Riddle me this: start going or wait

Ok so what do you all make of this? I am a bit perplexed by what I hear/read/see in the colt starting/training front about when is the best/preferred way/time to start a young horse.

A bit of background: Im currently at a training barn with my young prospect, which shows/trains for the breed shows (pleasure, hus, etc).

Am I insane, or is there some hypocrisy happening here:

  1. I see lots of sale ads for young QH’s/APHA’s that read something like this: “didn’t rush this one” “put 30 days on him and sent him out to pasture to grow! He’s a big boy!” “Took it nice and slow on this one”.

But then I’m told by trainers/hear them telling others: you need to start your horse immediately/don’t wait/that’s a big horse start them now.

  1. This mare has a great mind, super easy to train (started as a 5 year old) vs;

This mare is a ton of work and spooky and taking a really long time (started as a 2 year old, and when pressed “then why didn’t y’all wait till she was 5”, no answer can be given).

So what is it? I’m not crazy, I know each horse has its own temperament, abilities, personality, but when I see things that seem to support the idea of waiting till older to start, but simultaneously support the idea to start younger with no consideration to growth/development factors that can make the job harder, I’m just plum confused.

money? What?

Well I think A LOT of trainers want/need the cash flow as it’s a job for them and it’s not like they are completely ruining the said horse starting them early. I feel starting later letting their bodies and minds mature is DEFINITELY a better Idea long term. Nothing done quick last long. Eventually you will have problems down the line either physically or mentally if you start a horse too early. Proof is in the pudding.

Well I get in the breed show circuit they have the 2-3 year old classes so there’s a goal to the method, and maybe it’s just the varying personal preferences of each breeder/owner/trainer but isnt the correlation between waiting until your mount is mature in mind and body mixed with lots of hole-free training on the ground obvious when statements are made about “letting him grow” and “didn’t rush this one”.

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A horse can be started when a trainer chooses, as long as the training is appropriate for that individual horse and intended task for that horse.

You can start a horse at two or five and if you do it right, horses are fine, if you start one badly, the results will be, well, bad ones.

Today, after now several good solid studies, it seems that starting horses early, like any other body, growing into the muscle memory and fitness their task will require, just do better for the rest of their lives that those started later.
Think of a kid starting in some sport at five or six, or at 25, once mature?
The one started later will rarely catch up to the level of performance the one growing into that task will have.

Find good trainers, with a record of many well started and managed and proven horses over long time and learn from them.

Here is more:


This was race horses, but it applies to all horses:


Go to any show and watch the older horses, some into their 20’s perform, that were started at two.

While there is way more to how a horse’s life as a performer goes, there is plenty of horses started early out there to see it is ok, as all in life, when managed properly.

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Hi there,

I am wondering what your definition of started is ? Mounted or…? I am always open to new science backed ideas. Thanks for taking the time to answer 😊

Given the most current science, the best way to start a horse is early but slowly.

Like someone else said, if you imagine it like a child starting a sport rather than waiting till they’re 25. A five year old can play T-ball, or flag football without harming themselves. But if you put them straight into a college football level workout program and playing full contact, obviously that would be ridiculous and harmful.

A horse that’s started at 2, and ridden regularly but lightly until age 6, is usually gonna do better than a horse that is turned out until age 5 and then ridden intensively for a year.


Hi there,

What is your definition of ridden lightly?

Thanks for your input

Hello there,

What is your definition of ridden regularly and lightly?


Yes sorry, I should have clarified, started under saddle is what I meant.

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Right, good points


I start at 3, ride regularly but lightly at 4, then full work at 5. Full turnout 24/7 as long as possible.

full work at 2 (like many of the futurists barns) v. Don’t start until 5 are polar opposites. Most people are in the middle. Breed show people start earlier and work horses too hard, IMO. But waiting until 5 is not necessary or helpful either.

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So a happy balance in between is probably the most common/preferred.

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For me, age 2-4 is mostly about training the mind. W/t only at age 2, an introduction to canter after the horse reaches 3, but really nothing super athletic under saddle. 15 minute rides in the beginning on the 2yo, working up to around an hour by age 4. This is as much because of attention span as any physical reason. Young horses get frustrated easily when their brains get tired, even if their bodies are not tired.

The most important things you can teach the horse in this time is a good work ethic, a solid, square “whoa,” and a lot of desensitizing to situations, getting the horse in the habit of paying attention to you.

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A good trainer will recognize when a horse is not mentally or physically ready for their work load, and will wait accordingly.

Other trainers will do what needs to be done, to meet showing deadlines for the calendar.

You’ll come across both in your life. Obviously, one is better for the longevity of the horse.

Myself personally, I like them to have lots of ground work their 2-year-old year, then a light 30 days of riding for the basics (walk, trot, lope, stop, turn) at the end of the year. Vacation over the winter (in North Dakota). Then continued light riding their 3-year-old year, along with normal “horse things” like being tied to the trailer, hauled along to shows with the others, etc etc. Then at 4,start to prepare more for their job. Still not riding hard, but asking more than when they were 3. And so on and so forth. Of course, adjusted to each horse’s individual needs.