You shouldn’t take the decision about when to train your horse for jumping lightly. Several factors are essential to consider, including your animal’s age, type, and breed. Horses are relatively long-lived, reaching up to 30 years or more with proper care. That also means they grow up slowly. While they are sexually mature at around 36 months, they aren’t developed fully physically until 5–7 years old.
Therefore, that is the ideal age of your horse before you start is when they are physically mature.
Altricial vs. Precocial Young
It’s helpful to put the horse’s development in context with its biology and physiology to understand why you should wait before you start training your animal for the show circuit. It begins with birth. Altricial young, such as many birds, canines, and felines, are born helpless and totally dependent on their mother—and sometimes father—for all their needs.
On the other hand, precocial offspring are more fully developed and able to walk shortly after birth. Horses, cattle, and deer are prime examples. You often see this development pattern in animals that are prey species. While they have the protection of their mother and herd members, the young can move on their own to evade predators.
The gestation of altricial young is also relatively short. Compare the approximately 63 days for dogs to the 335 days for horses. That extra time equips horses with the abilities they need to start the journey to fend for themselves. However, equine development proceeds differently than it does for other animals. That helps explain why you should hold off on training a young horse.
The best way to describe growth in horses is that it occurs in ebbs and flows. Slow periods often follow quick spurts. Just like a human teenager may seem awkward at times, the same applies to horses. The systems and musculature mature differently, which can affect the animal’s balance. Also, some bones won’t fully fuse until later in life.
This uneven growth pattern means that horses are vulnerable to injuries if they’re worked too hard, too soon. It’s also a matter of mental maturity. While horses are intelligent animals, it takes time and experience for their cognitive abilities to get online completely. As any horse owner will tell you, it’s imperative that you make new experiences positive ones to avoid startling your equine friend.
Learning to Jump
A horse must master several vital skills before you make the leap to jumping. You must also build stamina and strength in your animal. Coming down on its full weight requires these traits. Remember that a strong horse is less prone to injuries. We suggest starting with the basics of cantering and trotting first.
To protect you and your horse, it’s best to begin with free jumping. Give your mare a chance to get used to this new experience. Of course, treats will ensure that it stays positive. We also suggest short sessions at first. Jumping is harder on your pet’s body than you may think. It’s also essential not to overwork your horse. Be mindful of the signs of exhausted horse syndrome, such as rapid heartbeat and pain.
Once your horse has mastered free jumping, you can then move on to doing the training under the saddle. It’s imperative to keep control of your animal. Don’t let your mare shy away from the fences or develop any other bad habits. The best way to train your horse is with several short sessions each week instead of a marathon one.
Final Thoughts: When Horses Should Start Jumping
Teaching your horse new skills is a rewarding experience that can take pet ownership to a new level. The most important thing to understand is that this activity is also physically demanding. It takes time and patience for your animal to build the necessary strength and endurance to avoid injuries. If you make it positive, you’ll likely find that it will strengthen the bond you have with your horse.
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Featured Image Credit: Engin_Akyurt, Pixabay