When is it OK to Start Riding your Horse?

My friend Patti posted this great article to her Facebook page.  It is about when bones close in a horses body and therefor when it is safe to do things with horses without permanently damaging them.

Here are a few excerpts.  The link to the full article is at the bottom:

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.

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.

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. . . And what do you think is last? The vertebral column, of course.

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 . . .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).

if you are one of those who equates “starting” with “riding”, then I guess you better not start your horse until he’s four.

When I say “start” a horse I do not equate that with riding him.

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.

If that gets you interested you ought to read the full article.  It is a real eye opener.

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

Do horses feel grief?

I think – yes.  I have seen it first hand and there is no question in my mind that at least some horses do.  The following words and pictures are both very touching and  sad and the picture is both very touching and a bit gruesome.  If you are squeamish about the sight of blood you might want to pass on it.  I posted it here because I think it is mostly touching and because I think people need to be reminded that animals are sentient beings and have feelings just like us.

The following is from the HorseConscious Newsletter Issue No XXXVII

Do horses feel grief? The picture below is of Gitana, a 19 year old Andalusian mare, who had just given birth to a little filly. The foal had lived for just one minute after birth following a 45 minute struggle to reposition her.

The picture was taken 45 minutes after the foal died and her mother just lay next to her dead foal for hours afterwards mourning her tragic loss.

This is Gitana, a 19 year old Andalusian mare, who had just given birth to a little filly. The foal had lived for just one minute after birth following a 45 minute struggle to reposition her.

Now, if that is not the most heart-wrenching photo you’d never wish to see, then I don’t know what is. Anyone who claims that horses cannot feel pain, physical or emotional, is clearly in need of help themselves. That poor, poor mare. I am at a loss for words…

If you’ve ever…

Choked back tears watching a new foal wobble to his feet
for the first time… Or watching your good horse wobble to his feet after

Or seen the ends of the reins float straight out as a reining horse spins
beneath them… Or chuckled to yourself as you watched a tiny tot on a
patient pony trot through a barrel pattern at a saddle club play day… Or
felt the building tremble as an eight-up hitch of feather-legged giants
pulled a hand-carved beer wagon into the arena… Or had your heart stop
when you saw your horse lying motionless in the pasture on a sunny day —
and waited breathlessly to see an ear flicker…

Or cheered at the screen when The Man From Snowy River slid Dunnie down the
mountainside, or when Seabiscuit made his final surge to beat War Admiral…

Or cruised along the highway and seen a horse in the pasture and wondered
what he’s like to ride…or pictured him as a prospect… Or sucked in your
breath as a horse and rider approached a six-foot wall…

Or sworn a solemn oath to your horse that together you would triumph…

Or flipped through the TV channels and stopped when you saw a horse…even
when it was a commercial.. .

Or laughed aloud when you rubbed your horse’s face and he rubbed back…

Or gotten chills hearing Dave Johnson’s “…and DOWN THE STRETCH THEY COME!”
(Or “Run For The Roses” circa 1980ish?)

Or stood in awe at your horse in morning play as he sprinted around the
pasture, then stopped, head erect, and snorted defiance at the rest of the
world… Or been thankful to see wild horses grazing casually at the foot of
a hill… Or felt calmed by the sleekness of a silky haircoat beneath your

Or felt your jaw drop as you watched a Lipizzaner perform a capriole…

Or if you’ve ever seen someone in the grocery store wearing a certain kind
of hat or boots or buckle, or have a certain cut and length to their
jeans…and felt some remote kind of connection.. .

Or felt warmed by a soft-nicker greeting you as you entered the barn…

If you’ve ever been moved by any of these feelings, you know you are a horse

Thank goodness we have our love of horses to help us on our journey.

Leadership – A quote by John Holt

“Leaders are not what many people think–people with huge crowds following them.

Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see whether anyone is following them.

‘Leadership qualities’ are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them.

They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, determination, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head even when things are going badly.

This is the opposite of the ‘charisma’ that we hear so much about.” ~ John Holt

I just came across this quote and was struck by it’s applicability to horsemanship.  If we truly want to become our horse’s leader then these are certainly qualities that we need to devilop in ourselves:

  • Courage,
  • Endurance,
  • Patience,
  • Humor,
  • Flexibility,
  • Resourcefulness,
  • Determination,
  • a Keen Sense of Reality,
  • and the Ability to Keep a Cool and Clear Head even when Things are Going Badly

Yes, this is a pretty good list of quatlities that a Horse Person needs to develop and cultivate if they want true respect from their horses.


Respect is probably the most misused word in horsemanship.  People use it all the time and mean so many different things by it that it becomes worse than useless.  It becomes confusing and misleading.  Kind of like the word love.  There all all kinds of love, some healthy and some unhealthy, likewise there all kinds of respect.

What many people mean when they say “That horse is disrespectful” is that the horse isinvading a person’s space.  Well a horse that like to be close might be being pushy or dominant but it might also be acting friendly affectionate or curious.  So having your horse coming into your space could be positive or negative and it could be a sign of disrespect or  a sign of trust.  Like many things in life – it just isn’t black and white.  If we are talking about respect we need to ask more questions.

