Why it’s not such a good idea to ride young horses or work them hard…

Over the many years that I have been riding horses and studying their behavior and physical movements, I was told by a number of horse people—most of them breeders and dressage riders—that horses should not be started under saddle at such a young age. And certainly should not be put into hard training until they are at least six to seven years old. Of course, at first I did not believe this. Why should I have? After all, look at all the Thoroughbred horses used for racing. But as time when on, I met more horse people that held the “wait ’til later” view. Years ago I worked in the anatomy department at the University of California-Davis Veterinary School, and I met some very interesting people with some very interesting views. Then I did more reading and asked even more questions, especially once I owned my first young horse–I didn’t want to ruin the lovely Danish filly who was under my care–who would grow into a big strong girl.  Luckily I also had a Danish trainer who had a very patient attitude regarding young horses: “The longer you wait, the better.”  She grew up on a farm–not a city girl, thank goodness–and had so many years of experience.  I learned so much from my trainer and her advice has greatly influenced me over the years.

Blog_Aug 14 2013

One of the most informative articles I read was by Dr. Deb Bennett; her article is written in a style that would be better understood by lay audiences, rather than in a tight academic style.  This article is now available for most horse people to read on the Internet. In her article Bennet claims that skeletal maturity is actually much later than once thought. Moreover, there is no such thing as early maturing breeds. I agree with her, and I’ve held this opinion already for many years. But everytime I would talk with some other horse people, the general attitude was, “No, that isn’t true.” I have read many scientific papers over the years about equine skeletal anatomy and biomechanics that prove what Bennet is claiming in her article. It’s always good to keep an open mind.

Dr. Deb Bennet has written a very informative article that every horse owner and horse lover should read. It was originally published in 2001. Here are the links:

Bennett’s original article (c) 2001, 2008, “Timing and Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses, With Comments on Starting Young Horses and the State of the Industry” http://www.equinestudies.org/ranger_2008/ranger_piece_2008_pdf1.pdf

Bennet’s 2005 article: http://herddynamics.wordpress.com/timing-and-rate-of-skeletal-maturation-in-horses-by-deb-bennett-ph-d/

Bennet’s article is profoundly enlightening and it only reinforces what my opinion always has been: “Don’t work and train horses so young, wait ’til they’re older”. Give them the time to grow!  Patience, patience, and more patience.  This simply cannot be emphasized enough. How many times have I seen horses being put through dressage training or jumping work already at age four and even shown? Quite a bit. And how many times over the years have I seen warmblood horses breakdown at age 8 or 9. And how many times…. The list goes on and on. I will write more on this later. But for now, if you are a horse lover you should read Bennet’s article. And if you are a first time horseowner–especially if it’s a young horse–then you should definitely read Dr. Bennet’s article.

By Karin Susan Fester (c) 2013

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