Watch How Yearling Race Horses Are Started Under Saddle

Every year Hamilton Hill, Godolphin’s pre-training and schooling yard in the UK, welcomes more than a hundred young horses that have never been ridden.

After the horses are started at Godolphin’s, they are then sent to their respective trainers.

Are Yearlings Too Young To Be Started Under Saddle

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We understand that there are people who love the racing industry and people that hate it. People that think yearlings are way too young to ride and people that find it perfectly acceptable. We’d love to know how you feel about this.

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102 Responses

  1. Janet Hakeney

    It is tragic that some people will watch this film and think it is wonderful. It’s like sending 8 year old children down the coal mine. Who thinks that it is acceptable for one year old horses to be ridden in german draw reins? (see at 6.53 on this film) The woman is deluded if she thinks these babies are happy with what is being done to them. The abuse and wastage of life in the racing industry is disgusting.

    • M.A. Hamilton

      First of all they are not one year old. Most of them, yearlings are almost 2 years old. It’s foals, weanlings, yearlings, two year olds, etc, up to 4 when they are aged horses.
      Yes, these yearlings are enjoying themselves. You don’t see ears flat back, wild eyes and tail wringing. It’s obvious that they are brought along quite well in their training, very gently. I like to ease horses into training, but I will say I don’t think horses should be raced until they’re three year olds year at least.

    • Mary Johnson

      Amen, Janet! I couldn’t agree with you more. Breaking these horses as yearlings and racing them at two is reprehensible yet the owners must get them to the track quickly in order to get a return on their investment. Whenever you mix money and animals, the animals end up losing the vast majority of the time.

    • carey augustus williams

      I would just like to say i have been breaking yearlings for over 30 years and older steeple chasers, I have broken all overthe world now working on a stud in Germany I have learnt many ways also i have met Monty Roberts,It is much easyer to Prepare yearlings when they are Young like children they learn faster ,When a thourobred gets older they pick up bad Habits quicker so it is easyer to put good Habits in first and teach them the right way. Just because they are broke in Young it does not mean they would run 2yr olds.I beleave all horses should be prepared for riding when their Young so much better for them than later, And if you dont like watching Young horses being broken then dont watch, The People who do this for them is away of life and they care. THERE ARE SO MANY DO GOODERS!!

      • carey augustus williams

        I would just like to say 15 years ago in Hamburg. I worked for a stud my job was to break the yearlings in and pretrain the older horses, so i needed help so we had Young Girls who rode polo poines, well they were between 13-16 years old i taught them to break the yearlings in and they rode fillys and Colts down on a open beach and we repeted that Routine 5 years with no prolem.

      • Anonymous

        Wish people would take into account the very strict weight limit of the jockeys on these horses too, and they wouldn’t risk the back of a horse if it wasn’t yet ready to hold the weight. I have an ex racer who was raced as a yearling and is still solid 9 years later with no problems whatsoever. Got much worse treatment once retired with owners that neglected as he wasn’t getting them a return!

    • Alys

      Bien dit Jeanet Hakeney. Entièrement d accord On ne devrait jamais faire travailler un cheval de cette façon avant l age de 5 ans .

    • Anonymous

      Its sad because most of these babies will end up as racing wastage…..

  2. Tracy

    I do not support the racing industry. Too fast and too young. So many steps skipped. Absolutely sad. The other point missed here, is that there are so many orphaned babies for this industry. Ordinary horses are breed to discard their baby, to nurse a racing baby, so they can rebreed the mares. All for the almighty dollar. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

  3. Marlouise

    Yanking that poor horse so badly because he was bucking and the rider fell is just wrong!!!!!! Thats breaking a horse. You break his spirit and everything!!!! Backing and training a horse and breaking a horse is totally different from one another!!!!! So upsetting

    • M.A. Hamilton

      He was trying to stop the horse from bucking, something anyone would do in the same instance. No one wants their horse to get into bad habits and no one wants to fall off a horse. I’m sure they went back to square one with that yearling. They were not in any way abusive to that horse.

  4. Anonymous

    We put saddles on yearlings as soon as they are thick enough to lightly cinch it enough to not slide around but NEVER get on them till atleast 2 and only with a light rider and for 10 min at a time at a walk. No actual riding till at least 3 and no hard riding. Their journey to aren’t closed yet!!!!!! This is why they break down and legs break during races. Idiots!!!!!!

    • joanne

      back plates and knee plates do not mature fully until between age 3-4 and for many not until age 5 — no matter the breed or size. truth be known, the larger the horse, the more dangerous the stress of a rider at these young ages. very sad

  5. Jan

    Beautiful facility and nice illustration of the progression to ready to go to the next level.

