How Young is Too Young to Start a Horse Under Saddle

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.

Some feel that 2 years of age is too early start in training. However scientific studies do not necessarily support this idea. In fact, there’s a strong body of evidence that young horses that have moderate exercise early in life have decreased developmental orthopedic problems and future athletic injuries. The keys are recognizing each horse’s individual differences in physical development and to not overtrain.

In general, a young horse that can’t handle the workload will show signs of musculoskeletal inflammation and/or soreness. Early recognition and modification of the work load is key to preventing serious injury. Remember, like any athlete, a horse must adapt their skeleton (bones, muscle, tendons, and ligaments) to meet the workload demands of their job. This doesn’t happen overnight; it happens over months. An experienced trainer can help guide you through the process.