View Full Version : What age to break in

14-05-04, 09:00 AM
Hi, my friend has a 17 month old QH that she started breaking in a few months ago. She backed the filly about 3 months ago and now she is taking her for short rides only at walk along the beach. She is trying to be carefull by not riding her for too long or too far in soft sand. I think its great that she has got the filly used to so many different things, but I still feel that she is doing too much, I broke my mare in at 3 and she was very tired to start with. What does everyone else think, and can any harm come to the filly's bones etc. My friend loves her horses and is aware to be careful, but she bought the filly at 11 months old instead of getting something a bit older and she is a bit impatient.

14-05-04, 09:24 AM
I think this subject is a hard one and every horse person you speak to has different opinions! I think it depends on the breed although me personally I wouldnt even bother puting a fast maturing breed under saddle until atleast 2 (and slow maturing breeds more like 3) but saying that I think you can do as much ground work and preparation before hand. I think it also depends on the individual horse as well and what sort of work you are doing - I wouldnt start doing any serious work until there knees have closed over! I'm sure you will get lots of different responses though!

14-05-04, 03:28 PM
Well..... QH's mature fairly early, but IMHO, 17 MONTHS is FAR too young! Your last comment Kerry about your friend being a bit impatient tells it all for me. Even if your friend is just walking the filly, she's just a BABY for goodness sake, and her knees are still going to be open, never mind the vertebrae in her spine! If the saddle is incorrectly fitted, this can be doing irreparable damage at such a tender age when everything is so soft.

Your friend would be much better off doing more from the ground. Suggest she take the filly for a walk on the lead instead of under saddle. The sand on the beach can be very hard for a fit, experienced horse to deal with, never mind an immature baby horse! Tell your friend to try walking through the sand herself to see how hard it is. She can give her filly irreplacable experience by taking her out for walks and seeing new things and places - that's why young horses who are shown in breed classes as babies are usually so good to take out and compete under saddle, as they've seen so much when they were little.

I have a QH x Stockhorse mare who I bred and 'backed' when she was just over 2, and there was no way I would ever have even considered backing her any earlier than this, and she didn't do any real work until she was nearly 4 as she was such a little weedy thing. Not suggesting that your friend's filly is the same, but your own 3yo is probably a good example.

My current youngster is almost 3 1/2 and is now back in work after her post 'break-in' turnout of over 4 months, and is so much more able to physically cope with the work than she was when she was broken in at 2 yrs and 8 months.



14-05-04, 04:57 PM
So basically she backed the filly at 14 months old?
Yes, she IS too young (by the way soft sand may be easier on the joints, but it is much more strain on the tendons and ligaments).And yes, she can and will do damage to the filly's skeletal structure. She may never see evidence of it or acknowledge it even if she does see it. In my opinion she should stop all ridden work now and turn her out for at least another year. I personally would not back a horse under the age of 3, and doing it under the age of 2 borders on abuse in my book. No, I take that back...it IS abuse.
If she 'loves' the horse she will do what's best for it. If she is 'careful' she will carefully allow her to grow. Do try and help your friends horse and try and make your friend see the error of her ways.
Good luck!

15-05-04, 12:37 AM
I think there's different meanings to 'backing'.

I backed one of my colts at 22 months - by this I mean he carried a surcingled with a saddlecloth, and I would sit on him and walk him around for maybe max 30 mins per week - just to get used to someone sitting on his back. Then at around 24 months he got used to a saddle, which he had no problems with. 25 months - he was thrown into a paddock for a full year of spelling, to grow and have fun.

17 months to actually be ridden is WAY too young. Maybe a surcingle and saddle cloth, just to get used to it, but actually sitting on their back?

15-05-04, 01:39 AM
Whilst I personally think that this age is too young to be being "ridden" what about the racehorses, I have worked with plenty of them and they are broken in at around 16 months old, by the time they turn two they have had a full preparation, turned out and been back in work and trialled ready for the two year old races- keep in mind that it takes 100 days of work to be ready to race. So a two year old race in october the baby has been in full work since june, and has already been broken and spelled before that. I am not saying it is right or wrong, maybe that is why so many break down but it is accepted in the racing industry...

15-05-04, 02:15 AM
It's amazing what is accepted when money comes into it...

17 months is way too young for any horse to be started under saddle (in my opinion) they are only babies still and it's a lot to cope with at that age, mentally and physically.

Why are people so impatient? If they left their horses until they were mentally and physically able to cope with being ridden, I think there would be a lot of horses having more useful ridden lifes...

Definitely agree with earlier posters.


15-05-04, 02:18 AM
It's unfortuante for the thoroughbreds that have been broken in at such a young age do break down either during their racing career and if not then at a later date once they have moved on as a performance or pleasure mount.
I have also worked with racehorses and just recently seen a tiny thoroughbred broken in & put into intial training & I felt soooo sorry for the little colt, he was just like a baby yearling!!!! But they have been doing this for many years now.
Racing is a fantastic & exciting industry but also a real eye opener!!!!

