Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Show Ring Longevity

This is a subject near and dear to my heart. It is the core of my inability to make peace with the sport of cowhorse. Reining and cutting are just as troubling, for that matter any sport that involves horses.

Nagsonmom asked-Is reining bad for horse long term function? How often does a reining horse rein for 6 years or so and then remain sound for trail riding for the next 10? I love the fun, but don't want to invest time and money in something that is ultimately bad for the horses involved.

The fact remains that all equestrian related sports push horses too hard, too fast and too young. Economics play a large part of this. A horse is not mature until they are six years old. So who wants to wait four or five years to start a horse? A two year old is definitely not mature enough to carry a rider, in my mind, at all.
Since Nagonmom asked about reining, that's the event I'm going to pick on. But I could as easily go after cowhorses, pleasure horses, all-arounders, any of the events I'm familiar with.
An article written by The Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Science (ANZFAS) warned, the decision to break a horse as a two-year-old may well be a decision to break the horse down. Well-muscled, well-grown yearlings are skeletally immature, resulting in a horse where the flesh (muscle) is willing but the skeleton (immature bones, ligaments and connective tissue). Many horses are not skeletally mature until 4.5 years of age...Horses with closed epiphisial lines, are ready to be started.
The ANZFAS went on to say, horses with open epiphysial lines should be spelled, otherwise the stresses of training could cause epiphysitis, shin soreness, splints, fractures, poor development and chronic lameness.
It is a problem that occurs at the growth plates of young horses that can make them sore and lame, and it is part of the developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) complex.
Eventually, the growth plate closes as the long bones reach their maximum length. Generally speaking, the growth plates at the lower extremities, such as the cannon bone, will close first, while those at the knee and hock—radius and tibia, respectively—will close later in the young horse’s development.
For the most part, the long bones don't reach their maximum length until the horse is 4-6 years old.
Now add in the fact that young quarter horse show prospects are bred to show a solid muscle bound look of maturity and are stuffed full of rich feed from weaning on. This all adds to the myth that quarter horses mature early enough to take the stress of starting them on January 1st of their two-year-old year. This makes the average start date for a show prospect anywhere from 18 to 20 months.
The reality is these babies are packing around a lot of muscle and weight on a frail and immature skeletal system. Where in this picture does it make sense for us to throw on a 40 pound saddle and crawl on top of them?
The other problem is mental stability. A two-year-old horse has a brain like a sponge. He is willing to accept a rider as his leader without much thought.
A two-year-old will try his little heart out. He will work past all common sense, because he is not old enough to know how to save himself from our stupidity. He trusts his rider to tell him what to do.
The end result is a horse that will fall apart mentally from being bombarded with stimulus he can't absorb. Show ring drop outs are often crazy with fear, or so dull they have no response left.
Repetitious exercise is extremely tough on a horse's legs.
Standard warm-up on a reiner is 20 to 30 circles every day. A spin is as strenuous as two laps around a big arena at speed. Think about how much spinning we do, just in a daily routine. Slide stops are incredibly tough on legs. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it is not normal to inject your horse's hocks at three years, four years, five, oh hell, EVER.
If I have to inject my horse's hocks I'm not going to feel safe scrambling up a mountain side.
Trainer Richard Shrake said it best, "There's only so many slide stops in a horse. Be careful how you use them."
When we start horses as two-year-olds they tend to live in stalls. Their exercise consists of short burst of activity combined with long periods of standing in one spot. I can guarantee a horse kept this way for six or seven years will not be sound later in life. They need to be out. They need to wander around.
That being said, here's where I am. I still want to show in cowhorse events. I have come to realize I can't be competitive as an open trainer. Part of this is an unwillingness to ride my young horse as hard as is required to win.
What I can do is raise my personal horses as I feel they should be raised. My coming two-year-old is out on pasture in a pretty wild part of Colorado. He has free choice hay. He has 80 acres of windy pasture, hills, gullies and trees to roar around on.
This fall I plan on putting 30 to 60 days on him. It will include very basic walk, trot, canter and some cow 101. He won't be required to collect in any way. Then he'll be turned out until the following spring.
That's when I'll begin his training. I'm planning on cutting on him for a season and then starting his reined work as a four-year-old. He may show in a derby or two his four-year-old year. I'll actually think about getting serious his five-year-old year.
My guess is we will share a long, sound, sane and happy life together.
My yellow mare was started as a two-year-old. I started her lightly. I never rode her more than fifteen minutes at a time. I didn't show her until late her three-year-old year. She is OK. But I have been extremely careful. I keep a balance between shows, trails and just screwing around with her buds. Every show I have pushed her at I try to balance with two small day shows where I just "lope through."
At six she is sound and mostly sane. Because I haven't pushed her (compared to how I was taught to train) she is the best horse I have ever ridden. Because I haven't pushed her she has earned the least of all my cowhorses. I think she'll end up being the best competitor I've ever had.
I still wish I had waited another year to start her.
So, Nagonmom, the questions I would ask myself are,
1.Is my horse sound?
2.Can I take him out riding now?
3. Why aren't I trail riding and reining both?
4. Is my horse calm and happy?
5. Is my horse living somewhere other than a box stall?
6. What can I do to keep a balance?
I plan on being competitive and keeping my horses sound and happy. I bet you can too.


  1. So so helpful. My youngster is coming three this summer. I have been lamenting over where I am going to get help starting him over the summer. But alas, if I do not get to starting him under saddle, he'll have more time to grow without having to lug a bossy predator around too. Heck, I can boss him around from the ground some more if I don't come across the right situation.

    I have been thinking along these lines anyway, but reading this blog is excellent reinforcement!

  2. excellent post - i wish more people had the guts to do as you do. i don't agree with working 2 yr olds either.

