Training Age and Soundness

Q: Does the fact that cutting horses are started so young have any effect on their future soundness? Is it best to wait another year before starting them in training?

A: There has been no research completed to date that evaluates the incidence of athletic injuries in cutting horses relative to the ages they are started. Studies conducted on Thoroughbred racehorses indicate that the key factor in injury prevention of the athletic horse is not delayed training of the 2-year-old, but the proper conditioning of the musculoskeletal system to achieve the necessary remodeling of the bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons to increase overall strength. Investigations conducted at the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University indicate that exercise of the very young horse, including proper conditioning and training of the 2-year-old athlete, is beneficial in strengthening the horse�s musculoskeletal system and decreases the risk of serious or long-term injury.

Data from the racing industry further indicate that factors such as increased competition, demanding increased levels of training, and more stress on the musculoskeletal system must be considered when evaluating the incidence of injury. It is reasonable to believe at this time that these same factors are the principal causes of increased injury rates in the cutting horse. Future research is needed to improve the understanding of the pathogenesis of exercise-induced traumatic disease, early diagnosis of bone and joint disease, as well as conditioning and training methods to strengthen the musculoskeletal system in the young athletic horse.

Based on current knowledge, it is very unlikely that starting young cutting horses as 3-year-olds would decrease the incidence of athletic injury in the industry.

Jerry Black, DVM, associate veterinarian at Pioneer Equine Hospital in Oakdale, Calif.; and Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, FRCVS, DSc, DrMedVet (hc), Dipl. ACVS, Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair and Professor and Director of Orthopaedic Research at Colorado State University

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