Natural Horsemanship, Part 1: Why Age Matters

Friends, today I’d like to talk to you about something that is very important to me: I want to tell you about the way my Mommy and Daddy have trained me, using what they call “Natural Horsemanship.”

Now, although there are many different ways to practice “Natural Horsemanship” (and many different extremes), the main idea involves a few very simple principles:

1. Humans learn “our language” in order to better communicate with us, and they ask us (instead of telling us) what they’d like us to do.
2. They never use pain of any kind as a training aide; they reject abusive methods and use LOVE and PATIENCE as their main training aides.
3. They take into account the physical development of our bodies (as well as the psychological development of our minds) in order to develop a training program that fits our needs.

Those of you who have followed along with my training from the beginning likely know most of my story, already… but my goal is to educate all of my four legged friends, so you can share this knowledge with your humans and create a better relationship with them. Because I’ve seen a lot of things in my young life – a lot of different so-called “training methods” used on my friends by other humans – and I have to say, Natural Horsemanship is the way to go.

So, I guess I’ll begin at the beginning.

My Career in Racing

I was born in Kentucky at a racing stable, and started under saddle way too young at only a year and a half. One thing many people don’t know about the Thoroughbred racing industry is that, as racehorses, we’re officially considered “a year old” on January 1st of the year following our birth, regardless of how old we really are. So, even though I was born on March 15, 2007, I became “one year old” on January 1, 2008. Why, you might ask? It makes it easier to group the racehorses by “age.”

As you can probably tell, the racing industry does not have the well-being of the horses in mind. (And if you don’t know why I say that, well… I’ll explain in a minute or two.)

Anyway, I was lucky enough not to get injured, which is VERY easy to do as a racehorse – because a horse galloping at race speed will place three times its body weight as force on the lower limb. I was also lucky enough to have run only two races – the first one in January of 2010, and the second in March of the same year. Being that I hated racing (partly because I was much too young to have any kind of a work ethic, and partly because I was always sore from working too hard for my age) I lost both races… and that was where my racing career ended.

For many racehorses, this is a fate worse than death. For many racehorses, failure on the track means being sent to auction, or worse: being sent to slaughter. But that’s another story for another day…

Rescued from the Racetrack

When my short career in racing ended, I was lucky enough to be rescued by a woman named Phyllis Dawson, who took me to her beautiful farm in Virginia, where I was put out to pasture with other horses my age and allowed to be a baby for an entire six months. Ms. Phyllis knew that I needed time to be a baby and rest my tired bones; she knew that I had worked far too hard for my young age, and that I needed time to rest and play, and to let my bones and muscles recover without having to carry the weight of a human.

It wasn’t until six months after being put out to pasture that I began doing some light work under saddle, when I was just a little older than 3 and a half. I didn’t do too much work – only a couple rides each week, and only very light rides each time.  I was happy, and realized that I had been given the kind of second chance that many horses never get. I was lucky to have fallen into the hands of people who understood what I needed, and who would see to it that I made it to the best possible home.

Physical and Mental Maturity in Horses

So, going back to what I said about the racing industry not taking into account the well being of the equine athletes: most of you probably already know that, as horses, we are not even close to being physically or mentally mature at the age of two! In fact, no horse in the history of existence has ever been fully physically mature before the age of five and a half and that is only the small horses! The bigger the horse, the longer it takes to become physically mature – and male horses take about six months longer to mature than female horses.

As an example, any of you Warmbloods out there – you’re naturally bigger and taller than the petite little 15.2 hand high Thoroughbreds, like me – so you won’t be physically mature until you’re at least 7 or 8 years old! Mental maturity is different for everyone, too; I know that I’m physically mature, but my humans tell me all the time that I still think and act like a baby!

Anyway, as we all know, there’s much more to “growing up” than actually growing upwards; by the time we are finished growing to our maximum height, our bones still have to grow in density – and the last part of our bodies to mature is the spine.

What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

There are a lot of different things that can happen to a young horse who is worked too hard, too soon. As I said before, racehorses who run at race speed place three times their own body weight as force on their lower limbs – so you can imagine how easy it would be for a two year old to injure themselves while running, or to develop long-term injuries and lameness. And that’s not even taking into account the other many dangers of racing, like tripping, getting trampled or kicked by other horses… things like that. It’s a scary business, and I never liked it.

But if horses are worked too much when they’re not yet physically mature – especially if the work involves carrying a human on their back – they can develop serious conformational problems like lordosis (another word for “swayback”), scoliosis, arthritis, and serious damage to tendons, ligaments… and joints (which I will explain in more detail tomorrow).

The bottom line is that horses should never be worked harder than is appropriate for their age and maturity level.

To Be Continued…

Okay, I know that this was a lot of information to take in at one time, so I’ll end it there for now… But I still have a lot more to say! 

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the training program that my humans have come up with for me, which has continually evolved over the past two and a half years, in order to fit my age, physical and mental maturity.

For now, friends, I hope that this has given you a lot to think about! I’m off to eat some grass with my friends, Troy and William; stay cool, and I’ll catch y’all tomorrow!

Catch y'all tomorrow!

Catch y’all tomorrow!

Categories: A Day in the Life of Icchy Star, Memories and Nostalgia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Natural Horsemanship, Part 1: Why Age Matters

  1. Pingback: Natural Horsemanship, part 2: Age Appropriate Training Programs | The Misadventures of Icarus

  2. Pingback: California Culture | The Misadventures of Icarus

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