Look Mom – Look how far my 2yo reining futurity horse and do a reining slide! Like a little child on a bike riding no hands, reining trainers continue to post videos and brag with their buddies, continually sliding the 2yo prospects like they are grown horses.
They ignorantly or stupidly think that if the horse is not lame, then all’s good to go, as like their owners, once again showing their limited capacity to understand science and function. See enough of the videos and visit barns, and you quickly come to realize that reining should be called sliding as nothing else matters. Gosh, you see trainers and their owners bragging that on ride 14 the horse is sliding!
These less than bright trainers, have failed to learn that just because a horse can slide does not mean you put that into their 2 yo program. Whatever happened to longevity? Oh, that’s right Reining Trainer, you only have to get to 2yo futurity sale or 3yo November. After that who cares.
Some even boast about their preventive treatment to care for the horse, with the vets arriving to inject their hocks. The vets sure don’t want this news getting out that they may be focused on the wrong areas! The reining slide is the trademark and if a horse is not dragging its butt then it has no value in their world.
Sitting at the futurity sale, I watched a few 2yo prospects come out that have the maneuvers of a senior horse. They were slick looking horses prepared for sale and ridden hard all designed to push the price high. Those butts were dragging and those little babies were giving it their all.
As we sat there, we once again how money had overtaken the welfare of the reining horse. The desire to have the next big champion had people’s hands high or they did secret deals out the back, so the horse was passed in, so the story goes.
Chatting afterward, we remembered the stories of growth plates in horses and decided to go back and look for the facts on what is happening with these beautiful babies, and all the ones back in barns and those thrown on the scrap heap. Its industry standard to start them in full training at 2, and for some 18 months. Some even believe that if they ride the horse the most times, they will win.
Now we all have heard how Reining Trainers think they know more than vets and science and apply their bizarre thinking that comes from a barn floor to train and vet horses (and spread it to gullible owners), but world experts say a little different.
If you struggle to read science or long articles with no pictures, you may want to get someone to read it to you. It’s a long read, but you may learn something and take more care of your beautiful babies if you love them and not just drink Kool-Aid.
His legs won’t fail you, but his back will, especially when you need him to reining slide.
Dr. Deb Bennett is a world-renowned vet and conformation specialist. She rides and competes giving 360-degree view of horses.
A few years back she wrote the following article explaining about growth rates of the different areas of the horse. For those that work youngsters under 3 – read the part about ‘schedule of fusion’ very carefully….and perhaps reconsider your training methods and timing.
“Just about everybody has heard of the horse’s “growth plates,” and commonly when I ask ’em, people tell me that the “growth plates” are somewhere around, or in, the horse’s knees (actually they’re located at the bottom of the radius-ulna bone just above the knee). This is what gives rise to the saying that, before riding the horse, it’s best to wait “until his knees close” (i.e., until the growth plates fuse to the bone shaft and cease to be separated from it by a layer of slippery, crushable cartilage).
What people often don’t realize is that there is a “growth plate” on either end of EVERY bone behind the skull, and in the case of some bones (like the pelvis, which has many “corners”) there are multiple growth plates. So do you then have to wait until ALL these growth plates fuse? No. But the longer you wait, the safer you’ll be. Owners and trainers need to realize there’s a definite, easy -to- remember schedule of fusion – and then make their decision as to when to ride the horse based on that rather than on the external appearance of the horse.
For there are some breeds of horse – the Quarter Horse is the premier among these – which have been bred in such a manner as to LOOK mature long before they actually ARE mature.
This puts these horses in jeopardy from people who are either ignorant of the closure schedule or more interested in their own schedule (for futurities or other competitions) than they are in the welfare of the animal. The process of fusion goes from the bottom up. In other words, the lower down toward the hoofs you look, the earlier the growth plates will have fused; and the higher up toward the animal’s back you look, the later.
The growth plate at the top of the coffin bone (the most distal bone of the limb) is fused at birth. What this means is that the coffin bones get no TALLER after birth (they get much larger around, though, by another mechanism). That’s the first one.
In order after that:
- Short pastern – top & bottom between birth and 6 mos.
- Long pastern – top & bottom between 6 mo. and 1 yr.
- Cannon bone – top & bottom between 8 mo. and 1.5 yrs.
- Small bones of knee – top & bottom on each between 1.5 and 2.5 yrs.
- Bottom of radius-ulna – between 2 and 2.5 yrs.
- Weight-bearing portion of the glenoid notch at top of radius – between 2.5 and 3 yrs.
- Humerus – top & bottom, between 3 and 3.5 yrs.
- Scapula – glenoid or bottom (weight-bearing) portion – between 3.5 and 4 yrs.
