Tuesday, August 20, 2013



A Pony Named “Oke Doke” Edges Out the Big Boys in East Coast Rider’s Cup Intermediate Dressage Competition at Centerline Events

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Written by Lynndee Kemmet
photo: TerriMiller.com - Jovanna Stepan and Erin Meadows Oke Doke in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
photo: TerriMiller.com - Jovanna Stepan and Erin Meadows Oke Doke in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
Saugerties, NY – A Connemara pony named Erin Meadows Oke Doke showed up the big horses in Intermediate competition at the 2013 Centerline Eventsat HITS on the Hudson. Oke Doke earned the Reserve Championship in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I by winning Friday’s ECRC FEI Intermediate 1 competition with a score of 67.039 percent and taking sixth in Saturday’s second round. The 14-hand pony (by Loughrea's Oisin out of Erin Meadows Celtic Treasure x Hideaway's Sebastian) and bred by Sandra Ferguson of Ontario Canada, was the only little guy in a field of two dozen challengers for the Intermediate I East Coast Rider’s Cup. “He’s really a poster child for ponies,” said his rider, Jovanna Stepan, of Rhinebeck, New York. The 12-year-old Oke Doke is owned by Tanya Murray, also of Rhinebeck, and she bought him two years ago from a family in Toronto, Canada after seeing a sales ad on DressageDaily. However according to the FEI rules, in spite of his ability and talent, he is currently is not allowed in CDI Classes.
Jovanna Stepan with Tanya Murray's 14-hand Connemara pony Erin Meadows Oke Doke (by Loughrea's Oisin out of Erin Meadows Celtic Treasure x Hideaway's Sebastian) earns reserve champions in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
Jovanna Stepan with Tanya Murray's 14-hand Connemara pony Erin Meadows Oke Doke (by Loughrea's Oisin out of Erin Meadows Celtic Treasure x Hideaway's Sebastian) earns reserve champions in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
“We’re still in touch with the Dunlop family, his previous owners who are part of his cheering squad,” Stepan said. “We fell in love with him the moment we saw the video.” She said at the time a pony seemed an ideal match for Murray, who is only five feet tall and was looking to get back into riding after a hiatus of having five children. Stepan is five-feet, six-inches but said Oke Doke still fits her well. “When you see him in the stall he looks like a pony but then people see him go and they say, ‘oh my gosh.’ He’s the smartest horse I’ve ever worked with.”
Murray rides the pony three days a week and Stepan trains him the other days. She’s already begun working on his passage and piaffe. “He has covered so much ground in two years,” Stepan said.
Oke Doke did his first Prix St. George in May and then two weeks ago did his first Intermediate I. There is no doubt in Stepan’s mind that he is destined for Grand Prix competition, but unless the FEI changes its rules, Oke Doke will never get the chance to challenge the big boys in CDI competition.
Jovanna Stepan and Erin Meadows Oke Doke in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
Jovanna Stepan and Erin Meadows Oke Doke in the East Coast Rider’s Cup competition for Intermediate I
Oke Doke is blocked from competing in regular CDI competition because he is a pony. There are separate pony CDIs for young riders but that doesn’t fit Oke Doke and Stepan. “It’s part of the old CDI rules when ponies were meant for children,” Stepan said. “So I’m sitting here throwing rocks at the glass ceiling.” Stepan plans to compete Oke Doke next month at the New England Dressage Association’s Fall Festival but she’d also love to take him to Devon but those are CDI classes and Oke Doke is not allowed.
Stepan is an ambassador for Just World International (www.justworldinternational.org), a rider-supported organization that works to improve lives in the developing world, and now she’s taken on the role of being an ambassador for ponies. “I had never really trained a pony to this point and had never advised anyone to buy a pony before. But they are amazing. They stay sound, they live forever and many of them have the best character.”
Her goal is to keep moving Oke Doke up the levels and challenging the big horses in FEI competition with the hope that she can build support for opening CDIs to ponies. Over the past two years, Stepan and Oke Doke have spent time training with Emily Gershberg, Lars Petersen, Michael Barisone and well-known pony proponent Lendon Gray and all of them have been amazed by his talent. Stepan is confident that Oke Doke could hold his ground against the bigger horses in a CDI if given the chance. “It’s time we revisit the CDI rules," she said.

