Enthusiasm and a desire to develop a strong bond with your horse can nudge you to embark on the process of backing your youngster without fully understanding the potential risks involved. Backing obviously has to happen at some point in the development of a riding horse, and it requires careful consideration and expertise. Below I briefly cover the risks associated with backing younger horses so you as an owner can make your own informed decisions.
Physical Immaturity and Skeletal Development:
One of the primary concerns when backing a horse below the age of four is their physical immaturity. At this stage, their skeletal system is still developing and will not be fully equipped to handle the weight and strain of a rider; immature bones and tendons are weaker than those of an adult horse. It is essential to prioritise your horse’s long-term health over short-term training goals. As the linked article below says, “The decision to train and ride our horse should be based on the equine skeletal development timing rather than its size and external appearance.” bit.ly/42OHI9b
Joint and Ligament Vulnerability:
The joints and ligaments of a youngster are particularly susceptible to damage during riding. Painful conditions result from excessive physical demands on immature joints and ligaments, with risks of acquired orthopaedic diseases such as osteochondrosis, physitis, and flexural deformities (Kidd, 2017). These conditions can cause lifelong lameness and compromise the horse’s overall soundness. Waiting until a horse reaches skeletal maturity reduces these risks.
Mental and Emotional Readiness:
Backing a young horse or pony too early can also have significant psychological consequences. While some horses may exhibit physical maturity, their mental and emotional development may still be in progress. The stress and pressure of training can lead to anxiety, fear, and behavioural issues (McBride and Mills, 2012). Waran et al. (2007) emphasised the importance of gradually introducing training and ensuring the horse’s mental readiness to cope with the demands of riding. Patience and a sympathetic approach to your horse’s overall well-being should be your guiding principles.
Backing a two-year-old comes with inherent risks that militate against backing such a young horse. As horse owners we must prioritise the long-term welfare of our animals by waiting until they reach skeletal maturity before embarking on backing. By doing so, we can minimise the potential for musculoskeletal issues, developmental orthopaedic diseases, and psychological stress.
Ultimately, the foundation of a successful partnership between horse and rider lies in patience, behaviourally-aware training methods, and a comprehensive understanding of the horse’s physical and emotional development.
Investing time and effort in these areas will ensure a healthy, sound, and willing equine partner for years to come.
Higgins, G., & Martin, S. (2015). Posture and Performance. Kenilworth Press Limited, in Equine Skeletal Development bit.ly/42OHI9b
Kidd, J. (2017). Flexural deformities Part 2: Acquired. In Practice, 39(4), 182-186.
McBride, S. D., & Mills, D. S. (2012). Psychological factors affecting equine performance. BMC veterinary research, 8(1), 1-11.
Waran, N. (Ed.). (2007). The welfare of horses (Vol. 1). Springer Science & Business Media.