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.
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.
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.
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.
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!