Lightness per Nuno Oliveira

"Lightness is the consequence of impulsion and collection." (Nuno Oliveira, 1998)

 "The relaxation of the mouth is not enough. It can be deceptive, because it does not necessarily lead to lightness. It has to be accompanied by the relaxation of the entire horse. When he yields with his back, it will definitely have repercussions in the mouth." (Nuno Oliveira, 1998)

The Poll and Why It's Important

Per the Classical Dressage Masters --

"Every horse has only one appropriate head and neck position for riding with respect to his conformation into which he has to be brought and in which he has to be worked. In other words, it can never be arbitrary. It is determined by the poll, whose position is limited to a very small space, if not merely a point, in terms of its height. The rider has to search for it. He has found it by keeping the neck in the same place, or by raising or lowering it, when he feels that the reins affect the entire horse, including the back and hindquarters, through the poll and the steady neck. This point in terms of the poll height has not been found yet as long as the horse yields to the reins only or even partially in the neck and evades with his neck." (Adolph Kästner, 1876)

"Without correct poll flexion, without perfect coordination of the seat, the posture, the rider’s guidance and all aids, without precise and tactful guidance of the hand above the middle of the horse, rein contact is impossible. For, in the case of incorrect flexions, the horse either leans onto the inside rein while freeing himself from the outside rein, or he steps behind the inside rein while leaning onto the outside one, or he leans against both reins, or he stays behind both of them." (Adolph Kästner, 1876)

 "No matter how much or how little the horse’s head and neck position needs to be adjusted, the rider must take care from the moment of the first mounting that he assigns the correct position to the poll, because it is only from this position alone that the entire horse can and must be addressed, if one wants to be successful. Through the correct position of the head and neck the rider obtains the feel of the entire horse in his hand and seat, so that he is able to make all the necessary improvements that the horse is capable of executing. It is only through this feel that the good, beautiful and uninterrupted, correct position of the head and neck can be achieved in which the rest of the horse’s body closely participates as well. The same goes for collection and obedience." (Adolph Kästner, 1876)

The original posts by Adolph Kästner were posted to the Ritter Dressage Facebook page. Ritter Dressage is the collaborative effort of Dr. Thomas Ritter and his wife, Shana Ritter. 
"We started the website, ClassicalDressage.com, in 1998, with its related Discussion Groups and other forums, with the intent purpose of preserving and promoting Classical Dressage in North America. Since that time, Ritter Dressage has gone through numerous expansions and transormations, which included an extensive clinic schedule that spanned over North American with the inclusion of Europe, a successful Lipizzan breeding operation, USDF and FEI Dressage Competition and Competitive Coaching, and Twice yearly Performance Exhibitions for the General Public, and publication of an extensive list of articles and other works.  
 In 2010, Thomas and Shana shut down their North American operations and relocated to Germany. Shortly thereafter welcomed the publication of Thomas' first book, "Klassisches Reiten auf Grundlage der Biomechanik" available in German with an English translation expected to be released in North America in the near future. In the meantime, we have been featured in several large Expert Forum Expositions in Germany and will be featured in Equitana in March 2012, as well as an extensive European clinic tour. Thomas' next book which features the training of the horse at the Longrein will be released in Spring 2012.

Thomas and Shana are building a homebase in Germany for North American riders to "land" and launch their European competition aspirations or simply to devote themselves exclusively towards their training education. We have also established contacts throughout Germany for the purchase of Dressage horses of various price ranges, and are available to facilitate in the purchase and importation of horses for North American riders. We can help North American buyers bridge the language barrier (Thomas is fluent in German and English) and stress of traveling in a foreign country (we can pick you up at the airport, show you around, make introductions with breeders and horse sellers, and facilitate negotiations, as well as coordinate details for the veterinary examinations and shipping specifics even after you have returned home). We have the unique advantage that we have contacts and extensive knowledge of both Warmbloods and Baroque Horses. 
Email ritter@artisticdressage.com

Monday, August 19, 2013

Day 5 Complete: ATL/NC Training Trip, Summer 2013

Day 5 of our trip complete. Swiss Miss and I are both a little worn out, but mostly mentally. We managed to get beautiful, supple, forward response on the lunge line right from the get go this morning. Swiss Miss clearly thought about her lessons overnight. Sophie and I were QUITE pleased with her. We also did beautiful work on the wall working in-hand, and Sophie was very approving of how I picked up the technique very quickly. It helped that Swiss Miss was behaving so well, so I didn't have any resistance to throw me off while I was learning how to apply what I had observed when Sophie had worked her in-hand over the last couple days. Working under saddle was a little less fluid, but we did manage to accomplish finally connecting inside leg to outside rein and on the bit in both directions, though more consistently at the walk than at the trot.

