"The fact is that backing and working a yearling or two-year-old is like
making five-year-old children work in the mines, and all veterinary
opinion that I know of is against it...The prospect of a longer working
life might encourage buyers to go for the older horse. Moreover, we are
not concerned here with breaking in racehorses but training good riding
horses to be hunters, hacks, show jumpers, event horses and high school
performers. For them , the programme should start not earlier than
three years old, with lunging and backing, and then no serious riding
until he age of four years, coming into full work at five.
"Henry Wynmalen preferred to wait a year longer than that: 'As a rule, I
break them as four-year-olds, and get them to ride nicely and quietly,
mostly at the walk, with little trotting and cantering later on. But I
do no strenuous work with them. At five years old, I take them into
regular hacking exercise, I may send them to a few shows, and I may take
them cub hunting; but I still give them no real hard work, no long days
,no big jumping, and no heavy going. Then at six they are ready for
anything...We may well be lucky with a four-year-old in hard work ,but
the chances of unsoundness occurring in such a youngster are at least
ten times greater than in the mature horse.' (_Horse breeding and Stud
Management_) The Lipizzaners come into training at four years and the
process lasts for three years. De la Gueriniere preferred to wait until
six years at the earliest."
And then when discussing longeing and backing the three year old:
"Finally, stirrups are put on the saddle and the backer mounts carefully
with them, but he will not handle the reins at this stage. A few steps
forward can be taken, and in a few days it should be possible to do a
few circles on the lunge with the rider in the saddle, and then to walk
"There should be a short backing lesson like this every day, but this
should be limit of the ridden work for several months, until the horse
is rising four at the earliest."
He then goes on to describe the schooling program for the four year old,
which includes 15 working up over a few months to 45 minute sessions of
walk-trot variations moving up to canter-trot variations.
It is interesting to note that he considers this schedule for breaking
the saddle horse that is expected to have a long and useful riding
career (rather than one being retired to the breeding shed at a fairly
young age) to be an aggressive schedule and the MOST that young horses
should be asked to do.
Given this, I am curious to know how people here feel about asking four
year olds to engage in a six to eight hour effort and cover 25 to 35
miles (which AERC policy allows for LD rides). I know that I saddle
broke my first horse as a long three year old, and started doing LD
rides with him as a longish four year old, and I will regret it for the
rest of his life. Though he is not what I would call unsound (yet) he
does x-ray as having a bit of arthritis in the forelegs, and I believe
that if I had waited longer, and gone slower, he would not have this
It has been my observation that lameness is the biggest cause of career
ending of performance horses (of all types, not just endurance horses) and
am becoming convinced that it is almost entirely attributable to being
overworked when they are young (under 5). Can some of you who have high
mileage horses (over 3,000 miles of competition) tell me what your horses
did for the first 5 years of their lives, what lameness problems did or
didn't you encounter along the way...and how do they feel now?
Orange County, Calif.