Riding two Years old

Hi, so i have a nice 2 Years old reining horse. Hé s not under saddle, all thé other 2 Years old i sée are allready ridden. I feel hé s still a bit young but people keep telling me i should put him under saddle otherwise if i need to sell i will never find someone who will buy. What do you think?

I think that the Decision to ride two year olds is driven by economics such as mentioned above rather than what is best for horses. It is well documented that riding two-year-olds, especially to the degree that many Western sports do, is detrimental to the horse. Futurities cause people to want to get an edge on the competition and they start riding the horses earlier and earlier because of that. Many people are riding these horses at 18 months old.

I personally would never buy a horse that was ridden at two. Especially not the type of riding that I see which includes repetitive arena work and cantering. I know that people will say stock horses mature faster and are fine to ride earlier, but I disagree. How horses look on the outside in terms of muscling is not reflective of the bone and joint growth and maturity.

For me it is a hard pass.

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Yes, i would like to know thé statistics of horses ridden AT two that arrive AT futurities with no major issue. But starting thèm for example a year later, does that make a Big différence?

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It is not the age you ride them, but that the trainer knows how to train properly for the horse in front of them.

Several recent studies have shown that starting a horse properly does give them a leg up on being better at what they will have to do the rest of their lives, competitively and otherwise.

Now, to start a horse properly early is not the same as pushing one past its training and fitness and maturity, if started early or later.

When those studies were conducted, the assumption was starting early was not sensible, the results were surprising to many, some still have not realized they are still not conversant on these topics.
Just think with humans, yes, they are not horses, but also you can start kids in school sports, then asking more in high school sports and some will make great pro players.
Think of starting a kid in sports in college, how will they compete against those raised into that sport?
Another question is, will there be more injuries in those started early or later?
Well, also consider, if not training and competing, well, there won’t be those injuries related to that kind of physical effort, which negates any point of training.

Studies show starting early gives the kind of fitness for the task at hand better, those can perform long and stay sound, as they have grown into their physically demanding task, unlike someone that has not and has to retrain it’s body for any new sport and be competitive at it.

Here is a bit on this:

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For sure it IS true that starting exercise AT young âge prépare thé horse Bone and tendons but when i look AT reining for example a 6 Years old IS almost an old horse. I Can understand that for racers, specially sprinters liké in humans they are faster AT early âges but reiners? Maybe some are more mentally burned out AT a young âge than phisically? When i look AT my two Years old next to my 4 Years old that are basically thé same breading i sée a huge différence

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I ride reined cowhorses and there are so many misconceptions about this. First, yes most are started early. It involves very short rides without a lot of pressure. Many are long trotted to gain fitness and trail ridden. As they progress, maneuvers are slowly introduced. Again, not a lot of pressure but focus on correctness. The harder work does not come in until later in their two year old year. As stated above, there are some people who push too hard and burn them out physically and mentally. However, the better trainers realize it’s better to start slow to build their confidence.

As an aside, I have two older horses. Both were Futurity horses. Both are physically sound, and not injected until they were 15 and 16. Both are mentally sound as well. There are not unusual at all.

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I had late teen, like 18 year old reiners that were still competitive and sound.
Two we loaned to the college teams competitions, one that won two years then their championships, with different very accomplished students.
Did you ever ask the many classes for junior and beginner riders what age their horses are?
You would be surprised how many reiners are competing into old age and sound.
My old reiner we had to euthanize in his twenties a year ago due to intractable Cushings was still perfectly sound, never injected if that matters.

Sure, some horses, in any discipline, will not stand up, but that is because of some conformation or training or management faults/mistakes or mere accidents, not because they are reiners or jumpers or dressage horses.

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My best horses, 25 and 29 years old, still ridden, we started as two year olds then let them be a horse and put them to light work as three olds. If I ever breed again that is what I will do.

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This for me would beg the question of how old were these horses when they were started? Were they started at 2 or even younger, or did they start a bit later?

A couple of anecdotal stories -

I know a woman who is big into the appy and QH circuit. Her horses are done at 6ish. I’m just shocked at how young they are started and how quickly they either burnout or get injured. She’s got a farm that they get retired to, but it seems like such a level of waste.

I know the TB racehorses are started very young - but I’ve had two OTTBs that even after they were turned out to rest & recover, then started back slowly, still did not stay sound for as long as they should have for the workload (I know there are plenty of people with great success with OTTBs, but the only two I had did not fair well from their early start).

And finally - my aunt had a lovely QH gelding that was started young by a pro. He was big & clunky. He tripped frequently as he was not coordinated to get his front end out of the way at 18 months, and was frequently strongly reprimanded for it. He was mentally fried by 4 and horribly overreacted to any correction. I consider myself a decent rider, knew his issues, and I got badly hurt on him.

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I started many horses over my long lifetime, at many ages, some feral horses at best guess maybe 8-9 years old when started.
Definitely the most gratifying to start are two year olds.
They bond and want to be your friend and interested in any and all, their work ethic can be guided to cooperate with humans as they hold their attention best.
They are not already set on being a horse only and first, still like other species.
The whole world their oyster, compared with more mature horses.

That from someone that started colts in an Europe that still believed you don’t ride a horse until four, what a strange and wrong idea.
I was so surprised when first in the US and so many horses were started at two, practically all in the SW and W, other than some ranch horses that were started at 4 or 5, but already on the job, with hard rides to train them.
Well, I learned, is the horse and how you start it and manage it all its life, not the age or what you do or don’t do, that will give you a long lived, healthy and happy horse.