The drive home was initially wet, then cleared, then was a real mess through Atlanta, but we made it home in one piece and Swiss Miss was quite glad to rejoin my small band of mares when we arrived at the farm. It's good to be back, and I'm looking forward to applying our new knowledge to our training schedule this week.

Day 4 Complete: ATL/NC Training Trip, Summer 2013

Day 4 of our trip complete. As Sophie has said before, it is always lesson 4 where we get to the root of the problem. Day 4 was where we discovered that, as far as fight or flight instincts go, Swiss Miss will give you a fight. Swiss Miss is still lacking in some of her basic vocabulary. She has a grasp on some of it, but she is so green and I'd been grounded for 5 weeks up until right before our trip, so she had only gotten the bare beginnings of training before we came.

She was worked on the lunge and in the saddle during our morning lesson, but was put back on the lunge in the end. She kind of just decided, "I've been working and mostly behaving for the last 3 days, and now I'm going to give you the finger." She grew very rude about space, and anytime you touched the right rein, she tried to swing her hind end out, so alternated between going sideways in the saddle or just popping the hind end off of the circle and pivoting, or on the ground she would attempt to spin out and face you to get out of work, then would try to bully you by putting her shoulder in your space. We worked hard, but managed to end on a good note for the morning lesson, and she was a bit tired by the end because we just let her fight herself and work it out on the lunge.

Our afternoon lesson started in-hand and was going quite well, but then she started being a bit defiant and bullying into your space again, swinging her head at Sophie (BIG mistake) and popping her shoulder at you. We have determined that her right side is the one she really avoids being through on, so that's the side we've been focusing on claiming and getting softness on. We worked most of this on the lunge and then tried to replicate in the saddle, and Sophie put us together on the lunge line so she could keep her forward for me so I could really focus on maintaining my own body and really focusing on my aids to get that release for Swiss Miss. Once she finally stopped squiggling all over the place, we had a few really nice rotations in each direction, then I vaulted off.

The final lesson concluded with her working beautifully on the lunge and finally "getting it" and cooperating, then she was given a walk break. Since Sophie unfortunately won't be able to have us stay another week, we reattached the side reins after her short break to see if the changes stuck, and voila! Soft, forward, softly chewing and licking pony with soft eyes going around on her circle with a proper frame and no more objections. 

We're likely going to do a 6 week lunging program to work out the dangerous rudeness on the ground till she is responsive to just voice aids without any rein aid or exaggerated body blocking, and then I should have a better horse under saddle. We will ride today for lesson 6 before we head home, so wish us luck! We ride at 9:45 and haul out by noon!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Day 3 Complete, ATL/NC Training Trip, Summer 2013

