Virginia 21 month old TWH working in rubber snaffle and western saddle in paddock by intermediate level rider.

Question: My colt is coming along fine.  My question is: When should I start actually riding him.  We have been doing ground work since he was born.  I don't want to damage his
joints.  I have started mounting and dismounting.  He is 15.2 hands.

From Panelist Erica

I personally after reading a very good article written on the development of the horse's back, do not believe in starting any horse under the age of 4. While it is important that the knees finish growing before starting your horse, it is even more important to wait for the vertebrae to finish. The horse's back will continue to grow until it is 4-6yrs old. The longer the horse's back, the longer it will grow. 

If you start your horse before it's back has finished growing, you risk crushing the soft cartilage and putting your young horse at risk of developing a sway back prematurely. Not only this, but the older the horse is when you start them, the better they will understand and be able to handle all that is asked of them. I personally would recommend that you put your little boy back out in the field and enjoy ground work with him for at least another two years. 

Good luck!
Erica Frei

From Panelist Carol


I think that there are many opinions on this subject, but I'll give you mine.  I like to start riding colts ideally when they are 24 months old.  I don't ride them long, maybe start with just mounting and work up to about 30 minutes maximum.  I like to put enough time into them that they know to go and stop, turn left and right and yeild away from the leg, and back up.  After that I like to give them a break and start up more seriously when they are 3. 

Carol Camp Tosh

From Panelist Bob

We start our colts very lightly under saddle no younger than 30 mos of age, this is usually in the fall. We start them and ride them no longer than 15 min a session. The spring of their third year we work them a little harder, and take them on short easy trail rides. I get serious with them at 4 and 5 yrs old. Horses are not mature until they are 6 or 7 yrs old. Our horses stay sound and usable into their late 20s and our senior mare is 32 and can still be ridden lightly.

Bob Blackwell

From Panelist Laura

It sounds like you are doing a nice job with your colt.  Continue working slowly & quietly with him.  It sounds like he is a pretty big colt, so doing a little bit of light riding shouldn't hurt him.  I would recommend you just walk, work on turns (big circles), and stops.  Keep your riding sessions short (15 minutes or less) and let him mature more before you ask for more speed or riding time.  Good luck & take it easy with your baby.  Walkers live a long time and you will have plenty of time to ride him when he is older and his "knees" have closed.


From Panelist Stella

The best way to know for sure is have a vet either exray or at least palpate his knees to determine how open they still may be. It also depends on your own weight. It may be Ok to start, especially staying at a calm relaxed walk for short periods to get the basics down of going forward, turning, stopping etc., and developing responsiveness and suppling....which should be done anyway first, regardless of age. This also helps condition the horse for further work; lunging can help as well. Taking your time and not rushing 
things is the best way to prevent any damage on horses of any age, as training is not only teaching, but takes about 90 days to optimally condition the muscles, heart, lungs, etc. That's why its important to plan a strategy of training based on gradually improving condition as well as teaching.


From Panelist Theresa

Since I ride horses that I own,  I usually start later than most other trainers. I will wait until the growth plate between the joint is ready, and till the mind is ready.  This can occur in TWH as early as 19 months, or late as 36 months. (I have never had one close later than that in this particular breed) Sounds like the mind part is ready from what you say.

The growth plates can be examined by a radiograph from your veterinarian. The cost is well worth the peace of mind (usually runs about 35.00-65.00 depending on cost of vetting in your area).


From Panelist Liz

Hi ,
I have a TWH colt the same age and he is 15 hands right now. I am not going to start him until the fall of his three year old year. He lunges lightly , knows whoa, he backs at hand, ground ties, parks, gaits in hand , does a 360 both ways in hand and moves away from hand pressure when asked to move over, clips , baths, used to being sprayed, picks up his feet, ties and has had a saddle pad with a sursingle. I think this is plenty at this age.
I think the bigger they are the longer you should wait not the sooner.

The bigger ones are even under more stress carrying their own weight and learning to move with the continues grow spells they are going through. I think being patient and waiting will pay off in the long run both physically and mentally in having a great mount for a very long time.


From Panelist Steve

Well, alot depends on how big YOU are. If you are under 150, you can start any time AS LONG as you take it slow and short. Ride in a round pen or paddock for no more than 10-15 minutes a day. Walk. Just get the horse bridle wise.

I start my horses at two but don't ride them for more than 30 minutes until they are three. I find I don't gain anything gait wise by riding before they are at least three. In fact, I don't worry about serious gait training until they are 3, and I don't give up on a horse until they are five.

Steve Chasko


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