I just bought myself a 6 months old warmblood filly who I don't plan to have broken in til she is 3. I am also a very impatatient person but certainly would not rush a youngster under saddle!

I strongly suggest your friend sticks to ground work for now!

15-05-04, 02:22 AM
This is totally and utterly my opinion, and I know it goes against the whole racing industry ... BUT ... I think one of the cruelest things I have ever seen is young TB racehorses-to-be being broken in. Those tiny baby little things, hardly even grown ... being tortured so that they can race.

I've been to a couple of big name pre-training/breaking stables and seen how those horses are treated ... and I'm sorry ... no matter how nice they are, how correct the training might be ... they are BABIES!!!! Undeveloped young horses ... they come back from the yearling sales and straight into breaking.

I had my current WB broken in at 3 ... if I had my time again ... I would have left him a lot longer. I was impatient and I paid the price, in that the horse took just as long to mature and I just waited the same amount of time at a different point.

15-05-04, 02:45 AM
DIDDO on the racehorse opinion dressage dreamer!
I know there are some excellent racehorse trainers out there but I too have experienced and seen the bad side to those not so good trainers...not nice!!

Why do you say you would have left your WB a lot longer? 3 is a reasonable age for breaking before they start to get too big and strong. I realise every horse is different and maybe yours was an extra slow maturer, but was there a particular reason why you would wait if you had your chance again?
Just curious as I have a WB to be broken in future!!!!

15-05-04, 02:47 AM
Considering that a horses bones mature from the ground up and that the back done is not fully mature until the horse is 6yrs, 17 months is WAY to young to be riding. Sure get them out and about but on a lead.

I do not like racing at all Im afraid.

I was impatient too after my riding horse had to be put down - but I still waited until my ISH was 3 before I got him broken in.

15-05-04, 03:17 AM
From experienc ei would say that is a rather harsh generalisation of that racing industry.

I used to break in racehorses, and i would have anywhere up to 45 youngsters begining their working life at any one time (obviously it was not only me working there).
Not one of these horses were inder the age of 2y.o

There was not one cruel method we used, and all of these horses (who came from very reputable stables in the racing industry) were treated with kindness and allowed to do things and learn things in their own time.

Of course, as in every industry involving animals, there are people who take the 'ruff and tuff' road, but not all.

To say that they all come from the yearling sales straight to the breakers is infact a falicy, the majority of them are there for 'pre-breaking' work.

Whilst many young horses are broken in for the racing purpose, as with the horses destined to be cutting futurity champions, they are supplemented to counteract their young bones.

You should also notice that many of the horses broken in young, are not infact kept in work from the time of breaking.
The breaking is done, and then a large portion of these animals are turned out to mature and then bought back in again.

15-05-04, 04:47 AM
Thanks for your replies everyone, you have confirmed what I have been thinking. My friend got her filly at about 10 months old and straight away started float training her, taking her out for walks, lunging her, lunging her with surcingle, mouthed her then long reined her about the place everywhere. Initially I think they just intended to put the saddle on and sit on her, but the temptation has been too much and now at the beach my friend and her husband take the filly and an older horse on short walking rides. She has done everything so fast. When she was looking for a horse I tried to strongly advise her to go for a two or three year old, but she had her eye on this filly. She does keep on saying that she is being very careful and she knows that if she stuffs her bones etc up now thats it forever, so I don't know what else to say without getting her shitty.

Thanks again for your replies.

15-05-04, 04:32 PM
Kerry, print the entire thread out and hand it to your friend to read. Walking for a young horse is just as difficult as trotting - perhaps even more so? as there is no period when the rider is off the horse's back as in rising trot, so please, PLEASE, show this post to your friend.

I know what it's like to be impatient to get a young horse going, and while this little baby filly is probably going along quite happily now, once she starts to feel uncomfortable she will start to act up - maybe. Centaur is right, soft sand is very hard on the tendons and ligaments, beach sand especially. I have a mature gelding who developed windgalls at 15 when we installed our new dressage arena and the sand was too deep. Fortunately his damage was repairable, but this might not be so for your friend's filly.

I currently have my own 17 month old warmblood/TB filly who is about 15 hands, and certainly looks like a mature horse at a quick glance, but she's just a little baby too, and I wouldn't even DREAM of doing anything more than maybe put a saddle blanket on her back if I got really bored. But then, I've got other horses to occupy myself with while I wait for her to grow. I may start her when she is 2 and a bit, I may wait longer, depending on her growth pattern. She has done a fair bit of groundwork, been shown and taught to lunge, just enough to give her a basic idea of what it's about, but that's all.

