Training the 3 year old

I have an early 3 year old who will be four in February. I just started her under saddle this month. In terms of her development and growth, is it better to give her the late fall/ winter off and then put her into training next spring/summer? Or keep her going lightly through the winter slowly building up muscle/strength?

I would prefer to keep her going as I may have to sell her at some point, but if her back plates need time to grow and close without me on her back, then I will most definitely give her the time off. thanks! :slight_smile:

Do a search…there have been several threads on this very subject recently.

My 3 year old has been in training since last February. He’s been to 3 shows to hang out and will be going to Thermal early next year. Plan is to show in the baby greens.

He’s ridden 6 days a week…jumps a couple of days, I think. Just low stuff. He’s doing great…no pressure and he seems to like the activity/attention. We’ll keep going as long as he seems to like his job.

He’s Holsteiner, if that makes any difference. About 16.3 - pretty “durable” conformation. Good legged.

He’ll be a true 4 year old next July.

IMO it depends on how sound you want the horse to remain and how long you want him/her to last.

I have been horrified by the sheer number of lame and “broken” 3-4 year olds I have seen on my shopping adventures.

That said, I think keeping busy and possibly even hacking around and out on trail until their 4 year old year can be good for mind and body - but all this ring work and lunging and jumping and expecting them to go in a “frame” at 3? Horrible.

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My 3.5 year old has been in lite training this season and has gone to a few small clinics where the lessons were short. He has also been shown in two training level tests at a local level show and just completed his first very baby horse trial at the introductory level. He is doing super and is never asked or expected to be in a frame–he is expected to steer and stop and move off the leg. If he offers more great–but he is not forced to carry himself. His rider also happens to be rail thin–maybe 100lb and is very well balanced and experienced.

We hope to show him Young Event Horse series next season. We have not pressured him in any way—he is Never lunged, not at home or out–he is also not drilled. He is enjoying his work and is sound. He will be turned out for a bit with just some light riding till october.

Knowing where you’re located, I’d say it also depends on the turnout situation… better to keep them in light work than to stand around in a little paddock… !

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Thanks guys. Go Fish, I will do a search, thanks for the suggestion. It seems there is always a lot of varying opinions. A friend of mine went to watch a dressage clinic this weekend. She trailered a boarder’s three year old and the clinician specifically instructed her to start teaching the youngster to go in a frame as that is how they build strength. Again, a lot of varying opinions.

My mare is on field turnout right now (but that closes Nov 1), and I can attempt to find pasture board for the winter, or bring her in to a stall/paddock situation and keep her working.

My horse is a Holsteiner as well, about 16hh,

Since I have several three year olds this year, I will give you some insight: The 17.1 had one has had 60 days of work and is back out in the field for 30 days or so. The next 17 hand three year old is on the same schedule and so is the third. One of the smaller ones (16.1) had had 45 days consistently and is continuing on a more sporadic schedule. There are two more three year old to start this fall and they will get worked until the weather gets rough and then they too will get a break.
We do not do any lunging until they have a base line of fitness. During the winter they all learn to loose school and at 3 1/2 they learn to free jump.
Since we compete our home breds often in to their 20s this works for us.

My opinion, I don’t ride three year olds. I condition them from a young age. My two year old and five month old go on trails all over the hills and get out and move in all terrain all of the time. They are also completely “trained” from tying to saddles, bits, trailering, etc, but the time they’re four. But, I don’t ride them. I’m completely with Perfect Pony in that I think all of this early work takes a LOT of soundness and time off of their lives, and I’ve had a lot of experience with this. Waiting six months or a year, I think, leaves the horses so much sounder in the long run. It can also make a HUGE difference in their mental attitude. You can fight with a three year old about something for months, whereas training it in a four year old is not a problem.

The study you’re looking for is Deb Bennet’s study on bone growth in horses. It’s titled something like “Ranger.” I can’t put a link because it’s a pdf. It’s at the top of the page on this google, though.
http://www.google.com/search?q=deb+bennet+bone+growth+in+horses+ranger&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

It has what I think you’re looking for. Basically she extensively explains how bones grow and how because of this, she would never ride anything less than four, and how you need to not push them too hard until about 7 because the neck bones are still closing. The point of it is how bad racing two year olds is, but it applies to all horses.

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Ask 10 people, you’ll get 12 answers.

Personally I like them started young (hacking, moving forward) so they figure out that they have a job early on. It’s when the become accustomed to their life of leisure and don’t do any real work until 4 1/2 - 5 that you get the monsters.

