horse used to someone sitting on them, and them actually being "ridden." I think you can start putting a saddle and some light weight on a horse's back at 2-3, but I would wait on any active "riding" until 4, and hold off on starting them at all with jumping or barrels or anything really demanding like that until at least 5 or 6. At least. Personally.
 

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As HLG suggested, learning about skeletal growth rates, such as Dr Deb Bennett's studies will help you learn, but yeah, I can't think of any objective studies that give anything 'hard & fast'. It seems to be such a subjective thing, including factors such as how big you are compared to the horse, how skilled or otherwise a rider, and as Steady said, what are you planning - to just sit on a horse & walk around a bit, or are you talking longer, harder rides, 'high impact' stuff like jumping & racing...?

So... don't know about further objective studies(think I have read some, but memory fails, can't refer), but it seems to be clear that doing ANYTHING on the back of a horse who's knees haven't even 'closed' is not a good move, and to varying degrees, weightbearing & 'high impact' work(with or without a rider) on immature structures can indeed do damage, so you need to be very considerate of that. IMO that also means not doing hard work, high impact stuff before skeletal maturity(around 6yo for ALL horses). Just because it CAN be done(eg racing & 'futurity' babies) doesn't mean it SHOULD be done.

You could compare it to kids piggybacking eachother - if a large child jumped on the back of a small one, &/or the child was expected to carry a heavy weight for extended periods, or do something athletic, chances of injury are big. But that's not to say it's always or inevitably damaging for kids to piggy back eachother.

So... JMO, but so long as the horse were at least 2yo, especially if the horse is stocky & well developed, especially if you're lightweight & not a 'sack of spuds', especially if only talking very short, easy 'rides', I haven't seen anything to suggest that you'd be damaging your horse.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I'm not sure you will find a cut & dry written at this month you do this, then that, then something else....
Since horses physically mature at a individual rate to me that is far more important they reach milestones first than the calendar declare they are so many days old so we now do this, that and the other and it is to soon.
For me, it would be skeletal milestones met and exceeded along with mental ability met and exceeded for understanding, retaining that which you want to teach them.
I want to use that sponge, the brain, to soak up and retain the knowledge taught, the body to be ready for tasks but not to soon because some study said it...

But published studies, no...surely they are out there but....
For me it was common sense and watching babies grow and develop for years makes me know they all "ready" at different times to being taught, really taught...and the vets doing films to show bone development.
🐴...
Right. I just had some barn witches on FB trying to tell me no horse should be started under saddle before age 5 at all... so I was looking for studies to send them. I found one source that seemed decent enough for a Facebook argument. I’m sure they didn’t even look at it. LOL
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
This was the source I sent them, if anyone is interested. Training and Bone Development - Kentucky Equine Research
I’d like to add that it seems to me many people are worried about the horses’ physical capabilities, but I also think their mental maturity is almost or just as important.
 
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Instead of you wasting your time on this(not that I think it's a waste in the least to learn about, but just for the sake of a FB argument...) I'd be asking those people to prove their own views, if they're going to push it on you. As I said, 'hard' info on skeletal development & such has led me to the opinion horses shouldn't be doing much if any hard 'work' prior to maturity, around 5-6yo, but there doesn't seem to be anything 'hard & fast' aside from not starting a horse till at least 2yo. And it doesn't take into account whether you're going to just sit on them for a few minutes here & there, or if you're talking 'real' work.
 

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Most of the vets on Horse Vet Corner actually advise starting horses at 2-3, because moderate exercise helps with bone density and physical development. Consider, if we didn't allow athletic exercise for humans until they were completely done growing, people would find that absurd, and it wouldn't be considered beneficial. However, there's certainly such thing as too much too soon. A lot of the young human gymnasts who are killing it at the Olympics have totally ruined bodies later in life. With any young, growing body, quantity and intensity are where you run into issues.
 

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@SteadyOn completely agree. Starting a horse young doesn’t necessarily mean hopping on and tearing off into the ether. There’s been a lot of evidence like you said that shows horses (and humans) with appropriate exercise end up stronger and can have less problems down the line when given appropriate exercise early. A lot of sports medicine studies this in humans and a lot of it can be applied to it as well. I personally believe the introduction of age appropriate stress both physically AND mentally leads a horse to be a far more solid citizen than one who hasn’t had any real stress until it was grown.
 

