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When is it a good time to start young horses?

An article that has been copied from someone else called Murder Hollow. It has been circulated round facebook many times. I just felt it was an interesting read and gives a better understanding of the how the horse develops. Remember these are not my words and I'm sure its a very contentious subject in the horse world but its good to sound out all angles

"As breeders, we should strive to produce healthy and sound animals. We should promote horsemanship that produces long term soundness. No, starting a horse later does not guarantee soundness. But it certainly helps.

I am a firm believer in scientifically backed approaches to horsemanship. You can’t argue with science that has been proven time and time again. Let’s dispel some stupid rumors:

1. There is no such thing as a (skeletally) slow maturing horse or one that is fast maturing. No horse is skeletally mature before the age of 6. And that is on the low estimate for age.

2. Growth plates are not just in the knee. Every bone behind the skull has a growth plate. Not every single one needs to be converted to bone before starting. There is a schedule of when bone fuses…this is the information needed to know when to start a horse. Not their outward appearance. It is a known fact that during growth, proprioceptive awareness can regress, greatly increasing the risk of injury.

3. Starting a horse is not the same thing as riding a horse. Starting a horse does not mean cantering it 3-4 days a week in an arena.

4. Injecting a horse that is in pain does not mean you fixed a problem. You masked it.

5. You can build correct muscle and teach a horse how to move their body from the ground. This creates a solid foundation to work from once your horse is ready to actually be backed. Teach a horse to use its body correctly before backing and you’ll save yourself a lot of vet bills down the line.

Hocks are “late” for maturity. The growth plates on the tibial and fibular tarsals do not fuse until a horse is 3-3 ½. Ever wonder why so many horses seem to have hocks issues?? Horses need to learn to carry themselves and their own weight well before adding a rider.

The growth plates that are LAST to close are at the base of the neck. This area is where we ask a horse to raise the base of their neck and come round. If under too much stress, the growth plates can fracture or be permanently damaged.

There are DOZENS of activities you can do with a young horse to build healthy muscular development. None of them involve a saddle or your weight on their back. A 2 ½ year old horse is a baby. Mentally and physically. We see far too many injured performance horses at VERY young ages - broken down and/or sour from work. It’s wrong. Period. They need slow and steady work and need time to recover from even the slightest of injuries.

PLEASE, if you are considering when you should start your horse and what that work load should look like, please read the below. There are some wonderful things you can do with your young developing horse. Please don’t rush a year out of greed.

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