Day 3 of our trip complete. What a productive day yesterday! I am learning so much! Ok, so the thrilling parts. Sophie informed me that she was quite pleased that my position in the saddle has come a long way, and she said that she didn't have anything to fix, seatwise! She says that I have caught on to the concept of the perfect position, and while Swiss Miss can be a little squiggly and throw me off sometimes since she is green, I am now steady enough that I regain proper position quickly. Also, she told me she can tell that I am way more fit than the last time I came up. She said that she has always felt that I'm very athletic, but I am on day 3 of lessons for this trip and I'm not exhausted this time :) I only have a little bit of inner thigh soreness from posting and correcting on a green bean. Anyway, during each lesson yesterday, we started off in the surcingle and side reins. During lesson one, we lunged and have been teaching Swiss Miss how to properly carry herself in a frame and keep her poll high, plus we're working on her balance in different gaits. She is such a quick learner! The latter part of each lesson involved mounted work, and teaching Swiss Miss to maintain being poll high and coming into the bridle. We are really working hard at keeping her more forward so that she really rounds and comes into the bridle, coming onto the bit. I am focusing on keeping her forward and not yielding by giving up too much rein to make her confused with inconsistent contact, and I'm really glad for new gloves and my thin rubber laced reins. Our second lesson started in the surcingle, but instead of lunging we started with in-hand work! I am very excited to be learning how to work her in-hand. To begin with, we had to teach her forward while we make her feel a wee bit claustrophobic since we sandwich her between my body and the wall. She's quite sensitive and initially emotional, so keeping calm and just waiting her out till she yielded was critical, but she did so well! She is better to her left than to her right like a lot of horses can be, so touching the right rein is something she doesn't much care for and is a little resistant at learning to be through on her right side if she feels any contact on her right rein. Even so, she still caught on and managed to do some really lovely work. With Sophie's really fabulous arena footing, this pony is so fancy and such a nice, big mover. She really doesn't move like a pony at all. I am having such a good time! Onwards to two more lessons on day 4, then one more lesson on day 5 before we travel home. WOOT!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 2 Complete: ATL/NC Training Trip, Summer 2013

Day 2 of our trip is complete. Aside from Swiss Miss tangling with the perimeter gate and losing yesterday, we still had a productive day once we arrived at Sophie's. Once we arrived at Blue Moon Farm, I got her unloaded and grazed her in the front lawn for a bit. She thankfully was not swelling, was calm and steady, and did not appear unsound anywhere. Sophie worked her over and said she's remarkably fine for having crumpled like a wet noodle into a heap after flipping over the gate, so we put her on the lunge line and she still managed to impress Sophie :) Many thanks to Juliette and Dr. Easterwood yesterday for helping me find the right quick action and medication to make Swiss Miss comfortable yesterday! As long as Swiss Miss is sound this morning on the lunge line, we will ride. However, I'm thinking a chiropractic is still in Swiss Miss's near future regardless! Fingers crossed for two good lessons today :)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Day 1 Complete: ATL/NC Training Trip Summer 2013

Day 1 of our journey complete! Swiss Miss and I arrived safely yesterday afternoon at Juliette's farm and settled in. We had a nice lunging warm up, then attempted to work on position and faced some challenges staying focused with tons of distractions (other riders, shadows, other horses). Aside from some snarky faces at the other horses, she did quite well for a green bean. We managed to get forward and straight for a few strides, a few very good, responsive transitions, and ThePone gave me a very nice, square halt a few different times. She's really coming along, and most importantly, the willingness to get her head back in the game when I asked was one of the best parts of the whole lesson :) Post lesson she was thrilled to have her dinner in a nice stall, then Karen and I had our traditional night at Ru San's for my one night in ATL. So good!. Afterward I cleaned and conditioned all of my tack till the wee hours of the morning. Fred, my saddle looks and feels like a different saddle now! That Lederbalsam is good stuff! Also, apparently I've been using LeatherNew incorrectly for YEEAAAARRRSSSS... Now, to have some breakfast, repack my gear, hitch the trailer again and load the pony, then off to Sophie's for day 2!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Failure is just feedback and an opportunity to grow

For the thoughtful student or when working with the horse, resistances and confusion are a sign of an opportunity to learn. Rather than overpowering resistance with aggression or running always from confusion, one needs to look into it. It is only by exploring the fabric of yours or horse's confusion or resistance that one can grow. Dressage is not and should not be a stagnant body of fact but rather, it is the tools one uses for exploring resistance or confusion. Success is not in doing tricks or special movements but in the confidence and positive attitude that is cultivated in the horse and rider which results from skillful means one uses in exploring these difficulties. Confusion does have a use. It is the door to the next level. Resistance is useful. It shows you where you have lost the connection. Good dressage cultivates a willingness to work together on both sides of the relationship.

~Craig Stevens

Friday, August 2, 2013

Timing and Rate of skeletal maturation in Horses – by Deb Bennett, Ph.D. | Horsemanship & Herd Dynamics Harmony between Nature & Nurture ©

Timing and Rate of skeletal maturation in Horses – by Deb Bennett, Ph.D. | Horsemanship & Herd Dynamics Harmony between Nature & Nurture ©:

'via Blog this'

Timing and Rate of skeletal maturation in Horses – by Deb Bennett, Ph.D.

