Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When To Start A Horse - Two BIG Questions!

Thank you Frizzle for your comment on my last post. I think I needed that reminder. :)

Have you all read this article? http://www.equinestudies.org/ranger_2008/ranger_piece_2008_pdf1.pdf I have, but it had been a while, so I went back and read it again when she posted it. There was a lot of information in the article that I had forgotten. I knew that most of the growth plates in the legs had closed by 3 and I knew that the growth plates in the back did NOT close until much later, but what I forgot was how important the growth plates in the back are.

I knew when I bought Chrome as a five month old that I was going to have to wait years to ride him. I decided that was okay because I really wanted him. I fell in love with Chrome before I ever met him in person. He's been the best horse I've ever had the pleasure of working (playing) with and I want to do what is best for him. I don't want my impatience to harm him. It's been four years since I've been able to consistently ride horses and that is definitely starting to bother me, especially as now I've been able to ride a friend's horses this past summer. That's just made it even harder lol. I wish there was a place to sign up for riding lessons just so that I could consistently ride every week, but without a horse to practice on I feel that is a little bit like wasting money.

So as much as I want to ride Chrome when he turns three I'm going to try to refrain as much as I can. I'll sit on him on his birthday just because it's something I've been looking forward to for so long and I don't think sitting there for a picture will hurt him, but I'm going to hold off on riding him as much as possible.

So my question is, since a horse's growth plates are mostly closed in his legs at three is it safe then to start longeing then? I want to teach Chrome about using his back through longeing over cavaletti, etc, but I don't want to hurt him with the circles . . . what do you all think? From what she said in the article I don't think it will damage his legs, but I would really like more opinions before I decide (obviously it would only be about three times a week).

The other question is about exercise. Chrome stayed a little fatter than I like over the summer for a young horse because he had free choice graze on thirty acres and I really hope that hasn't caused any problems. He was by no means obese, but you could not see his ribs. So my question is how much exercise does a two and a half year old need? I know it has to be straight lines at this age and I really need to try the ground driving again (although I think it would be easier to teach longing and then ground driving hence my first question), but how often and how much? He still plays with Led Zeppelin, but I can definitely see him calming down and getting lazier as he gets older. I guess depending on him getting his exercise requirements from playing with the donkey is like expecting a dog to get plenty of exercise just because it has a big backyard. Not reliable. The problem also is that our roads are all asphalt so I've tried to limit how much time he spends on them and he usually only walks on it. So any advice on this?

I won't be doing much this winter simply because I am NOT a winter person, but next spring when he turns three I would like to work on the longeing, ground driving, etc. I'm also planning to use clicker training to teach him to use his back at liberty, which is part of the reason we do the Chase the Tiger game because it teaches him to lower his head and raise his back.

Anyway at this point I'm rambling. I really look forward to reading your comments.


  1. Oh common! I wrote a large thing and blogger didn't work and killed it, agghhh. Ok, basically you guys are doing great, LOL.

  2. Here's my opinion for what it is worth. I'm sure everyone will give you a different opinion btw!

    I would not longe a young horse (under 5) more than 2x a week, and for no longer than 20minutes total. For the most part I keep it to 15min. Two reasons for this: it is very hard on their legs, and they have a very short attention span at chrome's age. Always end on a good note before you loose their attention. You can always add in free longeing several times a week in a paddock or fenced arena. It's an easy way to provide exercise and work with vocal commands and is less demanding on their growing joints. It's going in the circle that is hard on them, not the longeing itself.

    You should be longeing and hand walking him for several months in full tack before starting. It will make is much easier and less stressful on both of you. I see no issue with starting a 3 year old, just don't over do it. Mostly walk/trot and no jumping. Keep rides very short the first 6 months and not very physically demanding (like 20minutes or less). Two 10minute rides per lesson day are better than one 20minute ride for them at this age. Also, 4x a week is the most I would do. Once they get the swing of things, you can back off to 3x/week, and then give him next winter off again. Once he turns 4, bring him back into work and start asking more of him 4x a week.

    Just my 2-cents.

    Adventures In Colt Starting

  3. Oh, and I said, it does help to ride. Now that I have Kaspin, it's so much fun to ride and let Enzo grow up more mentally and physically still.

  4. Also, don't exceed the weight limit. They should not be asked to carry more than 15% of their body weight. This includes rider and saddle. So don't put anyone on him that is too big. This would most definitely stress out the back growth plates.

    Adventures In Colt Starting

  5. While waiting is optimal, you can still poke around on him going quitely at a walk, just to ride him, and that shouldn't cause much damage. While 2 wrongs don't make it right, many many horses get started at 1 or even 2 (which I totally disagree with!) and can lead productive lives. So doing some light riding once a week is not going to hurt him.

    It's like sending an elementary child to school with a backpack. Are they still growing, heck yes. Are they going to carry (if they are petite like me) their own weight in books from 2nd grade onward? Yep. Was it good for my back? Probably not, but I was more damaged from getting in car accidents and getting kicked by horses than by carrying the backpack.

