Pennsylvania 2 year old ridden in endurance saddle by beginner

Question: I am a NEW rider and fell in love with the Rocky Mountain horses.  I recently bought a 2 year old that is green broke from Kentucky, and is currently in training (1 month) at a Mountain Horse farm in Pennsylvania where I will board him. From what they tell me and from what I have seen - he is magnificent !! He has no trail vices (solo or in a group) and has had several riders on him.


However, other horse friends are of the opinion that riding a 2 year is too early - your

How do you determine the appropriate horse / rider weight limits?

From Panelist Laura

When you ride and how much depends a lot on how physically & mentally mature 
your horse is.  I personally prefer to keep the work for a 2 yr old very 
light with short sessions.  If your baby is small & immature, wait another 
year to start him.  Your horse has a long life ahead of him and starting him 
too young may shorten his useful years.  So many people are in a big hurry to 
get that baby under saddle without thinking about how many more years they 
could enjoy him if they just waited a bit.  If your baby is fairly mature for 
his age, still make sure the work sessions are short and not too stressful.  
Keep your trail riding sesisons short & in easy terrain.  This is a time for 
him to learn to enjoy working with people.  If the rider is very heavy, ride 
for only a few minutes at a walk.  You can add to the work later as the baby 


From Panelists Annette

The second question you asked is the easier of the two to answer, that is,
how do you decide weight rider limits? A friend of mine that runs a pack
outfit says that the rule of thumb he uses is that a mature conditioned
horse can carry 1/3 of its body weight in live weight, that is, a rider, and
1/4 its weight in dead weight properly packed to distribute the load evenly
on the horse's back. Note the words "mature" and "conditioned". A horse that
is not mature, and or/not conditioned, should not be asked to carry as much
weight. More on that in a moment. However, with regard to that mature
conditioned horse, that means that a 1000 lb horse can carry 330 lbs of
rider weight. That has always intrigued me, because it points up something I
have long thought, that Americans overemphasize the size of a horse that is
needed. You don't need a 16H+ horse to carry a 125-150 woman, or even a
200-250 lb man. Most 15H horses will have sufficient strength, if they have
sufficient bone in the legs, to carry the average adult. This is always
brought home to me when I travel in the Caribbean and Central America where
full sized men put themselves on 14H to 14-2H Paso type horses and go ticky
ticky ticky across the countryside all day long. The idea that a horse has
to be 16H+ to carry the weight of the average adult rider is simply not
true. Horses over 15H in fact seldom have sufficient bone in their leg to
carry their own weight and the weight of the rider, too. The rule is that
the horse should have 7" circumference of bone in the front leg measured
just above the knee per 1000 lbs of horse. Start carrying a tape measure
around as I did, and you will quickly discover as I did that few horses over
15H in fact have sufficient bone for their weight. So, the result is that a
larger horse, who usually does not have enough bone for his own weight, is
then asked to carry large riders, because he "looks big enough" when in fact
he is not when the bone in his legs is instead considered, and so he breaks
down in the legs faster than the 15H horse that does have sufficient bone in
the legs to carry both his own weight and the weight of the rider. As a
result, there isn't a horse on this place that is much over 15H, with my
largest horse being just under 15-1H. She carries my 6'4" 220 lb husband
just fine. And all of them here meet the bone circumference test in
relationship to their weight. And I plan to keep it that way in my breeding

