Mythbuster Monday: Horses Should Not Be Worked Early in Life

On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Is it beneficial to start working with horses early in their life?

It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Is it beneficial to work horses early in life? Does it hinder growth and development? Does it stress young horses? Read further to find out!

Myth:  Horses should not be worked early in life

Myth or Fact: Myth

Photo by Bethany Kaiser Art

To elaborate, when we discuss working horses at an early age, below three years of age, we are referring to ground work such as leading, tying and lunging. This discussion does not include introducing a rider to the horse’s back.

Ground work is a good foundation to create a respectful and well-mannered horse. These training sessions are where you create confidence and safety limits. Working with your horse from the ground will instill principles that will transfer to under saddle training down the line.

The big question is, will ground work create undesired issues if performed too early?

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

According to an article by Horse Racing Sense, you can have effective education sessions starting with foals before weaning even takes place. Early training will aid in developing flexibility, balance and muscular coordination.

In this article the authors posted a chart for types of training that are adequate for different ages and growth periods. Sucklings and weanlings should perform in hand work only. Yearlings may do in hand exercises but add different gaits. When the horse approaches three years old, all exercises are acceptable.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

Another article by Dani Buckley, a veterinarian technician manager, states that foals should start learning the moment they hit the ground. Foals should be taught to lessen their flight response to sight, sound and touch, which will help the under-saddle training later in life.

Buckley also discusses how exercising a horse early in life strengthens bone density which aids in avoiding injuries. Also, if a horse is not started early in life, it is an extremely difficult process when they are five and you’re dealing with a dangerous full-sized horse that isn’t educated in safely maneuvering when their flight response is engaged.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

Clinton Anderson states, “The earlier you start working with a horse, the sooner he learns to trust you and learns the right behavior.”

In his article he writes that at his ranch they start working with their horses at birth. They start with haltering and leading along with 36 other exercises that they focus on in their foal training series. Anderson states that putting a solid education on a horse in his early years gives you a head start on his career and gives you a solid foundation you can build off of.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

Abigail Boatwright interviewed freestyle reining champion Stacy Westfall about introducing horses to work at a young age. Westfall states that working her horses early in life gives her the opportunity not only to aid them in developing correctly but also to teach emotional control. Westfall states that by the time her young horses complete their first weeks of training, she can predict their reactions to different stimuli.

Once Westfall has built a solid foundation utilizing ground work, she begins 15 minute bridling and saddling sessions, allowing her young horses to get used to the sensation of being saddled and bridled. She does not add a rider until her young horses reach the mental and physical maturity level to do so, but she does introduce the saddle and bridle at a young age.

Photo by Marcella Gruchalak

After diving into the research, it appears that working horses early allows the to better develop mentally and physically. Horses are easier to handle when they’ve had a solid foundation at a young age. When horses have been started at a young age, they have better bone density and are less prone to injury.

Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.