When is a Young Horse Ready to Ride?

Q. I have a fine-boned 3-year-old Welsh/Quarter Horse cross that I would like to start in regular work and training, but I'm reluctant for fear of placing too much stress on her young spine. When is it safe to start and ride her on a regular basis?

Anita Covelli, Homosassa, Fla.

A. In the performance horse world and with many breeds, 3 to 4 years old should be an adequate age to start a horse under saddle. In the racing breeds we start a little earlier (around 2 years of age) and the data doesn't show that starting these horses early is a problem. But, generally, 3 to 4 years old is a good age and the horse should be plenty mature skeletally for some riding.

Horse aren't completely physically mature at this point and are still growing, and certainly a 3-year-old Warmblood will look different than a 6-year-old Warmblood. You have to play it by ear and use common sense, and you won't use the same training regimen for all breeds and all horses for that matter, even within the same breed.

If you have any questions or see any possible conformational problems, it's fair to have the horse evaluated by a veterinarian before starting training.

About the Author

Alan Ruggles, DVM, Dipl. ACVS

Alan Ruggles, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, is a surgeon and partner at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., where he specializes in orthopedic surgery and lameness. Previously he taught at the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania and The Ohio State University. He is the author or co-author of more than 20 peer reviewed papers and eight book chapters concerning equine orthopedic problems.

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