  3. Mugs

    I agree that to many horse people are driven by greed - I could tell you a story about the horse that won the SBF in Reno this year. I don't know how much is really true, but if it is half true, it is a criminal what they are doing to that horse.

    I have been having my (quarter) horses started from 24 to 30 months of age but only for about 60 to 75 days and nothing more than ground work and walk, trot, canter. Then I put them back out for 6 to 8 months. Bring them back in their 3 year old year and re-evlaute their brains. If they are not mentally ready, back out to pasture they go. Sometimes they are ready for a job, sometimes they aren't. I have a AQHA gelding that is 33 months old and he is ready to go to work. I have saddled him, and did some ground work but no one has been on his back. I am going to send him out to the trainer in Jan. He is ready, willing, and able for more - how much more will be determined by how the training goes. 6 months ago was a completely different story. My reining horse is just getting to the "finished" point - he is going to be 10 this year. I didn't start really riding him until he was 4. He wasn't ready at 2 or 3. He is 16 hands and he was so awkward as a youngster that he would have tied his legs in knots trying to turn around. :) My hope is that he will be sound and usable in the show pen till he is 20+ How awesome would that be?

  4. I guess I'm screwed since both my ridin' horses are OTTBs! The damage to their bodies has long been done.

    My mare was never raced - too slow - trainer sent her home. Maybe she is less damaged? Only time will tell. She started her new "job" at 4.

    My trainer has some young horses she bred and she waits to start them until they are 4... but yeah, guess she and her students aren't out there making ANY $$ or in any big, big shows.

    We have a lot o' fun and we all really love our horses. We show locally and do well but um I don't think local Dressage is a money maker. Her barn is a wonderful place to be.

  5. I didn't get my girl until she was five, and she was kinda of slow getting started anyway because of a couple of injuries (tongue, hip).

    She's going to be nine soon, and we've not done a lot of showing--a lot of show-type training, but not a lot of pressure from it.

    As talented as she is, I think she'd have been used up by now if she'd been put through the futurity wringer. Used up, sore and grouchy, just like her mama.

    As it is, she's got a good temperament and is a joy to ride as a saddle mare in English and Western tack. We might compete--someday--but she does right nice as an ammy saddle mare and Stall Princess.

    joycemocha (for some reason LJ won't talk to blogger these days)

  6. Great post! I am so sick of taking crap from people because I haven't started my 2 1/2 year old Friesian filly yet. I don't plan on starting her until she's at least 4 (granted--I don't plan on starting her at all--but paying someone else to do it). I fell into the trap of having my QH started at freaking 18 months of age and I STILL feel guilty about it. Thankfully, I was smart enough to only allow 30 days on him and then that was it until he was 3, then another 30-60 days then more time off and then another 30-60 days. But if I had it to do over again, I'd wait until he was four. He'd have been fine. Probably more than fine--he's a sweetheart.

    I just wish people would leave me alone about not starting my filly. I'll get somebody on her when I feel like it and not until then! :)

  7. Mugs you have a great blog. I like to start my colts at 3 or maybe 4.

    You have a lot of insight and wisdom. Come visit me on the old Lolo Trail sometime.

    I Wonder - the story of the Lolo Trail in pictures-


  8. Whats I find interesting is that if you start a horse before it is three, it generally means it starts trainign and working as a three year old. With most of the people I have dealt with here in NZ the horses are broken as three year olds and then brought back in to start their traning as four year olds.

    There are four year old jumping classes at the shows which I don't agree with even though they are very small classes, the amount of work needed to get a horse prepared to compete early in it's four year old year is too much.

  9. You guys are so lucky to have that sort of acreage. A "big pasture" in FLorida is anything over an acre.

    My "forever" horse is a poster boy for what you are talking about. Was stalled since he was BORN. Halter horse body on thin, delicate legs, and 00 size feet. Started pre-two years old, ridden and stall bound. Six years later (when I got him), he was lame from the ground to just behind the poll, heck his C1 may be screwed up too, I just can't tell it.

    The constant pain gives him ulcers and a grumpy attitude, but his is still one of the gentliest, kindest horses I have ever known. His idea of heaven is leaving his pasture buddies (he is out in a small pasture 24/7)and hanging out with whatever the people are doing, he figures he is one, and horses are beneath him.

    With large amounts of joint supplements and keeping him thin, we keep him comfortable and useful as a kid's horse.

  10. I agree that the horses are pushed too hard too early in life. I watched the NCHA finals last week and its sad how hard those horses had to work to get to that level. But some horses can "handle" it better than others.
    I had a gelding that was started for cutting as a 2 year old. He was kept outside with his buddies until the middle of his 3 year old year when I had to put shoes on him. But he was turned out several times a week. He was kind of immature, so we ended up kicking him back out at 4 and just taking it easy on him. I then started riding him out on the trails and just messing around with him and started to teach him to spin and lope circles like the reiners do. He seemed to really like that better than the cutting, so I kept going with him. I sold him a few months ago and he is now doing really well with his training and the people say he will become a great horse when he is finished. My trainer is a firm beliver in LONGEVITY. He can tell if a horse is not handling the pressure, so he backs off and gives them time off and goes back to the very beginning and make things SIMPLE for the horse so he doesn't stress him out anymore.
    The other thing that bothers me about the cutting horses is that they are getting smaller...and people riding are big. Not big as in fat, just tall..thats alot for a 3 year old to handle on top of making those big moves...reined cow horses are the worst of all because they have to know THREE events and the sliding stops are the worst of anything..especially if they hit hard or sticky ground.

  11. I'm glad there's a lot of like minds here. Maybe a trend starting?
    I have a thought on OTTB. They are started young, yes. But they are running on good ground in a fairly straight line. Their riders and saddles are feather light.
    Young western futurity prospects are ridden by great big men in great big saddles. They run, circle, jam to stop, spin. The stress on their joints and ligaments has to be 5x what a young race horse goes through.
    I don't know any of this for a fact, but my thoughts would be that you have a much higher chance of getting a sound horse off the track than a reining futurity reject.
    BTW, round pens and longe lines are extremely hard on young joints too.

