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Skeletal Maturity And Exercises for Young Horses

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

This month’s webinar from Gillian Higgins of Horses Inside Out was the penultimate in the ‘Webinar Wednesdays’ series.


I have been really looking forward to this webinar as I think it is so important for people to be aware of how young horses grow and develop and how they can help prepare their young horses for ridden work at the appropriate time in their lives and in the most appropriate way. This webinar is now available as a recording in the Horses Inside Out Academy


The webinar was split into 2 sections with a 5 minute break in between.


The sections were:

· Skeletal Maturity

· Exercises for young horses


Gillian began by describing bones and their growth plates, what they are made from, how they form and what these look like in a young / skeletally immature horse.


horse growth plates, foal ephipyses, skeletal immaturity

Including a useful explanation of the terms ‘Proximal’ ‘Distal’ ‘Cranial’ ‘Caudal’ and ‘Ossify’ which I think is great for horse owners as these are also terms often used by therapists and vets that many not be understood.


Gillian has a fantastic way of teaching anatomical terms to people without them feeling ‘silly’ for not knowing them.


We were next shown one of Gillian’s demonstration horses painted with the skeleton of a young horse’s bones, growth plates and cartilage. Starting from the foot up Gillian shared with us the average age of the horse that each of the growth plates ossify (fuse) in horses as they grow and mature.


There is a whole chapter all about growth plates and the age at which they fuse in Gillian's book Posture and Performance


growth plates on horse

During the webinar there is a fab comparison of some of the bones of an actual mature horse, a 2 year old pony and an even younger foal.


Gillian demonstrates the growth plates were/are on each and what they look like before, during and after fusion. Absolutely fascinating to see. To see more bones check out Gillian's course Interactive Applied Anatomy


2yo pony pelvis growth plates horses inside out

2yo immature bones, growth plates

Did you know most of the growth plates in lower limbs finish fusing by the time the horse is around 3.5 years of age? Was this older or younger than you would have expected?


Gillian ran a poll at the beginning of the webinar asking live webinar participants

At which point is the horse skeletally mature?


There was a huge range of answers, showing that many people are unsure on this.

Gillian shared with us that the earliest a horse is likely to be skeletally mature is 5.5 years but some horses may not mature until their 8th year.


There are so many variations in between which can be down to the sex of the horse, their feeding/nutrition and also size of the horse (bigger horses tend to mature later).


We then came to discuss adding the weight of the rider to the horse and how it is important to not only consider the horse being skeletally mature but also the strength of the soft tissue of the horse, the muscles, tendons and ligaments.


Without this consideration, early riding on a young weak horse could have a negative effect on HOW the skeleton matures. Causing long term riding related injuries.


riding related injuries, weight, repetitive strain injury, horse riding

The discussion always seems to come back to one of my favourite subjects – posture - and how important it is for our horses to have good posture before carrying the rider in order for them to have longevity in their working career and to reduce the risk of riding related injuries.


More about all this in Posture and Performance


So, what can we do with our young horses to prepare their bodies for their future?


Gillian recommends starting light groundwork preparation from 2-3 years old including small simple challenges to help build the horse’s confidence in his handler and environment as well as increasing body awareness and development of their strength and stability.


She demonstrates some stable based and groundwork exercises we can do with our young horses, divided into 3 categories:


· Lateral Stability

· Strengthening Back Muscles and Improving Posture

· Proprioception (Body awareness)


gillian higgins horses inside out exercises for young horses

There are 4 exercises in each category and Gillian explains in detail what is happening in the horse’s body during each exercise so you can really appreciate the benefits of each one.


This webinar is now available as a recording in the Horses Inside Out Academy so you can see all the exercises there.


Gillian recommends beginning light ridden work from 4 years (no more than 4 days per week) and for a 5 year old no more than 5 days per week which I think is great advice and easy for people to remember.


So, another absolutely jam packed webinar full of amazing detailed information and demonstrations whether you are a horse owner, rider, trainer or therapist.


If you would like to learn more about bones, cartilage and growth plates as well as how our horses mature, and how we can prepare our horse’s body for the rider, this webinar is for you!

You can find the recording of the webinar in the Horses Inside Out Academy where you can purchase lifetime access for just £10!


gillian higgins horses inside out online academy link

I hope this blog has whet your appetite for more knowledge :)





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