Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Longevity in horses.....

I get two horse magazines, Horse Illustrated and Horse & Rider. I got the Horse & Rider because I got a cheap deal on it. It is geared toward western riders, and I do not ride western, at least I haven't since I was a teen. In fact I don't REALLY even ride English. I am a driver at heart, who would like to occasionally swing a leg over... But it has general horse care articles and such. And it is about horses, so I'll read anything about horses, hehe.

Anyway, two things in this month's issue just had me sitting here with my mouth hanging open. The first was in their letters column. It was a response to an article called "Size Matters" which suggested perhaps cutters and reiners might have longer careers if they were not started as long yearlings and two year olds, and pointed out that FEI-level jumpers can't even compete until they are 6. One response was "Have you forgotten what side your bread is buttered on? I'd expect this kind of commentary from an English magazine but not one with Western training as it's focus!"

I have to be honest, this left me shaking my head. I come from a horse world where horses are still in their prime into their late teens. They don't even start to compete until they are 4 or 5. They might get their first ride when they are 2, but usually they are closer to 3, 3 1/2. And their work at that age is mild. But then they go on to compete from the age of 5 or 6 until their late teens (I've even seen a few in their early 20's still competing at reasonably high levels).

I guess I was shocked that anyone would think discipline choice would have anything to do with the science behind the fact that a horse's skeletal structure is not mature at "just barely 2" and they might possibly stay sound longer if you wait a year to start them into heavy work and competition. So because Horse & Rider is a Western magazine they should just ignore that fact? Well, if we used that logic we would still be in the dark ages.

So then I read on and saw an article listed that said, "What an aged Quarter Horse stallion has taught Bob about making a horse last." So I flip to the page and see this: The "aged" stallion is 9.


I guess I knew that this was common in race horses. It's part of the reason that I am just plain NOT a fan of the race industry. But to read it about something not related to the race industry has me kind of flabbergasted. Is 9 really "aged" for a competition horse? If so I am glad I am not involved in competition. When I talk about longevity in a horse I am not thinking bout keeping him sound until he is 9, I'm thinking about keeping him sound until he is 23.

I guess I have just been really out of the loop. I'm probably way more shocked by these things than it warrants. I just can't wrap my head around the concept that a 9 year old stallion is "aged". Learning about equine longevity from a 9 year old reining horse sounds a lot like learning about old age in humans by studying 25 year old gymnasts.

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