Horses Ages in Human Terms

The following is an excellent article written by written by Vikki Fowler BVetMed BAEDT MRCVS which explains horses ages in human equivalents and explains why starting your horse under saddle too early and before they are physically or mentally developed is so harmful in the long term.

"Before backing your young horse, please read -

I wrote the first version of this post many many years ago now, every spring I tweak it, update it and reshare as owners are beginning to think about starting their youngsters. It has been stolen thousands of times, usually without the image, which irritates me as Naomi’s image was my inspiration to write this piece and I feel the words lose a lot without it, so please share rather than steal.

There are strange tables around that lead the reader to think horses age more quickly when they are young and slower as they get older. There is no evidence to support this. Why would the horse be the only animal in the world that ages in a non-linear manner? It doesn’t even make sense. It is an excuse for impatient owners to justify working their immature horses.

Sitting on a horse before they are mature is risking kissing spine, especially if the horse is not conditioned slowly. Sending a horse away as a 3 year old to go from unbacked to ridden daily in 6-8 weeks is a recipe for disaster. Riding in circles on 3 year olds damages the hocks. Jumping large jumps on 4 year olds is asking for stifle injuries. Pounding the roads pulling traps with 2 year olds damages every joint in their legs. Any joints asked to take excess pressure before maturity increases the risk of irreparable damage. Perhaps a young horse puts down more long bone in response to work, but a child heals quicker than an adult, it’s no excuse to cause them damage. An adult is still fully capable of adapting to the work load, just slower, without the collateral damage to the rest of the body.

For every horse that is backed at 3 and lives a long working life until they are 30, I can show you thousands, tens of thousands that are euthanised before they hit their teens because their bodies are broken. The exception makes the rule.

Now for the post -

A horse ages roughly 3 times faster than a human.

So a 90 year old human is a 30 year old horse. Both very old, usually arthritic, don’t have many of their original teeth left, and very likely retired and enjoying the finer things in life.

A 25 year old horse is a 75 year old human. Some are still happily working but some prefer retirement and an easier life. Often depending on just how hard a life they’ve lived.

A 20 year old horse is a 60 year old human. At that point where the body doesn’t work like it use to but the brain is all there and wants to be active.

A 13 year old horse is a 39 year old human. Middle aged, prime of their life where their knowledge and physical ability are about equal.

So let’s get down to the babies and work our way up.

A 1-1.5 year old horse is getting their first adult tooth, this happens at 6 years old in a human child.

A 3 year old horse is a 9 year old child. A child. Not ready for work by a long stretch. We have moved past sending children down the mines.

A 4 year old horse is a 12 year old child. Often will do odd jobs for pocket money, maybe a paper round, mowing lawns etc. Basically a 4 year old horse can start a bit of light work experience to learn the ropes.

A 5 year old horse is a 15 year old teenager. Think they know it all, cocky, and ready to up their work and responsibilities. Still quite weak and not fully developed so shouldn’t be at their physical limit but can start building strength.

A 5.5 year old horse has just cut their final adult tooth, this happens at 17 years of age in a human.

A 6 year old horse is an 18 year old human. An adult. Ready to work.

An 8 year old horse has achieved full fusion of their final growth plates. This happens at 24 years of age in a human. This is the age it is safe to push a horse for their optimal performance.

Pushing your youngster too hard too young will result in the failure of many body parts. Joints, spine, tendons, ligaments as well as their brains. Waiting another year or two at the beginning could give your horse an extra 10 years of useful working life. Be patient with your pride and joy!"

Written by Vikki Fowler BVetMed BAEDT MRCVS

Graphic credit to Naomi Tavian @equinaomi, check her out on Pinterest

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