Biomechanics, overall health and the age of which we start training is approached in a number of different ways: extreme enthusiasm, half-hearted interest, what is it, is it really that important all the way down to “all that information is so boring, I cant be bothered.”
Irrespective of the increasingly contentious issues surrounding the “should we even be riding horses at all” debate, whether you are the occasional joy rider or the fierce competitor, it is important to have an understanding of how your horse’s body actually works.
In these modern times, there isn’t really a viable excuse for ignorance – the resources made available thanks to the world wide web, are literally endless, not to leave out the 1:1 training, Clinics, workshops and specific educational courses available directed at many different aspects of animal husbandry… In a nutshell, if you don’t know, it truly is because you have chosen to be blissfully ignorant.
I love this quote: “Horses are not meant to carry and extra 150-200 pounds, so we don’t want to be a weight on the horses back. We want to be part of the rhythmic swing. We want to have a dance.” - Dr. Gerd Heuschmann. If you don’t know who Dr. Heuschmann is, Ill fill you in. He trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany before qualifying for veterinary study at Munich University. There he specialized in equine orthopedics for two years before accepting a post as the head of the breeding department at the German FN, which he eventually left to start his own practice in Warendorf. His book Tug of War and his DVD If Horses Could Speak became international bestsellers. If you would like to know more – hit up the old www.
If I have learnt anything in the last 30 + years of working with horses, it is that we are the caregivers, the outcome of their training, what they learn, the individual they become and whether they actually live their best life or not, is almost solely reliable on how we approach, well everything. More-so if you breed your own horses because that includes:
· selecting the best possible cross,
· breeding to eliminate undesirable traits and genetic diseases,
· mare care during gestation,
· from foal to weanling,
· weanling to yearling,
· yearling to 2-3 yr old and onwards and everything involved in between.
Mind boggling really. We are the instigators, and it is us that holds the power to set them up to fail, or set them up to succeed…
If that hasn’t peaked your interest to learn more about how you’re approaching your training, then perhaps the option of re-considering why you own a horse is actually worth considering…
I’ve been posting a little about this type of thing for awhile, I also like to cover the subject in my Clinics. How in-depth it is discussed of course varies from clinic to clinic dependent on the diversity and age categories of the attendees.
But I do like to press the fact that I am a firm believer, that somewhere along the line, we need to decide to do more of what is right in order to preserve the functionality and longevity of our equine friends and athletes, so that there is not an incessant and unnecessary need to initiate and continue use of gimmicks and band-aids that simply postpone the inevitable, instead of looking to the core root of an issue and rectifying that or intentionally setting out to prevent it entirely, in the first place!
Let's face it, if it weren't about money and status, would you still put your 2yr olds under all that pressure to compete in futurities?
I like to have a great foundation set on mine from the day they're born onwards. A foundation doesn’t mean just training, it includes proper and adequate nutrition, teeth, body work (chiro/massage) farrier and the list goes on.
A lot of work prior to breaking in can be done so that the finishing touches are so much easier for both the horse and rider. Depending on the horse, size and maturity. I will give a few rides at 2 1/2-3, to the point they're going in a straight line and have the basics, whoa, go, back-up, no pressure. Then they have a break again, it all depends on the individual horse
Some horses wait until they're 3 or 4 before I ride them. A season of hauling, conditioning, and setting solid foundations then generally follows suite. It isn’t necessarily week in and week out, it is important to be in tune with your horse workout when they need a break and what they can and cannot handle.
I prefer my horses to be exposed to some cattle work before too much pressure around drums. But that's just me. A lot of the horses I've trained to barrel race were over 10 yrs old before they looked at a drum. Personal preference. A buckle or saddle mean nothing to me at the end of the day, what matters is if my horse is healthy, happy and functional, because if you don’t have those things, your horse is going to lose it’s mind or break down – it really is that simple.
Now - there are always "exceptions to the rules", so while many horses cope, many horses do not. There is however in my opinion, a direct correlation between "how much pressure" you put on them as 2-6yr olds, and the fact that their minds are blown or they experience numerous, or one really catastrophic injury by the time they are 10 years old, if they're lucky.
Starting a horse that is not physically mature enough can have long term effects like osteoarthritis, chronic lameness issues, it affects the horses skeletal structure, tendons, ligaments, and muscles. And just like us, if they haven’t been progressively conditioned for a certain work load, all of these can be so easily damaged.
Like I said, I think, somewhere along the line, we need to decide to do more of what is right in order to preserve the functionality and longevity of our equine athletes and friends.