Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe I’m just a curmudgeon as my wife suggests. But I frequently cogitate about what has happened to make horses in the 21st-century so inferior to those of our grandparents bred more than a century ago. The first influence it seems, is the trailer. In the 1930s ranchers who lived out where we do, had to ride horses to town or drive a horse drawn rig those same five miles in and back for their needs. Then, they rode out to check cattle, or to visit a neighbor, or to move steers to the sale barn the same five miles. Now, we load the cows in a stock trailer, put the horse in the back, and burn diesel to the livestock commission. The horse continually gets a piggyback ride. The ranchers who lived in town saddled up and rode out to the ranch where they’d check the cattle or penned and worked them. Then, in the evening they rode back to town. You get it, horses just aren’t getting the wet saddle blankets they once did.
But, there’s another worse problem. Futurities. Horses don’t attain skeletal maturity until around five years of age. Now, I don’t have anything against starting a colt’s education at age two. For that matter, I begin halter training at birth. What I take exception to is putting the kind of hard joint-pounding work on a two or three-year-old that’s required to get sliding stops, spins, rollbacks, and three foot fence jumps as required in futurities. And you wonder why equine veterinarians are so busy? We can lightly start a young horse to work at two or three, then turn them out to “soak” for a few months. When they come back we can do a lot of light slow work, and even sit on them and do nothing. They certainly learn patience from that. They learn one of the fundamentals of the training scale – relaxation. Later, as a four or five-year-old they can go do some ranch work with low expectations. After five, we can think about more demanding work with a mature skeleton, and some muscle development. Still, I’d like to think that my horse sees me coming and says “I wonder what fun thing we’re going to do today!” Not “Oh, no, not Him again!”