Question: I recently purchased a 2 1/2 year old Haflinger which is broke to ride and pull a cart. A friend told me that he is too young to ride and that his knees are not through growing until 3. Should I wait before riding or pulling the cart?
Answer from April Reeves: Yes, your Haflinger is way too young to ride. Although the legs are a concern, horses grow from the ground up, and it is their spine and neck that finish last, and are the first to develop problems from early riding and use. Horses will continue bone growth up to the age of 7.
I start them in ground work from birth up to late 3, where they are introduced to a saddle for 6 weeks, then left to rest until early spring of their 4th year.
While driving may not seem similar to riding, it still uses back muscles and hindquarter muscles that are trying to develop.
The problem humans get into with horses, is that we tend to “see” horses as looking fully developed, but what is happening inside is a much different story. We assume if they are big, surely their legs can hold up to riding early. The truth is that the larger the bone, the more area you have to damage.
Almost all horses develop at the same rate, regardless of breed or size, with the exception of some Warmbloods. While their physical appearance and development may seem early or late, inside they are developing at the same rate.
Their minds are also incapable of handling the pressures of learning, especially when they are still babies and teens. A 3 year old is a teenager. Your boy is a tween.
I would let your Haflinger live with only handling and ground work for the winter, and re-introduce him to ground driving next spring. Go back to the cart in the summer of 2009, about 3 times/week. Begin to ride him again in the late fall of next year. Keep it moderate, 3-4 times week, no longer than 40 minutes, without winding him or over sweating.
We need to slow down with our horses and ride them in the “here and now”, but humans tend to “ride our horses in the future”.