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Safe Start

So, yet another piece suggesting the way to health and happiness with horses is not to ride them before they are “fully mature”.


Up until the last “table” about useful life span, it was pretty much just someone’s opinion backed up by the facts about skeletal development, which are fairly well documented, although there is no proof that it’s “wrong” to work/ride a horse with open growth plates. I would argue with the statement that this is “set” though as every study has suggested that while there isn’t necessarily a difference across breeds, there is a significant range across individuals. Anyone who has worked with a lot of young horses has seen a more obvious example of this in the schedule of permanent teeth coming in. We all know at which age teeth “should” exchange but they don’t magically pop up on the horse’s birthday and, in fact, horses of the same age can be months apart in this area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat really annoys me though is the last “table”. It looks like “science” but if you read the notes it’s one person’s observation!!! That is clearly an attempt to make the opinion look like fact when it’s not. If you want to prove a point with science, have at it. But use actual PROOF not just your opinion dressed up like science. Frankly, for me, that sort of thing significantly devalues the argument – If there is all this proof that riding horses under, say, 6 damages them then it should be very easy to get those numbers together. It’s also a warning that if you are trying to base your own path – or attack other people’s practices – on the basis of hard data you need to look very closely at the source of that information. Disagreement and debate are good. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But at least be honest and admit it’s an opinion, not fact.

My personal view is that good sense needs to prevail. Unfortunately there is no easy chart or formula for this, it involves continually assessing the horses you work with. It certainly doesn’t mean trotting out the whole “Well they wouldn’t have YH classes if it wasn’t a reasonable standard for all horses,” or “YH classes are tantamount to child slavery” argument. YH classes are not for all horses. They aren’t even for most horses. If you’re not experienced enough to assess if they are suitable questions for your horse or not, either ask for help from someone who does know or work on the assumption you’re not experienced enough to produce the horse for them and just go at your own pace.

How a horse is produced is at least as important as the time scale. Instead of patting yourself on the back Screen shot 2014-11-06 at 17.43.04for “doing the right thing” consider all the many and myriad factors that go in to producing nice horses and weigh them against what is practical/possible for your reality. As my favourite Ludger Beerbaum quote goes, “Success is the SUM of good decisions.”

And then accept the fact (and it’s a well proven one!) is, there are no guarantees in life. I cannot imagine how anyone who has grown to adulthood has managed to cling to that belief. Sometimes you will do everything right and it will still go wrong. Sometimes you will do everything wrong and it will still go right. More often it will be somewhere in the middle. This is particularly true in horses, where the horse brings a lot to the party that we can’t control. I get that people want to do their “best” by their horses but maybe one of the things we need to accept is that they are not simply neutral lumps of clay for us to mould.

About the author


TarrSteps is a Citizen of the World (aka Canadian) currently working with young horses and "problem solving" - for both horse and riders - in the Surrey area. She has dabbled in most horsey disciplines but loves eventing because there is always another question to ask and another answer to find.