What’s The Hurry in Bringing Up Baby?

I have never started a young horse. But over the years I have observed lots of people starting their youngsters or green as grass horses.

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Did someone say grass?

Sometimes it goes amazingly well. And sometimes, there are serious struggles. And guess what? From my observations, I’ve formed an opinion. A completely personal opinion that has no scientific data attached to it. So, take it for what it is: an adult amateur’s opinion.

One of my strongest opinions about starting a young horse is when to start them under saddle. I believe that you should wait until a horse is closer to 4 years old. When I decided to get a 3 year old horse I was fully prepared to wait 8 months to a year before I started riding her. I just don’t feel that most horses are mentally or physically ready to be put to work at 2-3 years old.

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She still needs nap time

To strengthen the validity of my opinion that horses aren’t physically ready to be started younger than 4, I called 3 of my most trusted equine veterinarian friends. Not one of them could tell me that I should absolutely wait to start my horse until she is closer to 4 years old. There is no proof that horses started later in life stay more sound than those started earlier. They thought that mentally, it might be better for the horse, but there is no proven theory that it is physically better. In their opinions, not surprisingly, it has more to do with what we ask of our horses once we do start working them under saddle.

Well damn. There went the theory and belief that my horse would be benefitting physically from my decision. But whatever. There is still the mental aspect.

While some of you may see a 3 year old horse as completely capable to start work, I see a kindergartener. Especially June. She’s lived her life on rolling hills and forested pastures. She was brought in occasionally to be halter broke and get her feet done. She has seen nothing of the world and been asked to do nothing other than stand for the farrier. And while that sounds idyllic and lovely, it hasn’t really set her up to go straight to work.

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This grass is yummy

I feel like my responsibility as her person is to prepare her for the work ahead. So that, one day, when I get on her back, she is ready. I know her, she knows me. She knows what I expect of her.

So, our work will begin with me starting her with ground work. For however many months as it may take. I’ve asked an incredible horse woman and foundation trainer to help me with this process and I am SO excited. I can’t wait to learn with June. I can’t wait to see where she is uncomfortable and not as sure of herself and get her past that. So that one day, when I put her to work under saddle, I have a wealth of knowledge to pull from.

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More grass over there?

I’m not going to rush the foundation work just because I want to get back to eventing. I want to do this right so we can have a great future together. I’m sure I will fumble and be discouraged along the way, but I think having the next few months together, and getting familiar with each other, and learning to trust each other, is hopefully going to lead to a great future together.

The adventure has begun!

 

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10 thoughts on “What’s The Hurry in Bringing Up Baby?

  1. thepeepers says:

    What a beautiful mare! I got my mare when she was 10 years old, with the same life experience: hardly been handled, other than to worm and trim her feet. I took time to get her used to being handled, groomed, rugged and got her started by a brilliant, gentle horsewoman, and we haven’t looked back! A book I found helpful is Fear-Free Horse Training by an Australian horseman called Neil Davies (I have no affiliation, I just found it great to help me along). Good luck with your girl, she looks super! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Amanda C says:

    I had the opposite horse mentally – she started to turn into the devil without a job. Got her started, spent her 3yo year pretty much just trail riding and bopping around, and she turned into a totally different animal. Much happier horse! I think they’re all individuals… some benefit from later, some benefit from sooner. I think it has more to do with WHAT you do and HOW you do it, rather than when.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Emma says:

    I think focusing on the mental aspects more so than the physical when starting a horse makes so much sense. My guy is a very different case bc he has been a career race horse before I restarted him for evening, so the physical aspect was…. Different. But we still spent a lot of time focusing on mental, focusing on working thru those small stumbling blocks and getting to know and trust each other in the process. It’s early still but so far I feel like that early time investment is paying off in a big way now. Can’t wait to follow along as you begin working with June!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Avery says:

    I think waiting is important, but they are all individuals for sure, just like kids. There are so many factors that come into play. I too have seen many young horses started and handled many of those young horses. I agree that waiting a little bit is a good idea. I started my colt at a little after 3. Very lightly. My plan was to see how he felt at 3 for it and if he wasn’t ready, give him anther 6 mos to a year off. He lives and grew up like a horse out in a pasture grazing with a herd, which in my opinion makes all the difference in the world. I had my hands on him from the moment he was born and spent all those 3 years teaching, learning, and growing together. Getting him to be a good citizen doing all the things horses need to do outside of riding. Starting him under saddle was a natural and gradual progression. His whole 3yo year was spent lightly riding out in the pastures with very light arena work. Getting to know each other in this new way and figure out how to do it both physically and mentally. It helps that he has a really good mind on him. Now halfway through his 4yo year, I have bumped up the riding and really getting us both into shape and learning new things, still with lots of trail work. It has been a really fun experience to feel it all out and figure it out together. I think you will come to a point when you have been doing all this ground work (which progresses their mind by leaps and bounds) where you will just know when it is the right time for you both.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Avery says:

    June sure is a pretty girl! Enjoy this time with her and grow that relationship!

    Like

  6. L. Williams says:

    I guess it depends on what your definition of work is. My horse got started at 3 (still is 3 since that was only a couple months ago). Does he get worked everyday? Absolutely in some capacity there is something to be learned by him everyday even if that’s just the repetition of being handled.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cathryn says:

    I think it is widely dependent on the horse and their temperament/attitude. I find that a lot of people miss out on the crucial “learning about life” phase with babies because they are so apt to let them “grow up” they kinda have a feral horse on their hands by the time it is ready to start them.

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  8. Shelby Allen says:

    I’ve always felt that groundwork is a crucial part of working with a new horse (especially a young one), but I think the most important part is that the plan fits what you and your horse want to do! It is YOUR adventure after all 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Liz says:

    Such a pretty thing! The foundation work will build your relationship better than anything else. You’ll learn to communicate with one another through it and she’ll let you know when she’s ready for the next steps.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Alanna McPartlin says:

    As someone who started her horse at 3, I think it really does depend on the horse and also your relationship with them. I had Emi since she was 4 months old and had spent a lot of time with her doing groundwork and such. She was mentally ready and we kept the first 6 months or so at 20 minute rides. When she’d do something really good I’d stop her and hop off. I hope you really enjoy your experience with your beautiful new horse!

    Liked by 1 person

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