If we can't help you convince your friend, then she's just going to have to learn the hard way by her mistakes, and the poor little filly is going to be the one who will suffer in the long run - not to mention that your friend will probably be very much out of pocket.

Thanks for trying, and good luck with your efforts on this filly's behalf.



16-05-04, 10:57 AM
Geez.... no offence to your friend here but her impatience to ride is not only selfish but endangering her horses(or should i say foal) Welfare. How much of a future workinglife is this horse going to have when her legs are deformed and back is shot through the stress of trying to carry a person that she by rights should not yet be forced to carry. Total ignorance and her mentality of well i make sure that i ride her gently is worthy of headshaking.
Whats waiting another year or two going to make in the long run when the deformities and stress shes causing now could cut her productive and painfree woring life in half??
I also dont like the racing industry either, have seen it first hand and was appalled.
My warmblood was broken just before he turned 4.
You wouldnt expect a child to do the physical work of a man... Same goes with horses.. dont expect a yealing to do the work of a horse.
Thats me had my say... if its blunt.. sorry.

Kiwi Lou
17-05-04, 04:23 AM
17 months is FAR to young to be riding a horse!

There, my 2c ~ Short and sweet (and I could go on AT LENGTH!)

17-05-04, 12:03 PM
My rising three year old is still running around the paddock being a delinquent. I must admit, that when they're young, and an early maturer I can see why it must be so tempting, especially with something a lovely nature as the QH above obviously has.

Just smiling at those who say that they don't like to leave them too late. I've been riding a just started 9 year old the past nine months - and honestly, she'd have to be the fastest learner I've ever had.

But then I've started her 15 year old sire over the last couple of weeks, and he's just a doll. Know their own strength? This guy is just self assured, sweet, and I think he's really enjoying the fact that finally he's got something to think about:-) Now that he understands that its ok to walk around under saddle, he has this attitude that is so willing and quick I keep asking his breeder whether he's been broken in before, because he sure rides like it.

I've ridden a few horses that were left until late (6 - 12 years) and honestly, they've all taken to riding like ducks to water, and they've all been quite trainable.

Considering that a horse should ideally live and stay sound for 20 or 30 years, what is wrong with waiting an extra 12 to 18 months? I can say, if you've got something that's older and unstarted in the paddock, don't be afraid to get it broken in, you may find it an enjoyable experience.


18-05-04, 02:52 AM
Melsy, yes I did do a harsh generalisation ... but there are a lot of horses out there doing 2 year old racing, and that means logically they have to have been in work under 2 years of age.

Lousie, the reason I think my WB was too young to break in at 3 was he was very immature physically ... cantering without a rider was very hard for him let alone WITH a rider, so looking back I should have let him go a bit longer. Yes physically he would have been stronger and that could have caused more problems, but I think it would have actually caused less problems ... if he had found the breaking process easier there may not have been as much resistance to it. He found it hard just to get his legs coordinated for transitions, and that meant he learnt to throw his head instead of using his back. The training from there on has been to get him to relax his back, as he is so tense, contributed to by being pushed too young, as well as just being the horse he is.

Who knows ... I may have had more problems by leaving him another year, but I doubt it ... in the long run I think it would have been less problems and faster advancement in his abilities.

18-05-04, 03:23 AM
Lack of co-ordination in transitions is quite common in green horses, and usually has alot to do with balance. I have broken in many horses who have had such difficulties who were over 3, which would tell me in many cases that it is not to do with age.
Alot of basic work will overcome this problem, and as you said the relaxinh of the back

18-05-04, 03:24 AM
The QH filly is way too young. If your friend wants to teach the filly there are plenty of things she can do on the ground. Take her to some shows and so on. She should be turned out now for at least 6 months and worked gently after that with a some spells.

I've worked briefly in the racing industry and it is a commercial reality that racehorses must be broken in and worked early. However, owners and trainers do NOT want their valuable money earners to break down. They are bred and fed to mature early, they are worked by light riders with light saddles. They are only worked for a short time (say, 15 - 20 mins on grass, not an hour doing circles on sand) and - the big thing - they are spelled often. The problem with our riding horses is that once in work, they often stay in work!

Yes, racehorses still break down and that is very sad. I'm not a fan of the racing industry but can't condemn it either. Imagine how expensive good quality athletic TBs would be if the original cost of breeding and training was not offset by the racing industry?

The issue though is that racehorses are broken in early because they have to be. We can get idealistic and say it shouldn't happen, but it won't change. So, in real terms, they have to be broken in early. Your friend has no such commercial pressure and there is absolutely no need for it.

If she needs to ride suggest that she borrows or leases a horse, pays of a trail ride or gets some lessons at a riding school.

I don't think 2 years is too young (depending on the breed and horse) but they are still babies at that age and must be treated with care. Light work, spells and so on. I've broken in 2 yo and 3yo horses and you can certainly tell the difference in maturity, but 2yos are OK as long as you give them a chance.