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Interesting … well currently my rides are pathetically short. I get on, walk her, make her do a few circles, serpentines, halt walk, and then trot one or two loops around the ring in both directions and we’re done … I don’t even canter at this point and probably won’t for awhile.

And I did do a search, didn’t come up with anything. Perhaps my key words were wrong.

[quote=JWB;5110559]Ask 10 people, you’ll get 12 answers.

Personally I like them started young (hacking, moving forward) so they figure out that they have a job early on. It’s when the become accustomed to their life of leisure and don’t do any real work until 4 1/2 - 5 that you get the monsters.[/quote]

I agree, that 3 year old year is such a wonderful time for them to learn new things without the natural fear of an animal evolved to a flight response. There’s a very good reason for that too - up to 3 they are still under the watchful eye of the herd so curiosity and lack of fear is still safe. As they get older, it’s good to be done with the learning and start relying on “leave first, ask questions later” since mom won’t be making the decisions for you anymore. I think that 3 year old year is your golden opportunity to teach a horse that we may ask them to do a lot of really stupid scary things from their perspective, but they can trust our judgment, but it’s a narrow window.

And if you start a horse at 3 you don’t have to progress at a schedule that has you ready to jump around a course at 4 - it’s not a hard and fast rule, you know. You can get on that 3 year old and just spend 15-20 minutes teaching him new experiences that do not physically strain him. If his trot and canter aren’t balanced, you don’t need to push him if that’s your cup of tea. If you do find he has a lot of natural balance and rhythm, he’s probably telling you he’s capable of a bit more. Common sense can be your guide.

I was progressing along the same path as Go Fish, and I looked at the winter show calendar around here :dead:, figured the weather would mess with my plans for training this winter anyway, and thought that I could push back the baby greens to late spring/early summer and do just fine. So I changed my plans to doing a lot of trail riding and hacking with my guy. He’s got a brain and a half, and I’d like to get him out on the trails this fall (assuming it ever gets here). That will put some solid walking fitness on him, and again, he’s going to see a lot of new things (this time w/o the safety of being on the pony lead with my older horse). Then he will probably get some light work in the dead of winter - just enough to remind him of his real job) and I will bring him back along in the late winter to start his show horse career. Many roads to Rome and all that.

There’s certainly more than a few disciplines that start a horse young, with the european large farms leading the charge. Those horses are showing 3’6 by the time they are 5 and they didn’t get that way by being started at 4, they are started at 3 and everyone familiar with the system knows that. Probably somewhere between 18-22 mos like a racehorse and 4 years is a happy medium, but whatever works for you. Either way, there are plenty of late started lame horses out there as well as plenty of super sound early started youngsters. If anyone had worked out the “real” answer with any decent statistical base, there wouldn’t be so many answers out there.

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You will find a huge range of opinions on this. I think you have to just pay attention to the horse and do what seems best for that horse and your situation. My current 3 yr old gets ridden for a short wtc 4 x week. He will start a tiny bit of jumping this month and then come November he will get turned out again until the spring. He is fairly well developed muscle wise for a three year old but is growing like a weed. He looks bigger every time I see him.

[QUOTE=not again;5110443]Since I have several three year olds this year, I will give you some insight: The 17.1 had one has had 60 days of work and is back out in the field for 30 days or so. The next 17 hand three year old is on the same schedule and so is the third. One of the smaller ones (16.1) had had 45 days consistently and is continuing on a more sporadic schedule. There are two more three year old to start this fall and they will get worked until the weather gets rough and then they too will get a break.
We do not do any lunging until they have a base line of fitness. During the winter they all learn to loose school and at 3 1/2 they learn to free jump.
Since we compete our home breds often in to their 20s this works for us.[/QUOTE]

This is similar to what I have always done with my horses and ditto the comment re competing into the 20s.

Yup, you will get a million different opinions on this. Bottom line? If you’re asking/researching, that means you care - and so you will likely do the right thing if you follow your gut.

Me personally? I know lots of people would be horrified by my schedule - I back mine lightly at 2.5 and keep them in very light work (sat on twice a week for 5-10 min, long-lined or free-jumped once a week) consistently. I don’t believe in sporadic work once they’re “going”. I believe it taking things nice and slooow, building up to more work very gradually over 2 years. This means no more than 3 (short!) rides a week for a 3 yr old and no more than 4 rides a week for a 4 yr old, and so on. I generally always start them around the same time but jumping is different - i will only start jumping a young horse under tack if they’re well started and balanced at all 3 gaits.

