Denny Emerson so beautifully stated recently what I have been thinking and have always thought, but he states it little more eloquently than I would;
We, the collective "we," are encouraged in 101 ways to push horses.
We have young horse classes. We have futurities. We have makeover programs. We have all that glitz and glamour of showing and competing, and not much being said about the satisfaction of the slow, daily process of bringing horses along, slow step by slow step.
The impression being made, I think, is that the finished product is of greater worth than the process of becoming.
Real trainers don't think the same way that driven competitors think. For a competitor the goal is the win. For a trainer the goal is the progress of the horse, irrelevant of the win
God, Denny, you are my spirit animal. I highly recommend following him on Facebook, always resounds so close to my heart and speaks when most others refuse to. Love him.
What he is saying though is something I see every. damn. day. On Facebook. On Instagram. On Blogs. In my personal life. Everywhere.
People are so concerned with WINNING that they push push push their horses to breaking point. Using gimmicks, forcing horses to do things they aren't ready for, working them everyday, etc....all for the sake of winning. Amateurs and pro's alike. We have all seen it at the upper levels, even though everyone makes excuses for them and stuffs it away like its not happening.
|B as a gangly, skinny, unschooled lil babe (age 5, 1 month after I got him)|
That is the age old question isn't it?
It really depends on who you ask, I've discovered, and in regards to the beginning of training the general "acceptable" age to start a youngster is increasingly and terrifyingly getting younger and younger. No doubt the ability to adopt very young OTTBs and give them second careers is the cause of what *I* see in my circle, but as all of us know, sometimes our circles can be small and I tend to generalize a little bit too much. I am more curious to hear others experiences and opinions before I damn everyone, but my opinions are my opinions and they will remain, regardless.
Its difficult to change my opinion when its backed by facts, science and the overwhelming evidence that is real life stories of horses breaking down du to overwork. I can't just claim that my thoughts are mine alone, when they are supported by actual occurrences. Maybe its none of my business though and I should just concern myself with my own horses and leave the other monkeys in their own circus...
|Yanks at his first ever USEA show BN, almost age 6|
It is a well known fact that most horses do not even finish growing until age 5, some even later. Vets, feel free to correct me if I am wrong and cite your evidence, for we can all use education, but as far as I know, horses are not quite ready to take the weight of a grown ass man at age 2. No way, no how.
So who's to say its acceptable to show these youngsters, when most of us are aware of the dangers of starting them so early? Joint degeneration, muscle wear and tear, mental instability are all caused by starting too young and pushing too hard and fast.
|Yanks winning the 2014 First Level Midwest USDF Champs (just noticed, same half pad LOL)|
Even my beloved eventers are competing the babies at higher levels than I have ever seen before. A 7 year old running Prelim+? A 4 year old running Novice? WHY? What is the actual point?
I don't mean simply starting them under saddle or readjusting them to new life if they're OTTBs, I mean full on hauling them to shows, competing and running around Novice + and not keeping the babies at the lower levels for the appropriate amount of time.
At some point, they are going to break down. Its inevitable. Mentally or physically, they will break. At what cost? Some ribbons? A championship? Humans own selfish ideas, goals and plans?
One can throw the money card at me and state that horse are expensive to raise and thats why they start them so early, but to me that is unacceptable. To me, thats saying one's own resources are more important than that horse and its well being. One's goals take precedence and have ZERO regard for the animal one owns and care for.
|The dressage test that sat us 2nd in a field of 18 at Training|
For me, I prefer to have a horse who will be happy, healthy and sound for years and years to come, instead of shiny ribbons on my wall. I prefer to take it slow with the babies, because thats how they learn and thrive.
Sure, B is a mess. He's the outlier. Not all horses are like him and take the needed amount of time to decompress from racing, or get started backing in general. And sure, there are babies that are insanely smart and capable, like Yankee was.
BUT, just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD.
Sure, B can jump 3'6, but I schooled that height one time when he was feeling good. Once. Sure, Yankee can rock Intermediate XC, but have I schooled that this year? Last year? No, there's no point.
With my boys I have taken it insanely slow in their training. Yanks for example, I got when he wasn't even four. I waited until the fall before his 6th birthday to compete him at a recognized event and even then that was BN when BN was tiiiiiiny (lol). Then we chilled at BN forever and then Novice forever before moving up to Training. It wasn't until he was almost 12 that I started schooling him regularly over Prelim heights, and even then, I was never ready to compete that high, so we just didn't do it that often. What if I had pushed him? Would he be sound? Happy?
With B, he's been an even slower process. Flatwork especially took ages. I think it took us year to canter properly and then finally start some crossrails. He was god awful at jumping at first, so we backed off on experimental height and then stopped altogether. I'm glad I did. Once we picked it back up, I kept it low for the most part. He started to learn how to use his body better and began enjoying it. Had I pushed him to keep going, I for sure would have ruined him. Now, I think he's insanely BORED at 2'3 and that makes me happy. Bored is better than scared, or injured or crazy pants. Maybe, just maybe this fall we will start at 3ft again. Maybe.
I'm sorry, but I find it asinine to compete a young, ripe off the track four year old weekend after weekend or push it to the point of breaking.
I will ask again, what is the actual point? I will say again, just because one can, doesnt mean one should. The temptation is great when the talent is there, but it takes incredible foresight to resist the temptation in order to create long lasting partnerships and healthy horses.
I have sadly seen several youngsters break down because their owners were stupid enough to push push push and it broke my heart everytime. Those horses didn't deserve to be thrown out like trash, or put down because their human was a fucktard. Call me high & mighty, I don't care, I just think it is incredibly dumb to push a youngster and so not worth it in the end.
Now that I'm done and stepped off the box, I want to know what you all think. I know it varies between breeds, discipline, etc, so I want to hear your thoughts. I personally wouldn't even start a QH super young but that is MY opinion. TBs tend to have more sounds issue than a hardier breed, say like an Arab or QH, but that would still be my MO with any of my own personal horses.
SO what do you all think? With your horses do you prefer to take your time? When do you know your horse is "ready"? How do you know when to move "up"? Tell me dear readers, what do??