  • Short pastern – top and bottom between birth and 6 months.
  • Long pastern – top and bottom between 6 months and one year.
  • Cannon bone – top and bottom between 8 months and 1.5 years
  • Small bones of the knee – top and bottom of each, between 1.5 and 2.5 years
  • Bottom of radius-ulna – between 2 and 2.5 years
  • Weight-bearing portion of glenoid notch at top of radius – between 2.5 and 3 years
  • Humerus – top and bottom, between 3 and 3.5 years
  • Scapula – glenoid or bottom (weight-bearing) portion – between 3.5 and 4 years
  • Hindlimb – lower portions same as forelimb
  • Hock – this joint is “late” for as low down as it is; growth plates on the tibial and fibular tarsals don’t fuse until the animal is four (so the hocks are a known “weak point” – even the 18th-century literature warns against driving young horses in plow or other deep or sticky footing, or jumping them up into a heavy load, for danger of spraining their hocks).
  • Tibia – top and bottom, between 3 and 3.5 years
  • Femur – bottom, between 3 and 3.5 years; neck, between 2.5 and 3 years; major and 3rd trochanters, between 2.5 and 3 years Pelvis – growth plates on the points of hip, peak of croup (tubera sacrale), and points of buttock (tuber ischii), between 3 and 4 years.
Back and Neck vs. Limbs
  • Comfortable being touched all over. Comfortable: not put-upon nor merely tolerating, but really looking forward to it.
  • This includes interior of mouth, muzzle, jowls, ears, sheath/udder, tail, front and hind feet. Pick ‘em up and they should be floppy.
  • Knows how to lead up. No fear; no attempt to flee; no drag in the feet; knows that it’s his job to keep slack in the line all the time.
  • Manners enough to lead at your shoulder, stop or go when he sees your body get ready to stop or go; if he spooks, does not jump toward or onto you, will not enter your space unless he’s specifically invited to do so.
  • Leads through gate or into stall without charging.
  • Knows how to tie, may move to the side when spooked but keeps slack in the line all the time.
  • Knows how to be ponied.
  • Carries smooth nonleverage bit in mouth. Lowers head and opens mouth when asked to take the bit; when unbridled, lowers head and spits the bit out himself.
  • Will work with a drag (tarp, sack half filled with sand, light tire, or sledge and harness).
  • Mounts drum or sturdy stand with front feet.
  • Free longes – comes when called and responds calmly to being driven forward; relaxed and eager.
  • When driven, leaves without any sign of fleeing; when stopped, plants hind feet and coils loins; does not depend on back-drag from your hand to stop him.
  • Familiar with saddle, saddle blanket, and being girthed and accepts it quietly.
  • Backs easily, quietly and straight in hand, “one step at a time”.
  • Loads quietly in horse trailer, unloads by stepping backwards from inside horse trailer without rearing or rushing.