    If you feel like it's going to damage him permenantly, than don't do it, but if you feel like it might be a good step for him in his training to poke around at a walk around the pasture or up some easy trails, then do it. Some people say that if you teach them to carry themselves correctly at a young age, it actually helps them develop their back even better, so it's all on your own judgment.

  6. I know for sure that I don't know enough about this to give any advice. However; Pippi was four when we "started" her, she had been ridden a handful of times before we got her. I have no idea what groundwork was done with her.
    I wish we would have waited longer than we did to jump her, as we did crossrails a few months after riding. First season all just crossrails, then 18", then this year 2' and late in the season 2'6".
    I now think we started too soon, and hope that we have done her no damage. I should have read more, and waited, instead of listening to those around us I thought to be experts. Pippi has always only been jumped once a week, but I still think it was too soon. She is not on joint supplements as I think all jumpers should be.

    So my advice is: do what you are doing, gather info, read and ask questions like you did with this post. Good for you. I think you will have fewer regrets than I. :(

  7. Janine,

    Oh I hate when Blogger eats my comments lol. Thank you for taking the time to write it even though it got eaten hehe. I have a neighbor who said they would give me a horse as a loaner to ride while Chrome is growing, but I'm terrified of something happening to someone elses horse and I don't want to feed my hay to a horse that doesn't belong to me if that makes sense. Maybe I can find something that will work better. Or maybe I can borrow him for a while in the spring when the grass starts growing again. I also thought about Faran. He's eleven so he's plenty old enough to ride, he's just terrified. Maybe if I spend my time working to rehabilitate him and taming Zep I can hold off on riding Chrome longer. :D


    Yeah, that's what I always believed about longing as well. The article made me question that, but I still think what you said it better. I plan on doing really short sessions because I'll be doing it with clicker training (probably at liberty), mostly teaching him to lower his head, raise his back and step under himself. I basically want to teach him how to carry himself before I ever get on. I can walk with him to make larger circles than what is typical also to ease the stress on his joints.

    Thank you for your advice. I love the work you've done with Rose and I really appreciate you taking the time to share what worked for you. :)


    I like your backpack analogy. It is sad how much weight they expect kids to carry in those things hehe. I was homeschooled so I didn't have to carry one, thank goodness considering back problems run in my family.

    I probably won't do more than a walk for his first six months at least and if he doesn't feel ready I may very well wait until he is four. I'll just trust my gut. I'm known for being on the overly cautious side anyway lol.


    Don't feel guilty for not waiting to jump Pippi. You were told it would be okay by people you trusted, so you can't be blamed for that. We all have to learn things by making mistakes. I've made PLENTY of mistakes with Chrome since he was really my first colt to raise from five months old and up (even though I've had horses since I was five). We had one filly when I was a kid, but I wasn't the one caring for her, so it was a whole new experience. I read as much as I could and asked advice from anyone who would give it and I still made mistakes. You can't prevent every tiny bad thing from happening, trust me I've tried (control freak hehe) and it's miserable trying to live like that. I'm slowly learning to let things go a little and not worry so much, but I do want to do what is best for Chrome because I expect/hope to still be riding him when I'm fifty. :) He's my forever "heart" horse. My best friend. Thank you for sharing your experience and for the encouragement. I really do appreciate it.

  8. I have never started a young horse, so I am not going to comment on growth appropriate activities, but I will recommend some lungeing and long-lining lessons for the trainer. If the horse is taught to lunge in balance the activity should not break him down. You can also teach him to drop his head and lift his back while lungeing without auxiliary reins.

    I feel that the groundwork training which I have received has been very worthwhile to my horse's training and to my riding.

  9. I think you probably know how I feel about this. :-)

    Longeing is fine, as long as you limit the length of sessions and number of times per week. Also, try to make the cirlce as big as possible--the smaller the circle, the harder it is on the joints. When I longe, I always walk around a lot in order to make the circle larger. Free-longeing would be best, as you won't be limited by longe-line length.

    Ground-driving is an excellent idea! Very good for teaching concepts like steering, etc., and of course you can keep him going in straight lines for longer periods of time.

    Just think about this--we expect our horses to carry us on their backs, and to round up and USE their backs while doing so. Why, then, would we do something that will damage those joints? Putting weight on a young horse's undeveloped back will make things like rounding, collection, etc. that much more (and possibly uncomfortable) difficult later on. I KNOW you are chomping at the bit to get on Chrome, but having patience now will really pay off later.

    Of course, many, many horses are started far too early and it's not like they're all crippled and unrideable; but just think how much better off they would be if they had been given a bit more time to develop properly. Heck, my own horse is a Thoroughbred, so of course was started as a 2-year. Thank goodness he had no potential and spent the next 3 years in a field. :-) But right now he is having back issues (not sure exactly what yet) that started showing up when he was only 6. I'm not saying it was definitely caused by so much stress early on, but it's certainly very plausible. Just some food for thought.


I appreciate all comments, advice and questions! Your comments are what makes blogging so worth it. I love to hear from my followers, so thanks for taking the time to share your comments. :)