Do you have a young, unbroken horse that you’re not sure what to do with? Or do you have a foal on the way? When is the best time to train a horse? Then this article may be for you! Starting a young or baby horse correctly is essential for that horse’s success.
But, there’s a whole world of difference between working with a young or baby horse and working with a green-broke horse. A horse that has already been saddled, and maybe ridden a few times (i.e.- “green-broke”) has at least seen what his job will look like.
All of these things and more, I will be discussing in this article. The best time to train a horse is as soon as it takes its first breaths. But, horse training is a long and very involved process that takes place over a lifetime. It’s essential to go at the right pace for the horse to be successful.
When is the Best Time to Train a Horse
A baby horse, or a very young horse, has never seen a halter, never seen an arena, and never seen you. So, how and when do you start working with this baby? And how quickly can you introduce new things? And how do you introduce new things without compromising his growth and development?
Handling (0-6 or 9 months)
Basic horse handling should happen as soon as a foal puts its feet on the ground. Foals should be touched and handled by as many people as possible, in order to get them used to human contact.
Think of this stage like socializing a young puppy. You want a foal to be exposed to the very basics of being a horse. People should be touching him, interacting with him, going in and out of his stall or pasture, etc.
You should also be introducing him to very basic things that he will be encountering. He should be haltered and introduced to a lead rope. He should be introduced to hay and water buckets. He should be allowed to go out in a pasture with his mom. At this point, he could also be introduced to indoor and outdoor arenas with his mom.
GroundWork (6 months- 2 years)
During this stage of a horse’s life, you should begin incorporating ground-work and manners. This is really a continuation of teaching him how to be handled. It’s important your horse learns ground manners and basic body language as a youngster so that he is respectful when he gets bigger and heavier.
This can also be called “in-hand” work. Much of it comes from your horse understanding that he needs to move away from pressure. Your horse should know that he is to move over when you put pressure on his haunch, or on his shoulder.
He should understand how to walk in-hand, to stop when you stop, and to go when you go. He should (eventually) understand how to stand still for decent amounts of time, to prepare him for being tacked up later on in his life.
Some people begin lounging their horses during this time period as well. That way the horses can start learning verbal cues such as “Woah” and clucking.
When is the Best Time to Train a Horse: Saddling (2-4 years)
Of course, everyone wants to know when they can start the process of teaching their young horse to be ridden. And, many, many people begin this stage too early. Check out the below image of a horse’s skeletal development, from EquineLink.com.
As you can see, a horse’s bones don’t completely stop growing until they are six years old! Yet many people think they should start riding horses when they are younger than three. Pay special attention to the horse’s legs and leg joints in the chart.
These legs and leg joints should NOT be subject to the weight of a rider until they have been fully developed. In fact, many renowned trainers say that a horse should not bear the weight of a rider until it is four years old, at least.
However, there are many things you can do to prepare your horse for riding during this stage of his life! While the weight of a rider might be too much at this age, the weight of a saddle certainly isn’t. Saddles, especially English ones, typically weigh less than 20 pounds. And, getting your horse used to wearing a saddle, girth, saddle blanket, and bridle can be a lengthy process.
Each article should be introduced separately and slowly. Many horse trainers use a round pen to introduce tack to a young horse. Young horses can be lodged with tack on to begin developing their muscles.
When is the Best Time to Train a Horse: Riding (4+ years)
Experts’ best estimate today is that it is safe to start riding horses at about four years old. At this point, your horse should have gone through lots of exposure, basic groundwork, and an introduction to tack.
Once his joints and bones have developed enough to carry a rider, it’s time to start teaching him the ropes. But, always, always, always consult your vet. Though most horses develop at roughly the same rate, there are always exceptions.
You want to make sure your horse is sound, happy, and strong before you put a rider on his back.
So, when is the best time to train your horse? As soon as your horse takes its first breath. But, the stages of horse training look very different depending on how old your horse is and where he is in his development.
Starting your horse slowly and correctly is the best thing you can do to help his future successes. Young horses have lots of things to take in and understand that older horses are simply used to. Many of these things we don’t even realize.
So, the best bet to start a young horse is to make sure his riding training lines up with the stage of life he is in. Make sure as many people handle him and approach him as possible. Get him used to the sights and sounds that he will experience every day for the rest of his life.
I hope this article helped you better understand when to start training your horse. If so, please share this article, and share with us your experiences training young horses!