Issues From The Saddle: When To Start A Colt Under Saddle Logo

Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: My granddaughter and I started our yearling colt this year. He was schooled in halter. We’ve had a saddle pad and surcingle on him. He is used to the English saddle and carries a sweet iron bit beautifully. We can turn him with the bit from the ground as well as back him up. I want to start ground driving him soon. He seems to enjoy all this including a trail course we set up for him. He took reserve in yearling halter and reserve in trail in hand. We have lunged him, trailered him, clipped him (needs work on this). I guess I just want to know if we’re pushing him too much. We are not going to actually ride him until late next year (lightly) then send him to WP trainer as a 3 year old. I would appreciate any input you can give me.

Thanks in advance. Barb

Answer: Barb,

I am assuming that your yearling is now in his 2 y/o year. It is good that you are concerned about pushing him too much and as long as you have that concern, it probably will not happen.

The problem with starting horses too young is two fold. First, there is physical immaturity and methods such as round penning and longeing are way too physically stressful for his immature muscular-skeletal system. The second problem is mental immaturity (short attention span) and the risk of putting too much mental pressure on him and causing resentment to working.

As for the physical problem, as long as you do not round-pen or longe the colt much or ask him to pack around heavy weight, you can avoid this problem. Working at the trot and especially canter on a small circle at too young an age can cause permanent damage to his physical soundness. So you should definitely avoid this type of work. The mental maturity is much more difficult to avoid. Generally, by the time you realize that you have pushed the colt too much, it is too late and he is already sour.

To avoid mentally stressing the colt, make sure your sessions are very short, 10-15 minutes, and very fun for him with lots of variety. Remember, colts of this age are supposed to be playing with the herd out in the field and learning the socially accepted rules of the herd. So make sure he gets plenty of time to play in the herd and that his work is more playful with lots of rewards. If he is kept confined in a stall, the chances of burnout greatly increase.

Starting to ride him as a ‘long’ two-year old is a great idea. As long as you don’t overwork him in the meantime, I think you will be fine. My specialty as a trainer is starting colts and through the years, I have learned that there is a huge difference between a 2 y/o and a 3 y/o, not only physically, but especially in the mind. I prefer to start horses as a 3 y/o, unless there is a compelling reason to do otherwise, such as sales or competition.

As long as your colt is bright eyed and happy to see you, keep doing what you are doing. Keep a close eye for him beginning to resist or dread his work sessions and know that is an early warning sign to back off. Don’t expect too much from him, especially when it comes to his attention span and give him lots of mental breaks in your work session. Good luck!

Julie Goodnight

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