Starting young horses
Starting a young horse is a very delicate enterprise. Whoever is taking the young
horse through his first experience with humans has the responsibility of setting
up how this experience will feel to the horse for the rest of its life. It is a
This process cannot be started before the end of the horse’s 3rd year. Horses being
born usually some time in spring, it is a good thing to get them started under saddle
in fall, until they can walk, trot and canter comfortably indoors, and outdoors if
possible. Giving them the rest of the winter off to absorb the information and mature
a bit more in their bodies always has the interesting effect of accelerating the
education of the animal. Light work can then be started in spring, at the beginning
of their 4th year, when the weather gets more comfortable.
Starting a horse a year or two later than this is not a problem, and with some slow
maturing breeds, it might even be advisable. Starting earlier is asking for trouble.
I have seen horses handling a rider at 2 years old in their head without any problem,
but those horses invariably end up with joint issues in their early teens and sometimes
Preferably, the young horses have very little contact with humans in their first
few years until they can be started by a professional. It gives respectful animals
that are smooth to train. Problems tend to arise when good intentioned owners want
to start the horses on their own (even if it is on the lunge line only), or if the
foal has been raised like a family member. You are training your horse every time
you interact with it, wether you want it or not. Sometimes the goal is to start the
work for the trainer, thinking that it will go faster (and maybe save a little money
as well), but this often results in having to un-train or correct bad habits before
the work can start, which takes longer, and sometimes leaves a lasting impression
on the animal.
Training horses is a profession that requires a lot of studying, like for a doctor.
Some horses have an easy temperament and will be more flexible as to how things are
presented to them, like some people sail through life with a few common colds and
one bout of appendicitis, making the doctor’s job easy. But a lot of them have more
sensitivity or hard to control power that requires special treatment. There are no
naughty horses, only horses handled by people who don’t understand them. And the
more misunderstood they are, the longer it takes to make them trust people.