I am very familiar with Deb Bennett’s article but my understanding is that she went by the assumption that when the horse was started (at x age), it was officially put into “work”. Like those who wait until 3.5-4 yrs and then immediately start working their young horses 5-6 days a week. To me, and this is strictly a personal feeling, that is a recipe for long-term soundness issues.

Do parents wait until their children are finished “growing” before putting them into sports/gymnastics programs? Of course not. Gentle exercise HELPS a growing body - it helps to strengthen and develop the bones and muscles, if done properly. :yes:

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What about those preparing horses for the FEI 4 year olds?

[QUOTE=JWB;5110559]Ask 10 people, you’ll get 12 answers.

Personally I like them started young (hacking, moving forward) so they figure out that they have a job early on. It’s when the become accustomed to their life of leisure and don’t do any real work until 4 1/2 - 5 that you get the monsters.[/QUOTE]

Agreed. In my experience they are more likely to have a career ending injury in a paddock accident than by being lightly started at age three.

Answer #13.

My 3 yr old KWPN gelding got started in April by a professional. He does w/t/c nicely in the ring and hacks out a lot. He has been to quite a few shows as a non-competing horse and to several clinics with Bob Orton. He just did a schooling show USDF A and B with a 75% and 72%.

He is going to BLMs as a non-competing horse too. Then he is coming home Nov 1st to be turned out until next spring.

We kept going with him longer then we planned because he never indicated he was being stressed or over taxed. Great work ethic and cheerful every day no matter what we did with him. I only rode him a little bit myself. Next year I will have the ride on him after he gets started back up again by the professional.

[QUOTE=Centuree;5111232]
And I did do a search, didn’t come up with anything. Perhaps my key words were wrong.[/QUOTE]

Were you able to follow the link? I can get it. It’s the top placement on the page about skeletal maturation of horses. It’s a pdf, so you have to download it to read it.

It sounds like what you’re doing with the horse is just fine, mostly sitting and playing and not working hard.

Yankee–I think the FEI 5 year old tests are a bad idea. The tendency is going to be to start to soon and push too hard.

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[QUOTE=Beentheredonethat;5112352]
Yankee–I think the FEI 5 year old tests are a bad idea. The tendency is going to be to start to soon and push too hard.[/QUOTE]

I meant USEF 4 year old test, not FEI, sorry if that was confusing. The 4 year old test is not very difficult. I don’t push my horses too hard. I was curious about how others prepare because if anything my prep might be too light.

Mr. Joey Starbuck is six this year. He has yet to show in a dressage test. He WAS ready, but then sliced his front pastern area, so he has been recovering. When he does go into a class, he will start at 1st level.

Having said that, we started him at 3. He went to Devon at three and a half, and showed in the materiale and suitability classes (tied for second in materiale, 10th in suitability.) He had been ridden a total of about 10-15 times when he went into this class, and was turned out after Devon, and wasn’t started again until the fair weather arrived in 2008. We did the same thing in 2008 and 2009.

I have a trainer that weighs about 100 lbs, soaking wet, which I believe makes a difference. IMHO … not fact. He is worked probably about 3- or 4-days per week. He is sound. He is mentally sound. He hass never had a sore back. He hasn’t had a day of lameness … well, that’s a lie. Twice … once after a trailer ride and once when he decided to goof off in the pasture pond.

April (Watermark) has been started, but isn’t ready to canter yet (not balanced) and she’s 5. Dickens will be started next fall … at 3.5. But very very lightly. Mentally, we’ll have to see how it goes. He may not be ready.

The bottom line, IMHO, is slow and steady. There was an article in Warmbloods magazine recently about a 20 year old gelding still competing grand prix (I think.) THAT’s what my objective is for all my horses. More importantly, they are all happy girls and boys. They are calm, have exceptional ground manners, trailer impeccably. And each has a distinct personality…because, I believe, they’ve been allowed to be horses, not machines.

Teddy O’Connor taught me four very important lessons:
[LIST=1]

  • Just because your horse hasn't done grand prix (regardless of discipline) at the age of 7 doesn't mean he never will.
  • Just because your horse isn't 17-hands doesn't mean he can't do grand prix (regardless of discipline.)
  • It can all end in a hearbeat.
  • It's about the JOURNEY, not the ribbons. Treasure all moments when your horse is just being himself. THAT'S where the joy is. [/LIST]
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