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In this country, we tend to back horses a lot later. They're taught ground manners, long-reined, introduced to tack and anything else they'll meet in their life, but many wait until they're 3 or 4 to first sit on their backs. Most are turned away for a few months or longer to allow them to physically and mentally mature before being restarted. Some could be 5 before they're in regular work. Even our natives are thought to still be maturing at 7 or 8 and work is adjusted to their development.

If you're on an international site such as FB, you're going to get a wide range of methods and training. Ask them to back-up their arguments.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Most of the vets on Horse Vet Corner actually advise starting horses at 2-3, because moderate exercise helps with bone density and physical development. Consider, if we didn't allow athletic exercise for humans until they were completely done growing, people would find that absurd, and it wouldn't be considered beneficial. However, there's certainly such thing as too much too soon. A lot of the young human gymnasts who are killing it at the Olympics have totally ruined bodies later in life. With any young, growing body, quantity and intensity are where you run into issues.
This is the general consensus that I reached with myself as well. I don’t think there is an harm in doing short, easy rides when the horse is 2-3 USUALLY, though in Mav’s case when he was 2 everyone kept telling me to start him so I did, then realized “no, he isn’t physically or mentally mature enough for this” and waited until he was 3. He was by no means totally done growing at 3– he still gained about 2 inches in height (I didn’t know he would do that or I would have still waited longer— I thought surely 15.3 was as big as he would get, NOPE) and he filled out some. He was technically vet cleared when he was 2 for riding. But I disagreed with the vet. Things went much better at 3. We took it very slow, and all was well.

Anyways I just got off on a tangent. The general consensus of these studies seems to be that riding the average 2-3 year old does no harm at least and improves bone density and some other stuff. So unless some science comes out proving otherwise I’ll stick to that.Before actually researching this a bit I would have said that the average 2 year old should only be worked lightly. But the horses in these studies seemed to do best when they had short intervals of fast training. So I guess, there you go.
 

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I believe there is a study where they started horses at 2yrs of age. Vets were there and took x-rays throughout, I believe the results of the study showed when horses were started at 2, bone density and strength were much greater than of that horses that were started later in life. Ill do my best to find this study!
 

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I've done a bunch of reading on this. You'll have to look for more specific topics when searching in order to find many studies. Meaning, there isn't going to be a study titled "When to start riding a horse", but you'll find plenty of the effects of forced exercise on immature horses, for example.

If you look in my comment history, you can find the links to the studies I found and my summary of them. IMO, people get way too caught up in the growth plates closing. If you're a half sensible trainer and don't push your horse past what they are mentally capable of, you aren't going to damage them. Weather or not you keep them stalled vs turned out is going to have a larger effect on their long term soundness than if you hack your 2yr old the yard a couple times a week.
 

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Most of the vets on Horse Vet Corner actually advise starting horses at 2-3, because moderate exercise helps with bone density and physical development.
Yes, exercise is sorely lacking in domestic horses of any age, and the more the better, generally. But weightbearing and 'high impact' on epiphyseal areas('open' bones) is what does the damage.
 

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Yes, exercise is sorely lacking in domestic horses of any age, and the more the better, generally. But weightbearing and 'high impact' on epiphyseal areas('open' bones) is what does the damage.
Oh, totally. For young horses, very short, light rides with a light rider can be beneficial. I'm skeptical of trying to do much more. Last year, myself and my part-boarder were both helping a lady at our barn by putting some rides on her four year old. They were almost all walk-trot, and no longer than 20 minutes. We worked on very very large circles with him, with the goal of getting him stronger to work in better balance and understand the outside rein. By the end of the whole year, we were able to canter him for one lap, and that was "big progress" for him. He had been going under saddle at walk, trot, and canter with his trainer during his first 30 days under saddle when he was only 3... but that was just to make sure he could, and wasn't necessarily what he should have been doing then. He's had most of the winter off, as he's going through a bit of a teenage rebellion behavioural "phase," but we'll probably pick up the slow and steady progress again over this coming year, fingers crossed.
 
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