January 18, 2010
When is the best age to begin training your young horse?
I have a coming-on 2-year-old colt. When is the best time to start training a young colt? I have handled him since he was born.
Twenty years ago, we routinely started 2 year olds under saddle, but thankfully, this routine has changed over time. If I had a very compelling reason, like early competition, sales or because the colt was very rambunctious, I might start a horse in the fall of his 2-year-old year. Otherwise, I’d prefer to wait until the horse is 3 and more mature. The size of the horse and the size of the rider is a factor here, too, especially for a 2 year old.
The difference between a 2 year old and a 3 year old is huge, and the same could be said between a 3 and 4 year old. A year later, the horse is much more mature physically and mentally, and his attention span is much greater. So he is better able to handle the training — and the training goes much faster. Three and 4 year olds are still quite malleable in their mind and behavior and easy to train, but once the horse gets to be 5 and over, he may become more set in his ways and not take to training well (“I’ve never had to do this before, why should I now?”).
I wouldn’t get in too big a hurry to train your young horse under saddle. Work on ground manners and getting him as much exposure as you can (hauling him to different places; getting him used to standing tied; ponying him with an older horse, etc.) but hold off at least until the fall of his 2-year-old year to start any mounted work. Then, I would only ride him lightly for 30 days or so and turn him out for the winter and start again in the spring of his 3-year-old year. If it were my colt, I’d prefer to start him in the spring of his 3-year-old year. I know you are eager to get started, but remember, he is really still a baby and needs time to grow up, both physically and mentally. There is lots of time left in his riding career! Good luck.
— AQHA Professional Horseman Julie Goodnight, spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association