  12. >>An article written by The Australian and New Zealand Federation of Animal Science (ANZFAS) warned, the decision to break a horse as a two-year-old may well be a decision to break the horse down. <<

    The reason I no longer ride 2 year olds is that I know what happened to most of the ones I did, and they are not sound today, as 20 year olds. And heck, I was a whopping 112 pounds in those days. So it's not like some great big dude was on them. But I did ask them to work off their hind end a lot. I did stop hard, and back up and ride the heck out of 'em in draw reins. Ah the bad old days...

    So I just don't do it anymore.

  13. I think most good trainers learn by having done some really stupid things while they were coming up in the ranks. German martingales and twisted wires on pleasure prospects-those were my bad ol' days.

  14. Mugs,
    I agree with you 110%. I have been heavily ridiculed for not starting my young horses at 20 months. I just finished putting a super light 20 days on my soon to be 3 year old filly. We cantered a whole 3x for 1/4 of my indoor. She still is very unbalanced and I am going to just let her sit and grow up until late spring and maybe put another 30 days on her. Man, have I gotten slammed though for not pushing her. I just stick to my guns and smile as I watch their horses get injected at the age of 4.

  15. Thanks for the educational post. Since my two were both 10 when I got them, and they are my first, I know little about starting them.

    And when you say "start," what exactly do you mean? Starting training, as in work? I assume you don't mean like teaching them basic manners. I understand why you wouldn't want to ride them, beef them up and stress them out, but is it harmful to do ground work with them at 2 or younger? Just curious. Thanks.

  16. Thank you, Mugs. This is just what I needed as well today.

    I recently had Casey evaluated and we believe he has reining training. I have been debating if this is the path I want to take for myself and for him. Casey is 7. He hasn't been rode with any regularity for 2 years. Heck, I assume he's been rode a handful of times since his 5th year.

    I used to board the Very Tall Arab at a barn where I watched the trainer back a yearling. A yearling! I was horrified. The VTA was just 3, growing fast (14.3 to 16hh in 5 months!) and I've always admired the philosophy of Al-Marah Arabians. I wanted to wait until he turned 4. Not the year he turned 4, but was actually 4 years old. I heard no end of grief at that barn about backing him now, not later. In the end, I rehomed him. Now in his 4th year about to enter his 5th year, he's still not been backed. He's been out just being a horse and maybe someday will make a great horse for someone without lameness issues.

    That being said, I also have a friend who has a 21 yr old warmblood. Quaila's hocks were injected this summer for the first time. Then again, Quaila was once a throw away horse and quite the train wreck. Quaila, who 5 years ago could barely walk now jumps and loves eventing. My friend very carefully manages Quaila and would retire her in a heartbeat if that's what was best for her.

    Healthwise, I worry about Casey and his long term viability. He's got a hip that gives him grief already. I get it adjusted weekly, and I'm not riding him. Then again, he seemed to feel better after the evaluation and after working, as though his muscles were really loosening up. Keeping him sound is very important to me.

  17. Ok can I just rant for a few lines about pressure to start horses younger than the owner chooses?

    My answer to those folks would be, "You get to make those decisions on the horse(s) that you own." I would possibly add, "This is my horse and it is my Responsibility, every step of the way, to do what I believe is the best thing for Him."

    And if they were incredibly pushy and annoying... "I wouldn't tell you how to raise your kids, what school to send them too, when they should start learning to read, when you should start reading to them, how it is your responsibility to teach them to be kind to animals..." "I wouldn't tell you those things because it is none of my business."

    I guess you can imagine that I don't get much unsolicited advise. I also have never had to utter any of those words, but I sure as heck would if someone gave me a 'hard time' about when I choose to back my young horse.

    Tierra and Sky Bar, lemme at em!

  18. Oh do I know the pressure!! I showed a yearling last year and did well with her (Although the list isnt out yet we know we have Top 3 in the nation in halter, and Top 10 in Yearling trail and Lunge line.)

    There was talk about showing her in the 2yo fut. Thankfully we decided to pass. As much as WE (Well me...) wanted her there, it really wasn't best for her. So we will haul her for another year get her superour in halter, and let her grow.

    My Boyfriend just bought a weanling stud, He's planing for his 2yo year. The colt is going to reach 17hh for sure....

    Its hard for the breeders. You need the attention that winning the big money brings. You need the money your pumping into this stock to bring some money back. And truthfully... In this market no matter how good your bloodlines, if its a Western horse and its 4 and hasnt been started... whos going to buy??

    A farm that I worked at in Ont breeds warmbloods. They just started a mare that I watched being born. Horses that I was there for the actual breeding of (2 years after leaving the other farm) are showing and bringing in points and awards already.

    I dont know. And I never will. I know lots of WP/HUS/Halter horses still going sound at 20. I know lots of Hunter/Jumpers doing the same. And they were all started in completly different ways.

  19. Thats another nice thing about driving horses. We can start horses under cart pretty early. We had a long two year old in training once, but three is very common. To my knowledge we haven't had any problems with lameness in these horses. I think its because cart pulling isn't really weight bearing, and we try not to over do it.

  20. Gillian,

    Seems like with driving one of the hardest things on the horse would be to slow/stop the forward momentum without the assist of competent well timed braking. Seems like that could cause similar effects as hard stopping unless each stop is done gradually.

    I have some experience, but not much knowledge when it comes to driving. I really liked it though.

    I could see picking that up as another horsey activity when I have my own horse property on which to store all of the large equipment.