Your second question hits in one of perhaps the most sensitive and
controversial areas in horses being discussed today: The disgraceful and
incredibly damaging practice in this country of putting two year old babies
under saddle and asking them to perform as mature horses. The very best
discourse on this subject is one presented by Dr. Deb Bennet at her website, Click on the link, then when the page is up,
click on the conformation link, then go to the 3rd horse down, Ranger, and
read every word of what Dr. Deb has to say in that section. It should be
required reading for every person that owns a horse or is thinking of owning
a horse. As you will see when you read that material, no horse, I repeat No
Horse, is fully physically mature until it is 6 years old, plus or minus 6
months, and with long necked breeds such as Saddlebreds, it can be as late
as age 8 before the last joints in the vertebral column ossify. In this
country, the pressure is on the breeders to get those babies under saddle so
they can be, in the case of Mtn Horses, certified to show and breed, and in
all breeds, get them bred, get them shown, and get them sold. Mtn Horses
have historically been a breed with an extremely long useful life, with the
founding horse, Old Tobe, being used as an active breeding stallion to the
year of his death at the age of 36, and his sons, some of whom are still
alive, being active breeding stallions until their deaths in their early
thirties. But now that the show circuit is in full swing and the demand for
broke ready to ride Mtn Horses far outstrips the supply, the practice of
putting two year olds under saddle to certify them, show them, get them
bred, and get them sold is also in full swing, with the result that we are
now starting to see in Mtn Horses ailments that were unheard of
historically, but which have been all too common in other American breeds,
horses whose legs are breaking down when they are 10 to 12 years old,
because they were ridden too early and too hard. That is why in this country
a horse is considered "old" when it is in its mid-teens, and so many of them
go into the meat markets at that age, broke down, unrideable and discarded
for a new baby under saddle, when by contrast horses trained in Europe or on
the European model, not asked to carry weight until at least 3, better 4
years old, then brought along slowly until physical maturity, and then used
in Grand Prix Olympic events, are in their prime in their mid-teens, at
exactly the age when most American trained horses are dog meat.

There is no zealot like a reformed scofflaw, and I will readily admit that I
too put babies under saddle, because a"everyone else" was also doing it. It
was reading Dr. Deb's material that reformed me about two years ago now. It
is now the policy of this farm not to ask any horse to carry weight on its
back before at least the spring of its third year, and even then, I ask very
little of them for the next two years in terms of actual work, not asking
them to climb mountains or to carry weight for too long. In the end, I know
that my horses will have a healthy useful life that will far outstrip that
of the horse put under saddle and ridden even moderately as a two year old,
and this is good for both the horse and the ultimate owner(s).

But, changing my policies so that horses are not put under saddle means that
I now have to compete in the marketplace with those that put their two year
olds under saddle and offer them as broke ready to ride horses, so they can
offer them for less money than my comparably trained three year old, because
they have a year less in the feeding and care of the horse. So, it is often
difficult to convince the buyer with X amount of dollars in her pocket
looking for a horse, that the extra amount I have to ask for my three year
old under saddle, or that she will have to put into my two year old not
under saddle by waiting another year before she can ride it and put training
into it, is worth paying when she can buy a two year old under saddle from
another breeder more concerned about getting the money out of the horse and
getting it off the farm so it does not have to be fed and cared for any
more, and won't run the risk of hurting itself or otherwise diminishing in
value during that extra year, and wanting the money from the horse so it can
be used for the support of the facility and the other horses, than concerned
about the long term well being of the horse and that owner and other
eventual owners. Only an educated public that is willing to pay the extra
money to breeders such as me, who have put that extra time feeding and
caring for that horse before putting it under saddle, or who will buy a two
year old and be willing to wait at least a year and put the money into
training it after that minimum of another year is up, and breed associations
that stop allowing two year olds under saddle in the show ring, will put a
stop to the destructive practice of putting two year olds under saddle. If
this ever does happen, it will be for the benefit of both the horses and the
owners over the long run.

I would strongly recommend that people make the page with the information on
Ranger available to themselves off line, because if Dr. Deb ever revises her
page to take that discourse off, that valuable information will not be
readily available again. I also advise every reader of the information to
disseminate the web site link and directions as to how to get to that
information once on the site, to every horse owner they know. It is only in
that way that there will ever be enough of a grassroots demand that the
practices of breeders and trainers and the breed associations' policies that
encourage putting two year olds under saddle will ever be counteracted, by
the people most affected by the deleterious effects of the practice: You,
the horse owning public.

Thank you for your consideration of my thoughts.

Annette L. Gerhardt

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