I have always been of the mind set to start horses no younger then 3.5 to 4. I know the ages at when all the joints close. Many people I know start horses at 2 which I feel is too young - very common for QH’s in MT to start being rode lightly (some not so lightly) at that age. I have a three year old Arabian I have started this year, just been doing short rides 15 - 20 minutes once or twice a week. I would like to start doing more with him but I worry about long-term soundness…he is close to 15 hands and solid built, I weight about 140 pounds and am just doing walk / trot with him so far.
If he is mentally and physically ready to do what you want, I think he is old enough to ride lightly more often.
It is the when are they physically ready I struggle with. He can carry me fine I just worry about long term soundness with weight on young ones. Mentally he will happy fall asleep with me on his back he is so mellow.
I would ride several days a week, emphasizing hacks (not arena works) at walk with some trot, going up and down hills etc. Depending on yor arena, western type arenas tend to e quite deep and hard-going for youngsters. natural ground is great for building bone/long-term soundness and teaching proprioception. not to mentin, keeping the youngster’s mind happy and looking forward to being ridden.
Is there any reason you need to start riding him harder now? Could you wait another year to let him grow before you start asking more?
From personal observation - the ones ridden young (3 or younger) and pushed young often break. There are many exceptions of course, but almost all of the horses I’ve known who have retired at a young age were ridden young, often pushed to win/excell young, and were physically broken and retired by 12. Riding early can take years off the end IME.
For me waiting when they’re babies pays off when they’re still going at 20+. YMMV of course.
I started mine as a late 4 year old and didn’t really do much more than 15-20 easy rides until he was 5. I am not a big fan of riding early.
No there is not really any reason other then he is a VERY easy keeper and people ( including my vet ) tell me he is ready to start doing more - I grew up riding “english” where it was the norm to not do much until the age of four. Interestingly though I have a 23 year old Arabian who was for sure started too early and rode by people too large before I purchased him and he is the healthiest / soundest horse I have owned. I also had a horse that was started at 6 that I gave away due to hock issues at age 7.
When I say I want to do more I am talking about 30 to 45 minute trail rides a couple times a week to get him out and used to hills with weight on his back.
It is hacking I want to start doing with him, just do not want to over do it. I only have a couple inches of sand in my arena so it is not too deep or hard. I would just pony him if I had a reliable horse to take him out with but my other current riding horse is too hot and fast for that. I did a lot of ponying before on a horse I had to put down last year.
I was always taught you started trail work with 100 miles of walking. If you feel your horse is ready mentally to leave the arena, I would start taking him on some short walking-only trail rides a couple times a week. See how he handles it and you can gradually start increasing the time you are out.
I have a quarter arab/warmblood cross that I very lightly started at 2. I did 20 minute rides mostly walk and a little trot/canter on the flat a few days a week for about 15 rides…then I let him winter with no job other than eating until he was 3. As a 3 year old, I put an empty pack saddle on him and ponied him off my veteran for short easy trails, up to 4 miles at a walk a couple days a week and did that off and on for about 8 months, the pack saddle weighs maybe 20lbs.
Now as a 4 year old, I take him out on rolling trails for up to 5 miles 99% at the walk, once a week and I’ll ride short stints at home with a little more trot and canter, not more than 45 minute rides or so.
Starting him at 2 was way more about his brain than his body, just get the idea rolling that you are now a riding horse, then every year just slowly increase what I did with him. Ponying him at 3 was again WAY more about his brain…he was an a$$hole his 3 year old year, so he just got to follow down the trail packing a decker saddle and not have to think about aids and me on him. It did WONDERS for his brain, he got very humble.
Now at 4, he’s really quite lovely to ride. I trust his judgement out on the trail way more and he has the idea that he’s a riding horse ant this is what we do.
He was 15.2 hands at 2years old and about 1,100 lbs. Now he’s a touch over 15.3 and is about 1,400 lbs. I’m 5’9 and like 160. He stayed sound the entire time, no soreness in his legs/back or demeanor.
I think it’s case by case. If you feel like they’re not ready, they probably aren’t.
@Ziva.Sparks I kind of did what you did with a large TB/WB cross mare I raised. She was so big I just hesitated to get on her until she was at least 4. I ponied her almost everyday for several miles out on the trail. Sometimes under tack , sometimes not. By the time I backed her she was so fit and strong it was a piece of cake for her mentally and physically.
I love your horses!
This makes a lot of sense to me. I’m no expert, but my KMSH was started at 2 on light trail riding. While I was shocked to hear this from the seller (used to thinking about knees and growth plates and such), he has always had a good mind for his under-saddle work, and I think this early experience was part of that. “This is my job”. He is perfectly sound now at age 18 and has the most solid work ethic you could ever desire.
Sorry - I know this thread is about Arabian horses specifically, but I thought this poster made such a good point about the mental aspects.
That sounds like a great approach! I am going to continue with just 15 to 20 minute rides once a week or so until next year and hopefully start ponying him as well. I have taken him off the property a couple times and he really enjoys that so I will mostly stick with that, I do not feel he is ready to canter with a rider yet so I probably will not visit that until he is four. Once I have a horse ready to pony off I plan of putting pack saddles on him as well, he does not know how to balance down hill with extra weight I figured that would be a great way to get started!
That sounds solid! I will forever pony my youngsters with pack saddles for a year or so. I really think it does nice things for their brain. It’s a lower responsibility job that they can get really good at and work on their pride, learning how to balance, how to move and balance. The britchen / crouper is a nice desensitizing thing. It’s like the ‘do less but more often’ approach. I really love the horse I have now from starting and doing all that with him and giving him nice breaks in-between too. Good luck with your youngster!