Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guest blog - A Few Words on Child Labor

I'm moving this weekend and very busy (nothing like moving with horses and cats who do not like cat carriers, fun, fun...) so I'm grateful to our guest blogger "SS" for providing this terrific guest blog on pushing horses too early and the sad results of that practice. I really agree with this. While I've ridden 2 year olds lightly (and by that I mean 15-20 minutes of weight on their back MAX, mostly walk and jog, or a little trail ride around the back hayfield), I have seen people ride the crap out of them (45 minutes loping to get them tired enough to go slow in the big money futurity, or doing high impact activities like jumping or gaming. Then there's the racing industry which insists upon riding them at 15-16 months and has a long list of fatalities every year to show for it. I'm not against racing or gaming or jumping or futurities...but let the poor things grow up first. The world would not end if we banned 2 year old riding futurities and races and personally I'm 100% in favor of that!


I see it time and time again in almost every horse advertisement I come across:

“Hello my name is Diego and i'm a 3 year old Arab X. I trailer, tie, love baths, can go english or western. I have been on trails, sorting and jymcanna, I am a baby so i will need somone that knows how to ride but with a little work i can be a good boy.” – Craigslist

“Foaled March 2005, Great Riding horse, works off leg pressure and gives to poll. currently has been being hauled to shows and time onlys, going to be a great Futurity horse. Smooth gaits. Good stop. Loping barrel pattern. Solid and Sound.Goes on trails by himself, streets,etc. No issues. No Vices. . Don't let this horses age get you.” – Dreamhorse

I know you have seen it too, people who start horses when they are too young in order to make a quick buck.

In various horse groups I am in, I get idiotic posts like these:

“so i'm trying the traditional way of teaching side passing, with a fence, and for three weeks it hasn't helped her learn, she crow hops and rears becuase she's frustrated so i was wondering if anyone knew any other ways of teaching her to side pass, she's only three so i have plenty of time, i just don't want her to get hurt on a fence.”

The above post in and of itself was not THAT bad, but it followed with this response from the same girl…

“i suppose this is my fualt for not stateing this in the first place, first off she's been under saddle for nearly two years, and before anyone calls me a monster she is a draft/quarter x she was 16 hds when i bought her, she's heavily muscled and very strong, never had a sore spot since i've owned her, i've done all her training myself, i've worked with many stallions but she is my first mare, i know the rules of smaller horses, and if i didn't think she was at the right level i wouldn't have started her side passing. although i do appreciate everyone's point of veiw, it is very helpful.”

The fact that these are just SOME examples of what I see daily deeply saddens me. No matter how experienced you think you are with horses, if you plan on riding a horse at the ages 1 and 2, you shouldn’t own a damn horse!

At the Equine Studies Institute (, they dedicate their time to, “fostering higher education in horsemanship.”

One of their articles, “The Ranger Piece,” is dedicated to the timing and rate of skeletal maturation in horses. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest the read. In this particular article, it states that ALL horses mature at the same rate. No particular breed is a slow or fast maturing breed. However, males are slower to mature than females.

You try explaining this to, what I like to call, “The Futurity People.” Those individuals think that starting a certain breeds (namely Quarter Horses) at the age of 1 ½ or 2 is perfectly alright because they think the horse is a faster maturing breed. When confronted with articles like, “The Ranger Piece,” they are quick to reply with things like, “I love my horses,” or “Our horses have yet to have any problems.”

I will stop my rant for one moment to say that a lot of young girls (and some boys) think they really do know a great deal about horses and feel they can train a horse on their own. Majority of the time I see ignorance as the problem with these kids, well – that and parent’s who have NO idea how to take care of a horse themselves, so they let their 16 year old handle it and make the decisions. Ignorance can be fixed with educational information.

Then there are the trainers of the world who simply feel starting a horse out at any age is appropriate because they want to turn a profit as soon as possible. I had a girl tell me that she trained with [insert big name trainer here] and they start horses under saddle at 1 ½ or 2 to get them finished by 3, so if they do it, it must be absolutely right and correct. I will say it now, and keep repeating it again and again and again and again (you get the picture) until people understand that just because some big name trainer does it – it doesn’t make it right!

Again, I come back to the point that a horse’s skeletal structure is not mature enough to start at 2 years old!

Now why am I all bent out of shape about this? I have volunteered a lot of time at various rescues, some for thoroughbreds and some for all breeds. At EVERY rescue, there have been over a dozen horses that were once solid gymkhana/reiner/dressage/jumper/etc… horses. Why are they at a rescue? Because they were ALL lame and could only be used to pasture pals. You try watching a horse that was started too young, lame at 7; have its knees blow out at the age of 8. You watch it writhe around in pain until you can get the vet out there to put it out of its misery. Once you do that a dozen or so times, then you tell me that it is OKAY to start you horse young and cause overcrowding in rescues.

It seems as though the time and rate of skeletal maturation in horses is scientific fact, there are plenty of breeders and “trainers” who feel that starting a horse out young is perfectly alright. Really, if these people were in it for the love of the animal and *not* for the money, you would think that they wouldn’t be starting these horses until they were 5 or 6 years old. If they loved their horses as much as they claim, they would do the right thing and start their horses out at a later age as a preventative measure. And to those who claim that they have horses that have yet to have a problem, how old are they 11 – 20ish? Do you know that a horse’s life expectancy can be over 35 years? How many of your futurity horses have lasted an entire 35 years with absolutely no lameness issues?

Please everyone spread the word that starting horses out too young is NOT acceptable. Educate others, do not support those people who believe that it is alright to chance a horses suffering in the long run just to make a quick buck for themselves!

SS of SS Training Stables