Now let’s say that you think about it and decide that a horse is being pushy and dominant.  That is definitely not a good thing but what is the right way to deal with it.  Most people think the way to develop respect is by developing fear.  Well fear is one type of respect but it is not the only and for my money not the best form of respect.  With fear you get tightness, resistance, avoidance, dullness – you get the idea.  Nothing shuts off an organisms ability to think and reason like fear.

Frightened Horse

 If you want a horse that acts like a machine then maybe you will want to use fear as a motivator for obedience but it only goes so far.  You can get pretty good performance with fear but not brilliant performance.  The best performing horses I’ve seen look happy, and you don’t get happy anything with fear.

Have you ever respected someone without fearing them?   I’ll bet you have.  A favorite teacher maybe?  How about a good friend? 

If  someone comes at you with a weapon you will act respectful, for the sake of survival but is that respect permanent?  I don’t think so.  I would guess that if the weapon changed hands your respect would vanish like smoke and what would be left is hatred.  Is that the dynamic what you want with your horse? Fear based respect is the illusion but not the substance of respect. That is not what I want.

Real respect comes from positive attributes: trust, confidence, fairness, consistency, the list goes on.  Think about it  – is it better to pretend to your horse that you know what yoou are doing or to really know what you are doing? 

If you really know what you are doing you don’t have to become fearful to gain respect.

Horses are bigger stronger and faster than us so in a contest of physicality we lose every time.  But they don’t have our intellect and they naturally want to avoid conflict so it follows that we should focus on our superior attributes – intelligence and strong mindedness.  If you use proper technique ans a good plan there is no need to use intimidation or fear to gain respect and obedience.

If you read this far I hope you think it was worth it.  I’d love to hear your comments and questions.


Horse Starting Milestones

 I’ve been starting horses lately and thinking about a check list  – what the pieces are to go from wild to riding.

Here is my thinking so far about what the basic building blocks are. 

  • It seems to me that the first two are probably prerequisites for the rest
    • Catching and Haltering
    • Lead – Tie – Moving  Around in Sync
  • The next ones can probably be mixed and matched
    • Handling – Hooves, Clipping, etc.
    • Sending Places – Checking  things out with nose and feet, Trailer Loading, bridges and water.
    • Accepting Objects – Blankets, Saddles wierd stuff like bags and balls and ropes, etc.
  • All of the above would hopefully lead to the following going pretty smooth, and stress free for horse and rider
    • Mounting- Dismounting
    • Basic Arena Riding – Walk, Trot and Canter

I’d guess after all of the above, if you haven’t ventured out of the arena yet, now woud be the time.

An Afternoon Horsing Around in Hope Valley

Patti on Carrie, Steve on Patticakes, Gracie grazing and Codi keeping an eye on things.

Yesterday we went to Hope Valley Meadow.

The plan had been to go to the creek by Red Lake but plans changed en route and we parked here instead to make the trip easier for the truck.

As it turned out Plan B was better for all.  Patticakes has the most mountain and trail experience.  Carrie has trail competition experience but in much more controlled environments.  Gracie has hardly been away from home and herd at all.  The flat terrain and ample grazing made the whole day much more pleasurable for all of them.

Patticakes did a great job ponying Gracie – first time ponying for her.  Gracie got to tag along at liberty quite a bit and seemed to love it.

Carrie was pretty nervous being out in the wild but even so helped the other girls get used to pond and creeks.  Patticakes and Gracie started off the afternoon scard to death of the pond.  As you can see they got over their fear and decided standing around in the water and nibbling on weeds like a moose is pretty cool stuff!

An amazing wonderful day in the mountains!  There is nothing like fresh mountain air and playing with horses to rejuvenate the spirit.

You can see larger versions of any of these pictures by clicking one them.

Happy Trails,


How do you……

Induce labor in a mare?   Take a nap.

Cure equine constipation?    Load them in a clean trailer.

Cure equine insomnia?    Enter them in a halter class.

Get a horse to stay very calm and laid back?     Enter them in a liberty class.

Get a horse to wash their own feet?    Clean the water trough and fill it with fresh water.

Get a mare to come in heat?    Take her to a show.

Get a mare in foal the first cover?    Let the wrong stallion get out of his stall.

Make sure that a mare has that beautiful, perfectly marked foal you always wanted?    Sell her before she foals.

Get a show horse to set up perfect and really stretch?    Get him out late at night or anytime no one is a round to see him.

Induce a cold snap in the weather?    Clip a horse.

Make it rain?    Mow a field of hay.

Make a small fortune in the horse business?    Start with a large one.

This is one of those things that has been shared around the internet a lot without attribution.  If anyone knows who wrote this, please let me know,  I’d love to give credit. 

If all the beasts were gone

If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit,

for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.

All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons of the Earth.

~Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe, letter to President Franklin Pierce