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Age to Start a Horse

I have a 16 month old Paint that I have bonded with very well she accepted the bridle and now saddle, but at what age can I actually get on her back? Thank You Terrie

Hello and thanks for writing. Horses tend to look big and strong at a young age but it takes a LONG time before they mentally, emotionally and physically mature. Each horse should be assessed as an individual in where their maturity is and when they are ready to ride. Also keep in mind that the initial foundation of the first few rides is only the beginning of a continuously ongoing long term project in educating the horse.

In too many situations a person will "steal" the first few rides on their young horse. Then you hear stories that the next time they went to get on "all of a sudden" the horse starts to act up. People tend to get distracted by the physical goal of getting on the young horse the first few times, rather than addressing where the horse's brain is, offering quality clear communication and building confidence and trust in the young horse.

Your horse's physical actions are a direct reflection of her mental and emotional state. Part of the horse's maturity process is waiting for her to mentally grow up. Your horse needs to be mentally and emotionally available AND participative so that when you teach her to accept a rider the sessions seem "boring." You want the experience to be a positive one so that she has those "warm and fuzzy" feelings towards you and wants to participate the next time you want to work with her.

There is a LOT of preparation that should go into educating your horse before you ever think about getting on her for the first time. A few things to consider  and evaluate include: having her stand quietly while you "fuss" around her, being respectful and clear how to yield to physical and spatial pressure, being able to accept your weight in one stirrup as you simulate the beginning of mounting, etc. She'll need to be desensitized to movement not only where the saddle would sit, but also around her head, sides, barrel, legs, etc. She'll need to understand how to respond to the aids you present from the ground which should be similar to the ones used to communicate when you ride her.

You need to think of getting on her for the first few times separate from what you might term "riding her." The first few sessions you may just get on and off a few times, walk and turn a bit and then put her up for the day. A successful ride should be "BORING." No stress, no worry, etc. from either you OR the horse.   Always end the session on a positive note. As your horse gets more comfortable and balanced with you sitting on her, she'll tell you when she's ready to learn more.

There is no "common" age for most horse's knees to be closed- it varies according to their particular breed and individual growth. With the horse's well being prioritized, nowadays it is common for them to be ridden lightly a few times, then turned back to pasture until they mentally and physically mature.

For me personally, I'd rather take my time when starting horses by working with the horse and offering what they can benefit from, rather then using a "standardized training program."  My goal is for LONG TERM  quality and rewarding experiences with the horse.  Rather than force a lot of them early on, with the risk of them becoming overwhelmed and frustrated emotionally which can cause them to break down physically later, I look to create small doses of quality that will help build the horse's confidence which encourages his curiosity and desire to participate with a positive attitude in future training.

Good Luck,

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