  21. justaplainsam-you're saying in a nut shell why I left. I'm not unsympathetic to the trainer/owner/breeder trap. Remember, I spent a lot of time tangled in it.
    I also chose to get out.
    I do not know a single horse in any event I have interest in that is still competitive in their teens, much less their 20's.The few I know in their teens are patched, glued and drugged together.
    I only ride my own. I let my youngsters run and play as long as I can. Actually I let all of them live as high a quality life as I can give them. My interpetation of that doesn't entail blankets, lights or stalls.
    I don't plan on breeding anymore. I can't handle putting them on the ground if I can't keep them.I get that's my problem. I accept it.
    I hope to continue to compete. I'll be surprised if I get nearly as far as I did when I was really hitting it.
    I can't seem to make myself care.
    I really am not judging those who aren't going my route. I'm getting weird, I understand.It's just me.

  22. This push on young horses is one of the many reasons why I will likely be graduating with my equine science degree, hanging out for a few years, and going back to school for training in a non-animal field.

    It's like, if you truly love and care about the horses, don't work in the horse industry. There's so much shit out there. Every discipline has some sort of futurity for 2 and 3 year olds.
    I've only gotten minimally involved through friends and light showing and I've already cried myself to sleep a few nights over a horse in pain that wasn't even MINE.

    I really don't know about Jasmine. I've worried about it because she naturally moves in a way that would put wear and tear on her, but I don't think it's a problem at this point because I'm too broke to show.
    God knows what she went through before I had her, but she was sound at 7 and is sound at 15, and she's a mule, so I think we're good. :)

  23. Ironic that Richard Shrake is quoted about the number of sliding stops a horse has in him. All my life, my mom has preached to me that barrel horses only have so many runs in them and it is best not to use them up in the practice pen. I've tried to explain that to people over the years and they just look at me funny. Of course, the next season they are on a new prospect while I am still plunking along on my 6-7 or 8-9y/o.

    I made my daughter watch a girl work her reining horse at the State 4-H show last summer. Run down, slide, roll back, repeat, repeat, repeat. Yep-she kept right on going until her horse was no longer sliding or even stopping correctly. And then she quit. Guess what happened when she made her run? Yep-her horse didn't stop for nothing. She left all of her slides in the warm-up pen.

  24. Event horses and dressage - at least over here - can and do make it sound, and and still competing to their teens, even twenties.
    Funnily enough - there are rules about how young you can compete them, and to what level.

    Traditionally, horses would be broken at four, or possibly started at 3 and turned away again till they were four.
    However - the economics of it gets tighter and tighter, and people are starting them younger. It was one of my big beefs with competitive dressage - that for teams, you needed to be at a certain level by 8 at the latest - but it generally takes horses 5 years or so to get there.

    mugs - an eventer told me in my youth, "Horses only have so many jumps in them - save them for when it counts." Clearly some things are universal.

  25. I doubt that the big competitors will be able to change the way they do things, for money and business reasons. In any case, the change will come very slowly. But those of us who do small shows, saddle clubs, and just riding around for fun? We don't have to bow to the pressure. I'm glad I started my mare under saddle at three. By that time she was light as a feather at the end of a lead rope, and had lovely manners (except for those darn feet but considering how much she got poked and prodded early in life, I had to be patient.)

    Now at 7, she's not finished, but that's all about my time constraints. She's sound, and that was my big concern.

    About management: the older I get, the more I think that horses living in a barn for most of their lives is bad, bad bad. Stall rest is one thing. A necessary evil, I guess. But otherwise, they gotta get out. It's what they're meant to do.

  26. BrownEyed Cowgirls said...
    Ironic that Richard Shrake is quoted about the number of sliding stops a horse has in him.

    It's why I try to never dismiss anybody. I have rejected trainers methods or concepts more than once in my life, but I still listen. It's probably because I feel like everybody on the planet has more expertise than I do. Self esteem issues? You bet. But it seems that everything I heard or was taught comes into play somewhere down the road, whether it's a word or phrase that makes me think, or some nasty little trick I know I'll never use. So it pays to keep an open mind.

  27. Thanks for this post mugs, very educational. Everyone I know starts horses at two, some go slower than others, but unless you bought the horse after it was two and it wasn't trained yet, they were all started as two. I was always told to just go by how mature and balanced they looked. Nobody ever talked about checking their knees or consulting a vet. As a result I've always started my horses at 2. However now I'm starting to read blogs, and starting to hear about all of the statistics and facts about it and it's starting to make me slow down with all of my own horses (a 2 y/o and a 3 y/o). When I first started the 2 y/o he was about 24 months. I put three days of riding him bareback on him before an abcess surfaced and he got a month of. That combined with a 3.5 y/o that I was starting, meant he got light rides about once a week and sometimes not even for a month or two. At the time it was really frustrating, he was falling behind compared to other 2 y/o's I knew. But now I'm starting to think I'm pretty grateful for all of those set backs. I always just assumed that we were taking it easy. I'm only about a hundred pounds, that makes me less than 10% of his weight so I figured that compared to everyone else, our bareback rides weren't damaging at all. But evidently that isn't true. So this post couldn't have come at a better time because I was just thinking about taking dressage lessons on him! But now I'm thinking that maybe I'll just take him home and turn him out in the big pasture with only a few rides on the really nice days (If Iowa ever has any). I raised him from a baby and I'd kinda like to keep him sound for life like our old 38 y/o gelding who's just now starting to show signs of arthritis. Anyway, sorry about the really long post, I just never knew most of this so it was a bit of a surprise and now I'm babbling.