©2005 By Deb Bennett, Ph.D.
All Horses of All Breeds Mature Skeletally at the Same Rate
There is no such thing as an ‘early maturing’ or  ‘slow maturing’ breed of horse. Let me repeat that: no horse on earth, of any breed, at any time, is or has ever been mature before the age of six (plus or minus six months). So, for example, the Quarter Horse is not an “early maturing” breed – and neither is the Arabian a “slow maturing” breed. As far as their skeletons go, they are the same. This information comes, I know, as a shock to many people who think starting their colt or filly under saddle at age two is what they ought to be doing. This begs discussion of (1) what I mean by “mature” and (2) what I mean by “starting”.
When is a Horse Skeletally Mature?
Just about everybody has heard of the horse’s “growth plates”, and commonly when I ask them, people tell me that the “growth plates” are somewhere around the horse’s knees (actually the ones people mean are located at the bottom of the radius-ulna bone just above the knee). This is what gives rise to the saying that, before riding the horse, it’s best to wait “until his knees close” (i.e., until the growth plates convert from cartilage to bone, fusing the epiphysis or bone-end to the diaphysis or bone-shaft). What people often don’t realize is that there is a “growth plate” on either end of every bone behind the skull, and in the case of some bones (like the pelvis, which has many “corners”) there are multiple growth plates.
So do you then have to wait until all these growth plates convert to bone? No. But the longer you wait, the safer you’ll be. Owners and trainers need to realize there’s a definite, easy-to-remember schedule of fusion – and then make their decision as to when to ride the horse based on that rather than on the external appearance of the horse. For there are some breeds of horse – the Quarter Horse is the premier among these – which have been bred in such a manner as to look mature long before they actually are mature. This puts these horses in jeopardy from people who are either ignorant of the closure schedule, or more interested in their own schedule (for futurities or other competition) than they are in the welfare of the animal.
The Schedule of Growth-Plate Conversion to Bone
The process of converting the growth plates to bone goes from the bottom of the animal up. In other words, the lower down toward the hoofs you look, the earlier the growth plates will have fused; and the higher up toward the animal’s back you look, the later. The growth plate at the top of the coffin bone (the most distal bone of the limb) is fused at birth. What that means is that the coffin bones get no taller after birth (they get much larger around, though, by another mechanism). That’s the first one. In order after that:
And what do you think is last? The vertebral column, of course. A normal horse has 32 vertebrae between the back of the skull and the root of the dock, and there are several growth plates on each one, the most important of which is the one capping the centrum. These do not fuse until the horse is at least 5 ½ years old (and this figure applies to a small-sized, scrubby, range-raised mare. The taller your horse and the longer its neck, the later the last fusions will occur. And for a male – is this a surprise? – you add six months. So, for example, a 17-hand Thoroughbred or Saddlebred or Warmblood gelding may not be fully mature until his 8th year – something that owners of such individuals have often told me that they “suspected”).
Significance of the Closure Schedule for Injuries to
The lateness of vertebral “closure” is most significant for two reasons. One: in no limb are there 32 growth plates! Two: the growth plates in the limbs are (more or less) oriented perpendicular to the stress of the load passing through them, while those of the vertebral chain are oriented parallel to weight placed upon the horse’s back. Bottom line: you can sprain a horse’s back a lot more easily than you can displace those located in the limbs.
Here’s another little fact: within the chain of vertebrae, the last to fully close” are those at the base of the animal’s neck (that’s why the long-necked individual may go past 6 years to achieve full maturity – it’s the base of his neck that is still growing). So you have to be careful – very careful – not to yank the neck around on your young horse, or get him in any situation where he strains his neck (i.e., better learn how to get a horse broke to tie before you ever tie him up, so that there will be no likelihood of him ever pulling back hard).
Relationship of Skeletal to Sexual Maturity
The other “maturity” question I always get is this: “so how come if my colt is not skeletally mature at age 2 he can be used at stud and sire a foal?” My answer to that is this: sure, sweetie, if that’s how you want to define maturity, then every 14 year old boy is mature. In other words, the ability to achieve an erection, penetrate a mare, and ejaculate some semen containing live sperm cells occurs before skeletal maturity, both in our species and in the horse.
However, even if you only looked at sperm counts or other standard measures of sexual maturity that are used for livestock, you would know that considering a 2 year old a “stallion” is foolish. Male horses do not achieve the testicular width or weight, quality or quantity of total ejaculate, or high sperm counts until they’re six. Period. And people used to know this; that’s why it’s incorrect to refer to any male horse younger than 4 as a “stallion,” whether he’s in service or not.
Peoples’ confusion on this question is also why we have such things as the Stallion Rehabilitation Program at Colorado State University or the behavior-modification clinic at Cornell – because a two year old colt is no more able to “take command” on a mental or psychological level of the whole process of mating – which involves everything from “properly” being able to ask the mare’s permission, to actually knowing which end of her to jump on, to being able to do this while some excited and usually frightened humans are banging him on the nose with a chain – than is a 14 year old boy.
