I noticed that a few of you commented that I expressed concern over the fact that a prospect I was considering was not started until the age of four. I'd like to speak to my thoughts on that issue. First and foremost, I preface all of this by stating, sincerely that this is IMHO (In My Humble Opinion), I welcome your thoughts and respect when people have a different opinion.
I feel that the right age and time to start a horse should always depend on the individual. The physical and mental maturity of a colt can very dramatically from horse to horse. I dont think that there should be any set age that is right but in the industry that I am involved in, people breed horses to be physically and mentally mature at an earlier age than lets say, warmbloods or arabs, because the money for aged events (3-6 year olds) is much higher than in later years. Bloodlines that lend themselves towards late bloomers do not survive in the reined cow horse, reining and cutting world. I have noticed that, in general, the larger the horse at maturity, the longer it takes for him to reach it. As a rule, I dont look at horses over 15HH unless they are exceptional. My mare Abby is just barely 14.2H. Most reiners, cutters are 14.3 max while the reined cow horses can get up to 15.2 but average out at around 15-15.1. These are not big, heavy boned horses. They look much the same at three as they do at six or seven.
I am not a fan of futurities. Or rather, I should say that I dont think that the level of competition and what is expected of the horses is just. I would not buy a horse that was shown competitively at a futurity. Not in a million years. The industry motivates owners, trainers and breeders to press their horses at an earlier and earlier ages to reach a higher and higher levels. It is simply and unequivocally wrong and abusive.
With that being said, my focus is on reining and cutting bred quarter horses that are, in most cases, ready to start at some point in the spring of their two year old year. The level of work that they are asked for can vary from simple saddling and sacking out, to getting them loping balanced and comfortably. I dont want them stopping hard, turning around or doing anything physically stressful for that first 6 months or so. I do think that it is important in almost all cases to get a horse working in their two year old year. At that age their minds are at an impressionable stage and they are not quite as set in their ways. I would prefer that after putting 90-120 days on them, they be turned out for the fall and winter and then started back up in the spring of their three year old year. This method is time tested and true. As horses age, their habits become more ingrained and I find that they are less likely to be mailable in their training if they are left to be started at four. But if they get that SOLID foundation laid as a two year old, you can pick back up on them later and find that they are a better broke horse overall than how you left them in the fall of their two year old year.
On the other hand, if you leave a horse unbroke until their 3-4 year old year, I find that they are more likely to have resistance towards training. They are adults, they are used to being masters of their own universe and have established their personalities, likes, dislikes, etc.. Again, this is not the case in all horses and I am talking about getting a horse to be a finished bridle horse, not just getting them broke enough to putter around the farm on. I also dont like my horses to be over exposed as weanlings-two year olds. I love to buy horses that have been raised in a herd and that were not exposed to much besides halter breaking and getting their feet done until they are ready to be started as a two year old. Again, it depends on what your intended outcome would be for the horse. If I were looking to make a kids mount, then by all means, get them out there and have them exposed to everything under the sun as early as possible. But for a highly responsive bridle horse, I dont want a horse that is dull and sticky. I want them to be as much horse as possible, light on their feet, quick to react and easy to manipulate. Some sketchier horses might need more exposure, some quieter horses might need less, but getting them "hauled" (exposed to new settings) is not as much of a challenge as getting a sticky, dead head, unresponsive horse to lighten up.
To be continued...