  28. esquared- if you're like me you first learned about horses from whatever horse people were around when you got started.
    I started two-year-olds because that's just how it's done also.
    I always took it easy on them, mainly because I trained so slow when I first ot started.
    When I got deeper in the pro-cowhorse deal I started seeing the terrible break-downs that I write about.
    Learning to care for bowed tendons, quarter cracks and hair line fractures on horses not yet three made me start looking deeper. I got my rude awakening the hard way.
    That's why I love this blogging thing. I learn so much from the info shared.
    BTW-go check out Juli Thorson's Horse Talk blog and see the world's biggest poop ball. It's astounding!

  29. I agree with you mugwump--pushing horses too young was one of the main reasons I quit both reining and cutting. When I was starting team roping horses for myself and a few friends, I sorted out what I thought was the best program, and the colts I started are still sound and working as team roping horses today (with the exception of one who was injured in a freak accident)--in their late teens, many of them. Team roping is a tough event on a horse, too, so they were definitely challenged physically.

    What works for me is to keep young horses turned out in my sixty acre pasture (with lots of hills) and let them be horses. I bring them in the summer of their three year old year and they get thirty to sixty days of light riding (nothing too stressful), depending on the horse. I find two year olds are too immature and four year olds can be a little set in their ways. I like the first rides to be summer/fall of the three year old year. Then the horse is turned back out in the pasture until summer of their four year old year. They get ninety days of riding that summer, and are pushed just a little. At this point these horses learn to follow a cow, have a rope thrown from their back, neck rein decently, lope with some collection, stop out of the lope...etc. Then they're turned out again. Their five year old year they are roped on in the practice pen for six months and turned back out that winter. And their six year old year they become using horses. A lot of these don't get turned back out in the pasture again until they're retired, but they are kept in big pens where they can run and buck and play, and are ridden three times a week on average. And I really have had very few soundness issues since I started training horses this way.

    My old cutting horse on the other hand, who I took to a snaffle bit futurity as a three year old and to a cutting superstakes as a four year old, had arthritic issues at thirteen, and I retired him from work at fourteen. Interestingly enough, after a few years of being turned out in the pasture, he became perfectly "pasture sound"--absolutely even at the long trot--and is sound today at 28 years. But I don't think he would be sound if I had kept riding him. And I truly believe his issues were due to how hard I rode him when he was three.

  30. Oh, and Whywouldya, I didn't mean to sound snappish in response to your question in the comments on the last post. I didn't understand exactly what you were asking. And no, I've never had the need to tie horses as you've described, but am sure it would work fine, and be very similar to what we did with the run lines. In essence, its the same system. I just never went car camping with the horses much...we always packed in to some remote spot. When we would camp at the trail head for a night before riding in, we tied them to the trailer and hung their hay in hay bags so we did not have to have a high line, or tie them long. (These hay bags were great--much safer than hay nets.) Anyway, I really am happy to tell you any tricks I know about camping with horses, I'm just sometimes a little slow when it comes to figuring out what's being asked.

  31. Hey Laura,

    You were not even remotely snappish =) And I really appreciate that you were willing to restate what you had already written in response to my question. I just felt bad for making you do it!

    Seems like tying several along one line would really only be a problem if there were kickers involved, and or the horses didn't handle ropes around their legs well (same as your method).

    I am just game to have others point out what I may be missing, unless of course they are telling me that I should have started my baby at 2!

    I appreciate your generosity with the info!

    Hey, I just finished my last final yesterday. I could pick up one of your books! Or two! Are they in any bookstores, or do I need to order online? I am WAY overdue for reading one of your books!

  32. Never mind, just checked your cite. In bookstores, check.

  33. Yuck, this is such a pertinent subject! I got so much grief for not getting on my TB X when he hit three. It was unbelievable. I have enough of a time with cannibal pony and giving her a year of ground work and basics before I got on, but I guess I just crossed the line not putting the Monster under saddle.

    Seriously, he went from 14 hands to 16.1 in four months. My rule is if it's growing in front of me, leave it alone! I am going to wait to get on him until he is at least 4. Maybe 4.5.

    The reason I stopped riding professionally and went to pre-med was just this issue--I couldn't stand how people treated their horses, and I never wanted mine to be at the mercy of someone else's interest.

    *No Dr. Pepper or coffee rant over! :) *

  34. Whywouldya--Let me know if you find any of my books in local bookstores. I'd be curious. A lot of the time you need to ask the bookstore to order them. I'm not exactly on the bestseller lists(!)

  35. Ok, another question... I am not sure if this is worthy of an entire post, but here goes...

    Last fall I transferred to Humboldt State from a community College near Santa Cruz.

    I am not having any luck getting recommendations for trainers up here, but I am also not totally dialed into the horse community being a new comer. My question is two fold:

    1) Does anyone know of a trainer, or a person who may be able to direct me to one, up around the Arcata/Eureka area?


    2) What are some good ways of interviewing/sorting through possible trainers in the process of finding one that would be good to work with?

    I feel that I could do an ok job of this. I also know that Mugs, and the thoughtful people who contribute to this board, would most certainly bring things to light that hadn't crossed my mind.

    Ideally I would like to be present, and or involved in the process. Sending him away would be my last choice. I would like the opportunity to learn as much as possible from the process. I want to be aware of this portion of my horses history, and I want to be there to ask questions and be an advocate if necessary. (probably many a trainers worst nightmare)

    That said I have no problem with necessary firmness/toughness when it is called for. But I am with Mugs that animal trainers sometimes creep me out, myself included.

  36. Whywudyabreedit- If you are breed specific or method specific I would go to the feed store, or call my vet and ask who breeds, trains,Arabs, Morgans,cowhorses,pleasure horses whatever.
    Then I would drop in said place, introduce myself and ask for help.
    If they are a good, responsible place they will direct you to their trainer, or someone who could help you.
    If they are upset you dropped in, or rude, thank them and leave. Try again.
    If you like whoever you're sent to, sign up for three or four lessons.
    Then go by your gut and instincts.
    I would want to learn how to back my horse myself. It should be a peaceful non-issue and started on the ground.

