How Young is Too Young to Start a Horse Under Saddle?

The best age for horse to start training is highly debated. An equine surgeon offers advice.
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How Young is Too Young to Start a Horse Under Saddle
There’s a strong body of evidence that suggests young horses that have moderate exercise early in life have fewer developmental orthopedic problems and future athletic injuries than those that don't. | Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Q.What is the best age to start training a horse under saddle? I have a yearling Quarter Horse who’s still growing. I’ve seen trainers start working horses under saddle as early as 2, but I want to make sure my filly is sound and fully developed before I start putting her through the rigors of training. What’s your recommendation?

—Via e-mail

A.This a good question and one that is frequently debated. The age that horses are started in training varies considerably between breeds and disciplines and is often dictated by customs or the desire to compete in important futurities or races for young horses

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W. Wesley Sutter, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, was born in Lander, Wyoming. He received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Colorado State University in 1997 and his veterinary degree in 2000. Following veterinary school, he completed a one-year rotating equine surgery and medicine internship at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital, in Lexington, Kentucky. He then completed a surgical residency at The Ohio State University, where he later served as an assistant professor in equine orthopedic surgery before entering private practice as a surgeon at Ocala Equine Hospital, in Florida. After five years at Ocala Equine Hospital, he co-founded Lexington Equine Surgery and Sports Medicine, also in Lexington. He returned to Rood & Riddle as a surgeon in 2018. His primary interests are in equine orthopedics, upper respiratory surgery, and lameness. He’s the author of several scientific papers and book chapters.

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