When to back your young horse can be a difficult decision to make. This isn’t helped by it being a bit of a sensitive topic. You have people who strongly believe it is cruel to back them before they are 3 years old. But then you also have people who insist on backing when they are 2 years old. There is no right answer for when you should back your horse.
Every horse is an individual
Like most things in the horse world, there is no one size fits all method for backing a horse. While some horses might be good to go at 2, others might be best waiting until they are 4. And despite what many people would have you believe, there are actually some benefits of backing your horse when they are a bit younger, if they are ready for it. But how do you decide when you should back your horse?
I think it is important to remember that just because you are backing your horse, that doesn’t mean you have to start riding them away or training them for competition. Some horses will be backed a few times in their youth, having plenty of time off inbetween.
Where are they in their growing?
The first thing you need to consider is where are they in their growing. If they are too underdeveloped, working them could overload their joints and do perminant damage. But starting to train them while some of the growth plates are still open can actually help prevent work related injuries in future. So where is the line?
Typically, by the age of 2, most horses are okay to have a light rider on their back. By this age their knees should have also closed, which is one of the joints you need to be the most careful about. Most the horses growth plates will have closed by 4-5 years. So you probably want to be backing them between 2-4 years old, which is probably why 3 years old is the go to number.
What is their temperament?
I think a horses temperament should play a big role in when you decide to back them. If they are bolshy, sharp or nervous, they might benefit from being very lightly backed when they are still a bit small and a bit more controllable. This allows you to introduce the basics before turning them away to grow up a bit more. This is especially true for colts and young stallions. It’s not unusual to see them back at 2 before being given more time to grow up.
What is your goal for them?
The last thing you need to think about is realistically, what are your goals for them? If you want them to be competing at a high level, there is a benefit to backing them slightly younger. Not only does this get their learning started, but it also lets you “train” some of the bones and joints before their growth plates close. But this can be a fine line to walk, over do it and cause long term damage to them. So if you aren’t hoping to ride your horse at top level, just have them as a general riding horse, then waiting a bit longer helps remove that risk.
What do I recommend?
Unless the horse seems particularly weak or behind in their growth, I am a fan of backing them as a late 2 year old. If you back them in October, most of them will be about 2 1/2 years old at this point. I think it is nice to lightly back them, having a rider walk them round a handful of times before turning them away over the winter. If they are a bit weaker, then maybe they would benefit to being introduced to some of the groundwork, such as long reining before being turned away for winter, that way it isn’t all compeltely new to them next year.
Come spring, they are a bit bigger, perhaps a bit bolshier. But they already understand the basics and shouldn’t have too much of a problem with it. You can now reback them before riding them away.
As I said at the beginning, there is no one answer as to when you should back your horse. It is totally a personal preferance combined with what your horse is like as an individual. If in doubt, ask your vet and trainer for their opinion. In the meantime, you can checkout our top tips for training your young horse.
Last Updated on 08/07/2022