  37. Thanks Mugs,

    I'll keep asking around.

    I will try the vet and the feed store(s).

    I do not need anything specific. Don't even know the breed, he's a mutt rescue. I think he is a draft cross, but not sure. Hard to tell what mom is, and never saw dad...

    I like to ride Dressage, but I'll try to find something that this one is suited for

  38. This is a topic that is also dear to me, save I'm on the other end trying to preserve the soundness and sainity of a 17-year-old gelding, born in 1991 and had practially lived in the show ring since he was a yearling(shown in-hand). I don't know much about how he was started but I do know he was shown extensivly in-hand and did not show in the saddle or in the cart until spring of '02. I do know that he is still pyisically sound, mental soundness is a whole different issue. Getting his brain to decompress will probably be an ongoing issue. My next show prospect will probably be a baby, cause for people in my finacial demographic to get a competative horse you have to either buy 'em young or all spent up(and not so competative). My next horse will be started to cart before he is ever backed. Mostly because driving is my thing, and it takes longer to get them ready to drive that it does to get a rider on the back. I can be sure that he is mature before anyone ever rides him. However that being said some horses that are riding sound are not driving sound. There was a mare that could be go all day with a rider on the back, but once she started driving she went lame in the rear real quick. Quit driving, give 'er a break, and she's been doing great hunter pleasure horse. One of the reasons that my trainer likes to brake all the saddleset horses to drive is that he feels that it helps to teach the horse to engage the rear. When people look at saddleseat horse first thing they see the the high set necks and extravagant front end motion, but all that power comes from the rear. Most common problems that I've seen with saddleseat horses(in my very limited experiance) are suspensory issues, or back issues(we have a couple that see a chiro regularly, and one of our three year olds(started at two) just had his first adjustment).

    I'm a fan of starting late, those who start young are in it for money. But my goals are sane, sound, and usable as opposed to the all powerful BLUE RIBBON!

  39. Whywudya-Then I would find a dressage instructor.First and second level dressage covers all the basics for any discipline I've encountered, although the dressage folks that have ended up with my horses always gripe about the step back they invariably take when you ask for a stop. .

  40. A good dressage trainer would be my ideal.

    Problem is that it is a bit remote up here. More so than I am used too anyway.

    I did hear that there is one boarding stable here that is both large and very hard to get into. I guess it is time to meander on over there and talk to some people, see if they have a board where trainers might be posted.

    That and a trip to see my horse would even keep me out of your hair for at least a few hours =)

    Problem is it is raining out and warm inside with my old dog. I have a clear lack of motivation here.

    Geeze, I need to get out there and see if I can find laura's books too. Guess I better buck up! =/

  41. OK. I am completely and totally confused here. Are we talking about backing a horse up. as in reverse....which I have been assuming, or is this a way I have never heard of to express "getting on"?

  42. OK, mugwump, I too, will admit that this whole "backed" thing had me confused. I think they mean "get on them". Its just not "cowgirl speak"--that's our problem.

  43. HalfAssed
    "It's like, if you truly love and care about the horses, don't work in the horse industry. There's so much shit out there. Every discipline has some sort of futurity for 2 and 3 year olds.
    I've only gotten minimally involved through friends and light showing and I've already cried myself to sleep a few nights over a horse in pain that wasn't even MINE."
    Exactly, wow, do I hear that:(

    I worked at E.P.Taylor's Windifleds farm for one day. Couldn't stand the sight of yearlings being broke. I was much younger, then:)

    Great Post Mugs.
    Hear, Hear!

  44. Hey Mugs and Laura, yes, by 'backed' everyone means initially sitting on/riding them. Maybe it's an English term? This is the term all my trainer friends use (they are all dressage people).

  45. Sometimes I feel like I need a notebook and a pen to jot down questions I have when reading comments.

    Mugs, Casey is 7. I don't have much experience with reining and cow work. Also, he does not have any show or race record (I just called AQHA and asked a minute ago). I was kicking around the idea of playing with reining. Nothing serious, but more for fun. It would be a way to use his previous training, but now I'm starting to actively re-think that after this blog. I had some half-formulated "Well, I don't know's" floating around in the back of my brain before.

    So, my questions are these:

    What is the long-term soundness viability of a reining horse that doesn't pro compete but does little, local shows?

    How does a bit older reining horse stack up against the younger ones? I mean, the ones that start competing later in life? (Again, not looking to go to World or Congress or even Regionals or whatever it's called in the quarter horse world)

    Lastly (for now), how the heck do I get an extended trot out of Casey when he doesn't seem to think it exists? His idea of an extended trot is about half an inch farther out.

  46. Yep, mugwump, we are just out of the cool dressage trainer loop. Drat. And I was hoping to sound so knowledgable, too. I'm glad I wasn't the only old cowgirl confused by that term.

  47. OK, wait, I don't want to speak for everyone. So if people don't agree with my definition of "backed" please feel free to correct me. :)

  48. I alway though "backed" meant to "get on 'em".I'm not dressage loop either.

  49. I guess I'm just out of the loop. I'm glad I asked.Backed to me means "back up".
    Get on means, well, get on.
    Adds a whole new meaning to the song "Baby's got Back."
    Anyway-Oregonsunshine- you,ve got a sound 7 year old with reining training? Go for it!
    It's a blast and it will increase your horsemanship a thousand fold.
    I love to show. My point was you have to take care of your young horse. My two-year-old will compete, just not until he's four or five. If he's four it will only be a few times.
    Local day shows? All fun.I'd be all over it.

  50. Ok, but my question is even though he's older, if we were to get more fierce about competing, what's the likely-hood of him holding up? On an average of how long? He's built like a halter horse without the teeny legs. He's got elegant but stout legs for a QH. And he's got Zippo Pine Bar breeding (yeah, yeah I know he won world or some such thing), but Casey's bred for what exactly? If I rattle off his pedigree, would someone be kind enough to tell me what I really have in my throw-away horse?