What Does it Mean to “Start” a Young Horse?
Let us now turn to the second discussion, which is what I mean by “starting” and the whole history of that. Many people today – at least in our privileged country – do not realize how hard you can actually work a mature horse – which is very, very hard. But before you can do that without significantly damaging the animal, you have to wait for him to mature, which means – waiting until he is four to six years old before asking him to carry you on his back.
What bad will happen if you put him to work as a riding horse before that? Two important things – and probably not what you’re thinking of. What is very unlikely to happen is that you’ll damage the growth plates in his legs. At the worst, there may be some crushing of the cartilages, but the number of cases of deformed limbs due to early use is tiny. The cutting-horse futurity people, who are big into riding horses as young as a year and a half, will tell you this and they are quite correct. Want to damage legs? There’s a much better way – just overfeed your livestock (you ought to be able to see a young horse’s ribs – not skeletal, but see ‘em – until he’s two).
Structural damage to the horse’s back from early riding is somewhat easier to produce than structural damage to his legs. There are some bloodlines (in Standardbreds, Arabians, and American Saddlebreds) that are known to inherit weak deep intervertebral ligament sheathing; these animals are especially prone to the early, sudden onset of “saddle back’” However, individuals belonging to these bloodlines are by no means the only ones who may have their back “slip” and that’s because, as mentioned above, the stress of weightbearing on the back passes parallel to its growth plates as well as parallel to the intervertebral joints. However, despite the fact that I have provided a photo of one such case for this posting, I want to add that the frequency of slipped backs in horses under 6 years old is also very low.
So, what’s to worry about? Well…did you ever wish your horse would “round up” a little better? Collect a little better? Respond to your leg by raising his back, coiling his loins, and getting his hindquarter up underneath him a little better? The young horse knows, by feel and by “instinct”, that having a weight on his back puts him in physical jeopardy. I’m sure that all of you start your youngstock in the most humane and considerate way that you know how, and just because of that, I assure you that after a little while, your horse knows exactly what that saddle is and what that situation where you go to mount him means. And he loves you, and he is wiser than you are, so he allows this. But he does not allow it foolishly, against his deepest nature, which amounts to a command from the Creator that he must survive; so when your foot goes in that stirrup, he takes measures to protect himself.
The measures he takes are the same ones you would take in anticipation of a load coming onto your back: he stiffens or braces the muscles of his topline, and to help himself do that he may also brace his legs and hold his breath (“brace” his diaphragm). The earlier you choose to ride your horse, the more the animal will do this, and the more often you ride him young, the more you reinforce the necessity of him responding to you in this way. So please – don’t come crying to me when your six-year-old (that you started under saddle as a two year old) proves difficult to round up. Any horse that does not know how to move with his back muscles in release cannot round up.
Bottom line: if you are one of those who equates “starting” with “riding”, then I guess you better not start your horse until he’s four. That would be the old, traditional, worldwide view: introduce the horse to equipment (all kinds of equipment and situations) when he’s two, crawl on and off of him at three, saddle him to begin riding him and teaching him to guide at four, start teaching him maneuvers or the basics of whatever job he’s going to do – cavalletti or stops or something beyond trailing cattle – at five, and he’s on the payroll at six. The old Spanish way of bitting reflected this also, because the horse’s teeth aren’t mature (the tushes haven’t come in, nor all of the permanent cheek teeth either) until he’s six.= This is what I’d do if it were my own horse. I’m at liberty to do that because I’m not on anybody else’s schedule except my horse’s own schedule. I’m not a participant in futurities or planning to be. Are you? If you are, well, that’s your business. But most horse owners aren’t futurity competitors. Please ask yourself: is there any reason that you have to be riding that particular horse before he’s four?
When I say “start” a horse I do not equate that with riding him. To start a young horse well is one of the finest tests (and proofs) of superior horsemanship. Anyone who does not know how to start a horse cannot know how to finish one. You, the owner, therefore have the following as a minimum list of enjoyable “things to accomplish” together with your young horse before he’s four years old, when you do start him under saddle:
Various people might like to add to this list. Please feel free, just so long as what you’re asking your young horse isn’t more than he can physically do. Getting the horse “100% OK” mentally and emotionally – those are the big areas in successful early training; most of the physical and athletic skills can come later, when it is fitting.
I’ve had people act, when I gave them the above facts and advice about starting youngstock, like waiting four years was just more than they could possibly stand. I think they feel this way because the list of things which they would like to include as necessary before attempting to ride is very short. Their whole focus is on riding as why they bought the animal, and they think they have a right to this. Well, the horse – good friend to mankind that he is – will soon show them what he thinks they have a right to.
The full article is linked below