18-05-04, 04:28 AM
I have known big TB colts to be broken in at 13 months then thrown back out in the paddock to gain greater mental maturity - the training done early aimed to make them more manageable for later. But that is the extreme, and yes it does occur in Oz. At the same time, TB's broken later have a far longer racing life than those worked hard young - how bout that.
QHs have lucrative futurities at 2yo (i.e. they need to be trained, fat and shiney) - they have to do sliding stops, changes, spins etc. Tell me that is better for the horse than taking a slim 2yo TB for a gallop!
The high protein rations means the QHs being prepped for futurities grow fat and muscle faster than is possible to grow bone - the case is not the same for thoroughbreds where they do have a bit more of a chance.
If you love your horse and want it to live comfortably for the rest of its life, and to have many wonderful rides together, let it grow up properly first.

18-05-04, 04:53 AM
Eddy - can you point me to the research that indicates that TB's broken later have a far longer racing life?
I believe I have read some research in the last 6 months either by RIRDC or KER that indicates the complete opposite. If I can find it I will post the link here (I'm not an advocate of it either) & I have seen on a few occasions some fairly developed 14-18 month olds at the track doing light work. There are a lot of pre 2 yr olds out there racing. That is definitely not going to change. Wish that it would.

18-05-04, 05:50 AM

At any point in eddy's post was it stated that it was proven by research into the field? Have you considered that the conclusion may have been based on PERSONAL EXPERIENCE?

In xome cases it is most likely true, and in some it is oppositve, but that is horses, they all react differently both physically and mentally...

Indeed you are correct when you state pre 2 year olds in work most likely wont change, but it is also true for cutting futurities...

It really does need to be decided upon based on the horses maturity and of course personal belief.

19-05-04, 07:29 AM
Woah, IMHO 17 months is waaay too young. Impatience at not riding is not a valid excuse. I currently have no riding horse at present and a rising 3 yo wb/tb enjoying life as a baby in a paddock. Trust me I'm dying to ride again, but not at my baby's expense. We have started the training process (mouthed and wearing a saddle cloth and surcingle only) and that's as far as we'll go for the present. I'll back her early next year and then leave her for at least another 6 months before we start to think about work under saddle.

Perhaps your friend could lease another horse to ride. If she is really keen to give her baby "life experiences" she could lead her off another horse. Another year out makes all the difference to a bubs but not much over the space of (hopefully) a lifetime together.

22-05-04, 01:32 PM
Hi again, my friend does have an old very fit mare that she has had for about 14 years and we ride together every weekend, so she does actually have a great horse to ride, as I say she is impatient and has already rushed through a lot of the ground work. She has taken her to a led show, and she was also leading her out for rides from her older mare. She rang me the other night to tell me that she had her first trot on the filly, as the filly trotted to catch up to her husband who was on the older mare. I asked her if she was going to consider turning her out to grow and just keep on with ground work now that she has done this much, I also said that being a baby the vertibrae in her back would still be soft and her knees open etc. Her reply was that no, she wouldn't stop riding her and that race horses are started just as young. I'm just going to let it go now, although I don't agree with it, it is her filly and I'm not going to ruin our friendship by trying to make her do what I think is right. Hopefully it all works out well.

Thanks everyone.

24-05-04, 04:07 AM
y'know, while I wouldn't personally break in anything that young, the bottom line is that it isn't our horse. We all have our opinions, but the verdict is still very out in the scientific journals.

Did anyone read the story on the ASH mare in this month's horse deals? That mare was broken in very young (18 months), went on to have a very successful show career, breeding career and now around 30 is apparently still sound.

The mare in horse deals isn't the only horse that is broken in so young and ends up being sound all its life.

Horses are proof of Murphy's Law. You do all the right things by your horse and the damn thing still breaks down at 8 years of age. Your neighbour does everything 'wrong' and their horse is sound and hearty at 45.

You just cannot pick it. You've had your say. Everyone has had their say. But is it really worth throwing a friendship away on? Expecially when in all likelihood the damn horse will make fools of us all to spite us anyway? *vbg*.

Miss Pony
24-05-04, 05:03 AM
Wrong /Right / Wrong...Maybe go about it another way......
No one takes "Your Wrong" very well.... So maybe suggest other alternatives....

There are many thing you can do on the ground.
Most horses today need more ground work anyway!!

She might be able to do some of these... but how well... 110%????

Exp many different things, go to a show, Run her out, stand her up, take her for a swim at the beach, long rein .... ride her from the ground, walk over poles, around tyres, MiNi little jumps , Crack a few whips around her, clippers, walk her through water, introduce plastic and other known Boogy Mans alike, go through gates, teach her a few tricks, cars and trucks.

Common - anyone else got things they teach their young ones.....

Good Luck anyway