  51. Zippo Pine Bar is good breeding, but pretty far back.(That would be back on the pedigree, not getting on). Current top blood lines in any sport is still going to be very pricey.
    The thing is, you have to quit tying your self in knots about what he should do. You're talking about learning something fun for fun. If he turns out to be spectacular then you go from there.If he's not and you still want to compete on a higher level then you'll be buying more horses.If you're having fun then keep riding him.I wouldn't worry about hurting him. Horses are strong. He is 7.
    Reining in itself is not inherently evil. Nor is the training.
    Remember I said that I regularly run 10 to 20 circles each way to warm up my horses? I still do. But not until they are physically capable of handling it. Not until they are older.
    I feel free to ride the legs off my yellow mare at this point in time. She is six. She is fine.
    When you start reining you will be learning to hold and shape a perfect circle. You will be learning a slow, steady and correct stop. You will learn about collection, drive and control. All wonderful things. You won't be working your horse like an open rider would.
    I'm serious, quit worrying and go have fun.

  52. Hmmm, Not sure when I picked up the term "backed", feeling kinda silly now... I am actually competent to teach a horse to back up.

    I mean "get on."

    You see, I am 40, I have experience with all of the training up until the first 30 days "under saddle" after having that whole first "getting on" thing taken care of, and I have experience taking them from that point and moving on/refining.

    I am looking for some assistance getting on, or someone to get on for me. When put this way it sounds like I should just buck up and get on already! But then there is that whole 40 thing, and the awareness that I can get hurt.

    What I am looking for is someone who has lots of experience with this who can get a really good read on the situation, and someone who has already experienced the trial and error that I wish to avoid.

  53. "I alway though "backed" meant to "get on 'em".I'm not dressage loop either."

    Also in England "backed" means get on 'em.

    mugs yer blog is great. When is the book comming out?

    happy trails

    mtn mollie

  54. On a positive note, I was able to get a few trainers names from the local equine vet hospital.

    They were only giving me names of English trainers until I finally convinced them that I want someone who is good and experienced more than someone who rides a specific style. I know of lots of Dressage folks who send their horses off to cowboys to get started under saddle. I don't much care either way as long as they are calm, confident, competent in their work, and produce sane and soft horses.

    Then the gal gave me the name of the reigning trainer that started her friends horse under saddle and did a very nice job. This trainer likes the owner to come and see what is happening and get educated along with their horse. I gotta meet this guy!

    His name is Eric Haught, if anyone knows any reason why I might want to avoid this trainer please email me.

    So is "start under saddle" a good substitute for "get on"? For some reason I have difficulty working "get on" into a sentence, although I could work on that.

    I have actually "sat on" my colt at the rail numerous times for several minutes bareback and while I scratched him on his favorite spot along his crest. I have also jumped up and hauled myself into a laying over the back position several times. This is not the same as stepping into the stirrup, throwing a leg over and riding however.

    For some reason I am not feeling quite up to that task, go figure...

  55. Laura, they didn't have your books at either of 2 book stores that I went into. I looked in mystery and western sections. The used book store even convinced me to look in the Christian book section, but alas no luck there either.

    One book store said they could order Chasing Cans and Moonblind.

    Does Bookshop S.C. carry them? Might Logos have them?

  56. Whywud-don't feel was just a term I've never heard. You should have been reading the emails flying between me and Laura.
    laura: "Is it me or does "backed" mean riding them?
    Laura: I think that's what it means.
    Mugs: No way
    Mugs: I'm going to ask
    Laura:They'll think we're dweebs
    Mugs:I'm asking anyway...
    OK that's not exactly how it went but it's close. You guys know the rest.

  57. Okay, this is completely OT but I would really like some advice. I have an 18yo OTTB gelding that I've had since Feb. of this year. He was a rescue when I got him (1.5 b.c.s., covered in lice, you know the drill) so I don't know much about his background other than he raced until he was 9. Well I've been riding him 4 times a week or so since May, never had a problem, he just plugs along and does whatever is asked of him. He has tremendous heart and is always aiming to please. Truly a wonderful ol' guy.
    So today we go for a ride down the road, in the snow. First time riding in the snow with me may I add. He was pretty prancy and excited, which is very unusual for him in areas he's familiar with(he gets the googly TB eyes in new places). Well I just giggled at him, stayed relaxed and let him get over it as long as he kept going forward. I'm wondering if the snow added an element of unfamiliarity and made him a bit nervous. As I was pondering what his deal was a truck starts to come up behind us, generally no big deal. Heck we've had hay trucks fly by us with stuff clanging all over the place and he never payed them any mind. Well today, in the snow, it appears something went amiss in his brain and he decided instead of yielding to my leg and moving over to buck, and buck, and then buck again for good measure. In the hour ride down the road and back this occured 3 times. It actually seemed he was trying to kick the vehicles themselves. Now mind you this wasn't a "get the hell off of me" buck. Nor has he ever bucked in this situation before. Only twice when he was cantering and it was more of a tiny "whee" than a buck. That was this summer in the field, not on the road with cars.
    What the heck happened? Each time(except the last when we really had to move over) I smirked at him, dropped my reins and sent him forward. My guess is this is the wrong avenue for me to take because he went for it thrice. I feel completely safe with him, even through his stunt today, but I would like to curb that habit before it escalates or becomes more dangerous. He felt really pent up and tense. Like he had this energy surging through him he just had to expel. I don't know if it ties into his racing background or what.
    He also chose to ignore my hands by tossing his head the third time when I had had enough and was trying to steer him further off the road to let the car go by. Each of these episodes was very brief and disapated as soon as the vehicle was past us. One of the drivers looked at me like I was nuts, because of the smirk on my face I'm guessing. Or possibly because my old guy was turning his butt to her and kicking out.
    I should probably add that these were TINY bucks, I was completely relaxed the entire time, and at one point a truck pulled alongside us and complimented me on my horse and I rode next to them as we talked for about 5 minutes. He plodded along as usual. The very next car he had a hissy again. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to fix this or ideas as to why this has occured? I know this is long winded but figured details may be helpful. Thank you in advance!

