"We are all individuals"
“We are all individuals”
Is BN / N level too much to expect out of a 4 year old event prospect? Earlier this week I read numerous comments from an article spotlighting talented 4 yo horses for sale that had been competed through Novice. Many of those comments challenged how those horses had been brought along and wether that level was appropriate for a horse of this age. This seems to be a real hot topic so let’s talk about it!
We live in a world now where we order everything online without ever seeing it. We can read about literally any topic in depth and watch videos on how to perform open heart surgery. Often opinions are put out into the world without any first hand experience with the actual horses or the trainers involved. We aren’t physically present to watch these horses or watch these trainers train. There are many factors involved in producing young horses and honestly, horses of any age.
Trainers must account for the horse’s temperament, trainability, conformation, and psychical stage of development. While these factors are at the forefront in producing young horses however; these are also the same factors to consider at any point in development. Is the horse naturally cautious or is it brave? Reactive or Non-reactive? I have seen my share of middle aged horses over faced and jumped too frequently thus causing them to break down. Just because a horse has been granted more time to grow up before starting its journey does not guarantee that it will be mentally mature or magically more seasoned. Inversely, some individual horses could have really benefitted from more exposure at a young age to build confidence.
There is plenty of research that shows that the muscular / skeletal system must exhibit some stress wether it’s at 4 years of age or 7 years of age to strengthen. The trick is not over doing it! Is it more strenuous for a 4 year old to lope around a BN / N course or raising them in a 20 acre field until 4 or 5 years old where they can gallop at top speed which is so much faster than Novice level? An argument could be made supporting both sides. Correct assessment of a horse’s psychical condition is always key. Some are too immature psychically to do much more than hack the first year under saddle. Just as people vary in body type, some horses naturally have more muscling. We have all seen the 8 year old TB with a poorly muscled topline. Genetic make-up and correct training play a huge role in physical readiness.
There are many young horses that have come through the USEA Young Horse program and been produced through 3* an 4* level. The program and classes are designed to identify elite equine athletes that show great aptitude for the higher levels. Only a handful of youngsters in this country exude Olympic talent at a young age so naturally these classes are only for a handful of horses. Unfortunately they don’t accommodate the gangly youngster that needs more time to grow. While these classes are open to amateur riders in the U.S., typically it is a professional rider that can showcase these horse’s talents. In other countries, Young Horse classes are only open to professionals. In 2018, USEA started a new certificate program (YEH Instructor and YEH Professional Horse Trainer) to identify qualified professionals to start young horses.
Breeding for jumping talent has also been a dedicated industry for decades. Some young horses naturally have incredible technique and scope from the first fence they pop over. Whereas some horses would need to train for several years to have that same shape over a fence. Less time training a horse to have a particular jumping technique ultimately means less wear and tear on their joints over their lifetime. It takes years to gradually train a horse to the top of our sport. Smart riders learn to conserve their horses if they want to keep them sound.
Another factor in training any horse for eventing is what access do you have to cross country, trails / hacking, and instruction? Do you live in a part of the country such as Florida / California with better footing throughout the year? Do you have access to a skilled rider to help your event prospect build required confidence? Do you have the opportunity to make good choices about which schooling events you can attend?