- Hindlimb – lower portions same as forelimb
- Hock – this joint is “late” for as low down as it is; growth plates on the tibial & fibular tarsals don’t fuse until the animal is four (so the hocks are a known “weak point” – even the 18th-century literature warns against driving young horses in plow or other deep or sticky footing, or jumping them up into a heavy load, for danger of spraining their hocks)
- Tibia – top & bottom, between 2.5 and 3 yrs.
- Femur – bottom, between 3 and 3.5 yrs.; neck, between 3.5 and 4 yrs.; major and 3rd trochanters, between 3 and 3.5 yrs.
- Pelvis – growth plates on the points of hip, peak of croup (tubera sacrale), and points of buttock (tuber ischii), between 3 and 4 yrs. …and what do you think is last? The vertebral column of course.
A normal horse has 32 vertebrae between the back of the skull and the root of the dock, and there are several growth plates on each one, the most important of which is the one capping the centrum.
These do not fuse until the horse is at least 5 1/2 years old (and this figure applies to a small-sized, scrubby, range-raised mare. The taller your horse and the longer its neck, the later full fusion will occur. And for a male – is this a surprise? — you add six months.
The lateness of vertebral “closure” is most significant for two reasons.
One: in no limb are there 32 growth plates!
Two: The growth plates in the limbs are (more or less) oriented perpendicular to the stress of the load passing through them, while those of the vertebral chain are oriented parallel to weight placed upon the horse’s back.
Bottom line: you can sprain a horse’s back (i.e., displace the vertebral growth plates) a lot more easily than you can sprain those located in the limbs.
And here’s another little fact: within the chain of vertebrae, the last to fully “close” are those at the base of the animal’s neck (that’s why the long-necked individual may go past 6 yrs. to achieve full maturity). So you also have to be careful – very careful – not to yank the neck around on your young horse, or get him in any situation where he strains his neck (i.e., better learn how to get a horse broke to tie before you ever tie him up, so that there will be no likelihood of him ever pulling back hard. And readers, if you don’t know how to do this, then please somebody write in and ask!).
What is very unlikely to happen is that you’ll damage the growth plates in his legs. At the worst, there may be some crushing of the cartilages, but the number of cases of deformed limbs due to early use is tiny. The reining-horse futurity people, who are big into riding horses as young as a year and a half, will tell you this and they are quite correct. Want to damage legs? There’s a much better way – just overfeed your young-stock
More likely is that you’ll cause structural damage to his back.
So, what’s to worry about? Well…did you ever wish your horse would “round up” a little better? Collect a little better? Respond to your leg by raising his back, coiling his loins, and getting his hindquarter up underneath him a little better?
The young horse knows, by feel and by “instinct” that having a weight on his back puts him in physical jeopardy. I’m sure that all of you start your young-stock in the most humane and considerate way that you know how, and just because of that, I assure you that after a little while, your horse knows exactly what that saddle is and what that situation where you go to mount him means. And he loves you, and he is wiser than you are, so he allows this. But he does not allow it foolishly, against his deepest nature, which amounts to a command from the Creator that he must survive; so when your foot goes in that stirrup, he takes measures to protect himself. The measures he takes are the same ones YOU would take in anticipation of a load coming onto your back: he stiffens or braces the muscles of his top line, and to help himself do that he may also brace his legs and hold his breath (“brace” his diaphragm).
The earlier you choose to ride your horse, the more the animal will do this, and the more often you ride him young, the more you reinforce in his mind the necessity of responding to you in this way. So please – don’t come crying to me when your 6-year-old (that was started under saddle as a two year old) proves difficult to round up! (Not that I’m not gonna help you but GEEZ). If he does not know how to move with his back muscles in release, he CANNOT round up!! So – bottom line – if you are one of those who equate “starting” with “riding”, then I guess you better not start your horse until he’s four.
That would be the old, traditional, worldwide view: introduce the horse to equipment (all kinds of equipment and situations) when he’s two, crawl on and off of him at three, saddle him to begin riding him and teaching him to guide at four, start teaching him manoeuvres or the basics of whatever job he’s going to
End of article:
An entire industry built and regulated on training horses hard at 2 year old and finished their careers as a 4 year old. Spurred, punished and belted for not complying with what the horse instinctively knows is going to, and is hurting it.
But then science is wrong for many as the horse looks okay. His eye is bright, and he’s healthy. He is loved and cared for like a prince. Its just he is a bad minded horse that won’t gets his hocks under him and round up – after all, we have done for (to) him.
Sell him and buy another youngster that is better minded says mister Reining Trainer. We can train him for the futurities and you might get some of your money back.
We used to say a horse has only so many slides in it, so use them wisely and carefully. A good learning lost on today’s trainers.
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