  58. Oh, and this feeble bucking was completely in place. He was actually a bit shakey. It felt like he was trapped in a box and just wanted to GO! That's why I wonder if it correlates to his racing days somehow. And there was NO pressure on the reins to hold him in place either. I actually urged him forward. If it wasn't dangerous I wouldn't worry about it so much as he will be with me 'til his last day and it was fun in it's own way. I'm truly concerned this may the beginning of a bad behaviour pattern though and I don't want riding to become a burden for either of us.

  59. Backing = initial ridden training
    Back up = reverse

    Mugs & Laura rereading this, you mention injecting hocks etc, and I've noticed other US based commenters have too - is this kind of thing common practice?

    It's totally verboten for most disciplines here - seriously, just using the wrong muscle rub can sometimes put you the wrong side of a ban.

    Do you think more regulation about drug use in competition might help to inhibit the trend for competing young horses? Do you have a position on self policing / law involvement in the regulation of equestrian sport?

    It's a great big thing over here right now - microchipping & passports of ALL horses is now compulsory. I personally think it's good - it's dropped a lot of bottom end breeders right out of the market due to the additional costs involved, but there are some serious wrinkles in the phrasing of regulations - the ones about time limits and requirements for carrying papers when moving horses around are frankly barmy IMO.

  60. damsel-last question, then I'm cataloguing the rest....I'm going to be honest. I think you're horse was playing in the snow. I think he is relaxing into you and playing with you.
    Next, personally I don't have a problem with this kind of thing, I feel it comes under "horses will be horses."
    If I was afraid it would escalate (I'd wait to see if it does first)
    then I'd fix it.
    If I have a horse playing rather than working, be it bucking, shying, whatever, I’ll do one of two things, or a combination.
    When the behavior happens, or when I feel it coming I'll pull her head around to my knee and kick out the hip, disengaging the hind end. Then I'll send her forward a few steps and do it again. If my little monster is back on track I’ll continue on. If they still want to mess around I'll keep bending and kicking.
    The other thing I'll do is if I know a certain set of circumstances sets her off (for me, it's the show pen) I'll go out to the arena, field, anywhere but on the road or in my case the show pen and work the play out of them.
    I'd handle it just like you did (good instincts BTW) but in a safer area than the road. I will also make her work past the point where she is done playing and wishes she could rest.
    Then we go to work, in your case, head down the road.
    I only do this if it's an issue. For the most part I welcome play, as long as it isn't going to get me killed or blow my scores.
    Does that help?

  61. Absolutely! Thank you for your advice, it is genuinely appreciated. And I think you're spot on that he was playing. There was no malice in him and he didn't seem unhappy. So I guess my horse is a total dork. :) The little boog. I think I'll get him out before work today and see what he does. Hmmmm...maybe I'll take him to the field across the street first and see if a little run helps get his spunk out. I don't mind play bucks at all without cars nearby. I like to know he feels good and is having fun. Funny how much personality he has now that he's healthy! Guess it's time to go heed advice and see what he does today. Thank you again Mugs!

  62. Dang--that "backed" discussion was funny. I heard that term for the first time a few years ago when a friend said it--we talked for 5 minutes before I finally figured out she meant get on the horse instead of moving in reverse. I just thought I was an idiot for not knowing it and went on pretending I did... ha ha...

  63. Wow! She answered my question! If only work and life hadn't prevented me from reading it in a timely fashion!! Thanks Mugs. It helps to hear your take. IF I elect to rein, I would have to buy a reiner bred yearling, and protect it somewhere until I felt it was ready to train, and then fight with everyone about how to train, I am not sure that is what I want. Plus by the time the horse would be ready, I could be too damn old!! Your opinion confirms mine. I don't know squat, but I winced when I saw a small 2 year old mare tacked and ridden. Clearly too small for adult rider!! If you see this, what would you respond to trainers who say older horses are more dangerous and difficult to train. They have more negative attitudes and don't remember as well or learn as quickly. (So I have been told.)Watching my 4 year old doofus act out, I wondered how many horses are "lost" by training after some magic receptive brain age, and are subsequently too difficult to manage. I like your approach. Alittle early training to reach the brain, and let the rest of them grow up. Thanks again!!

  64. Thanks for the affirmations, Mugs. I am breeding my mare for my own foal to raise, and I've already made the decision that NO ONE will get on his (note my optimism) back until he's at least 3 years old. Until that time, I have plenty of things I can do with him--take him for walks, teach him tricks, whatever. I have his whole life ahead of me--why should I risk his health for my impatience?

    Thanks again. I am thoroughly enjoying your blog!

    For the Tennessee Walking Horse

    When the Rain Horse Comes

    The Murder of the English Language

  65. I know I am getting into this late Late LATE...but I wanted to chime in. Endurance horses aren't allowed to compete until they are 5 years old or so. Still I see a lot of people (including myself when I first started) overriding their horses - but at least the horse is at full maturity and has a chance. I think the AERC has done a good job emphasizing horse/rider longegivity, while not losing sight of the fact that it IS a race (which is different from NATRC etc.).

    I agree that there's an universal saying out there somewhere! Endurance riders have a saying that a horse only has so many downhills in them, especially at a trot. So during training (once the horse learns to go down hill and is balenced) I'll get off and jog or walk down it. I try to get off in competition too if I can going down hill.