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They were futurity horses, bred for the task at hand and very talented.

TBs are generally bred for speed first and most important, soundness second for many breeders.
Ours stayed sound because they were raised in our canyons and so had more physical activity when young, compared with many others, which may have contributed to them having fine racing careers and then making good ranch horses until old age.

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I think part of the risk of riding/putting a two year old in training, is that this often means stabling them, or taking them from the herd and into small pens which don’t allow for physical or mental stimulation for most of their day. This can also mean riding in a tight/small space. But…it could also mean light hacks out with a light weight rider and tack, and being turned out 24/7 with friends.

Locally, the young reining horses are often trained by (heavy)men, and are doing spins while they still look like foals. Attrition in the sport is high, and reining/cow horse barns make good use of the vets around here. It probably varies a lot by area (the ethics and expectations of training programs).

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If they did the AQHA and Appy circuits, they were most likely pleasure bred. There are a lot of genetic issues with pleasure bred horses which may explain why they were done early. That being said, I know many pleasure horses happy and sound well in their teens. I always suggest watching some of the world shows and looking at the ages of the horses (they post them right under their names)

Well, i think i have to seriously think how to better manage m’y horses, i bought several, some sent to training and to différent trainers and some not. But i had issues lately with all of them. I tried not to overwork them and even asking to professional help i had issues

Maybe bookmark this and run those ideas by a good orthopedic veterinary specialist, see what is new and how to manage youngsters best with what we know today and the individual horse you are making plans for.
Be observant and flexible, do just what each horse needs, don’t be set on any theory when applying any of them:

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Breaking a two year old, sure.

Riding a two year old hard and/or consistently, no.

I’m all for getting them under saddle before they get strong and opinionated. It’s easier for all parties involved. Then, once you’ve gotten stop-go and basic steering, turn him back out for a couple seasons.

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Most horsekeeping practices discussed you get the answer, “it depends”, blanket statements usually don’t apply. But when the topic of starting two years come up many start clutching pearls and a line is drawn in sand.

It’s not as simple as riding two year olds or not. There are too many factors involved to make it a yes or no answer. The training program, the ground, the horse as an individual are major variables.
For years I started colts and rode for cutting and cowhorse trainers (very little reining). I started colts according to their program. There were some trainers I’d never buy a futurity flunk out from and there’s trainers I would.

Although anecdotal, over the years I’ve seen horses futurity, derby in the open then go on to pack non-pros for years and retire sound. I’ve seen horses that didn’t make it past 5.
On the other hand, being from a ranch back ground where we raised horses outside, were ran loose and as close to a “wild horse” situation as you get I’ve noticed the same. Some horses weren’t started until their 3, 4, 5 + year. Some lasted into their 20s and some only a few years. One I used into his 20s was crooked legged to boot. It’s not as easy as age started for longevity.

My best advice to the OP, start out researching the potential trainers and their programs. At the end of the day it’s your horse, your decision.

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I (when I did young horses), typically backed them at 2. Ridden lightly to establish “go, stop, turn”. Then training started in earnest ~3 1/2. Groundwork done daily from the get-go (just basics, nothing super exciting).

I find that horses really like routine. If that routine is, out in the field, work with a human for 30 minutes or so doing “something”, then go back out in the field, they tend to like it, not get burnt out, nor have excessive injuries. If the work done is out in the country (like actual cow work or trails) they can go longer.

I think burnout and injuries happen when trainers push horses beyond their physical limits. We get greedy and forget that if we were to be pulled out of a pasture and put in intense physical training at the gym we’d break too. We’d also be pissed off at the person making us go to the gym. So it’s all in how the work is done. I spend a lot of time prepping my horses for under saddle work so that they can carry me comfortably. Even after a break for winter & ice like we just had, I won’t go back to walk trot canter immediately. Not fair to them!

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IF they are mentally mature and sound, they need to go into a program as a long yearling/early 2 if you’re going to be serious.

Most serious people in the reining and breed worlds are going to quickly lose interest at anything 3+ that doesn’t have a basic handle on it. If the economy dumps and you need to sell, you will not get top dollar and you will not have as many interested parties.

Generally, something is wrong with a horse that isn’t under saddle at 2. Either it’s mentally immature, or it’s unsound - both are bad.


That all said, my personal horses I don’t want ridden strenuously until they’re 4. I have a 5 year old mare who got 60 days as a 2, then sat during the pandemic and a pandemic job change on my part. She’s currently learning things my other horses had down as 3 year olds in the past. If she was a resell project, I’d be absolutely screwed. Luckily, I bred her for myself and plan on keeping her so the timeline is what it is and I have no expectations.

The horses I feel REALLY bad for are the ones who just never get a decent education. I love the people who send out their long yearlings to live in a program - no riding, but living in a busy barn, on a longe line a couple of times per week, experiencing the hot walker or eurocizer, understanding how to tie and be content in a stall, and maybe hauling to a show or two. Those are the ones who really have a mental leg up on their counter parts who live in the same pasture for years and then are expected to go understand the real world and it’s all very, very overwhelming.

Young Education > Late Education> No Education

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I agree. But on the other hand if they don’t fit the breed or association(NCHA, NRCHA, NRHA) and they are sound, they still sell. May not be a cutter, cow horse or reiner but they may be a good fit as a rope or barrel horse, maybe ranch riding/versatility.
Although that “slipped through the cracks” horse gap might be tighten some with the new onset of the rope and barrel horse futurities with nominated stallions with bigger pots, they like the cutter/cowhorse/reiner rejects.