  6. Rechellle

    Although I appreciate their gradual methods, a horse this young has not finished developing. The crucial element is their bone growth and development in that the growth plates, especially in the spine, have not finished growing and are not closed yet. This can lead to premature lameness and is one of the many reasons racehorses are thrown away and many end up in the slaughter houses. I have trained many young horses and although they are handled regularly and are always learning, they are not backed until their 3rd year and worked until the 4th year. Heck the Spanish riding school doesn’t break their Lipizzaners until they are in their 6th year.

  7. Anonymous

    People who defend this are ignorant and don’t care about horses at all. If you go and do some research you’ll see that the “some breeds mature faster than others!” argument is nonsense. Why? Because growth in terms of height is not the same thing as bone growth. Horses’ bones are not fully formed until they are around six years old. To sit someone on a two-year-old is disgusting; to do it to a yearling is even worse.

  8. Anonymous

    I agree and find it inappropriate that they are asking what our ‘opinion’ or how we ‘feel’ about breaking/riding yearlings…it has nothing to do with how we feel – the medical science deems it damaging for the horse, unequivocally!

  9. Suzanne

    Clearly there is no understand of the actual horse – horses ALL HORSES take 5-6 years to mature – the last thing to finally fuse is their SPINE…so sitting on a yearling’s spine is doing it incredible and irreversible damage – there is so much research out there that proves this…over and over again…it has also been shown researched and proven that horses do NOT NEED BITS IN THEIR MOUTHS TO DO ANYTHING…whipping them achieves nothing other than muscular damage – the proof in the research is out there for anyone who truly cares about the actual living breathing horse. They are so tolerant of us and how we mistreat them. When you know better it should change your behaviour. I have rescued ex-race horses for 20 years – what I knew and did 20 years ago is very different to what I do today. I have NEVER needed a bit in a horses mouth to do anything – straight off the track I rode them in a rope, no shoes now either…EDUCATION IS THE KEY but those in the RACING INDUSTRY DON’T WANT TO KNOW OR CHOOSE TO TURN A BLIND EYE – and I totally understand that keeping these horses for 5 years before you can race them is an expensive exercise but if you truly cared for the horse instead of looking at the money you would change what you do…Horse Racing is NEVER ABOUT THE HORSE it is ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY…DON’T PRETEND IT ISN’T.

  10. Kim

    This is a very misleading article in order to elicit a reaction of some sort. Anyone who knows and works around young horses can see these are not yearlings, they are closer to being two year olds in their physical maturity. I know Thoroughbreds are called yearlings until their 2nd January, and while they may be called yearlings, they are often far closer to being two year olds when they are saddle trained.

    That being said, no, I do not think that it is bad to start saddle training at two years old, I do so all the time, but 2 year olds should not be raced or put into hard work of any sort. They should only be lightly ridden, 3 year olds can handle a little more, but horses should not even begin racing or hard work until they are 4 years old.

  11. Olivia

    Yes, these horses are considered young to be ridden, but the jockeys themselves have to be very lightweight in order to be what they are and the saddles are not as heavy as regular english saddles. All things possible are done to try and minimise the weight carried by these horses which enable them to run faster without straining. I know there’s still weight there, but im sure these people are educated enough to not just think “Oh, he/she let me jump by his/her side, i’ll lye over their back… Oh they let me do that too, i’ll just have a quick sit on them.” It will be taken into consideration the the development of the horse’s body.

  12. Sharon

    As good as individuals may be…the “RACING INDUSTRY’S ECONOMIC STRUCTURE” financially demands ANATOMICALLY IMMATURE & GROWING horses (with open joint plates) compete. It’s the equivalent of demanding an 8 yr-old child to compete in weight lifting. This archaic tradition of rewarding “Futurities” (2 yr-olds) & “Derbies” (3 yr-olds) is based on the FALSE “superstition” that horses “run faster” at these ages & became “industry institutionalized.” Placing the BIG MONEY in “Maturities” by all such breed associations that promote such athletic demands (IE: racing, reining, etc) could save a lot of horses’ lives. I spent years working professionally on tracks & grew up in the racing industry. For every “Winner”… there are (not exaggerating) TENS of thousands broken down “losers”…usually ending up in auction kill pens.

  13. nadine

    sad to see them go but happy to see them on the track ?

    how much sadder would she be to see them die on the track or die unwanted, abused and sent for slaughter as thousands of them every year are

  14. Anonymous

    Oh God!! these are not yearlings anyone who knows the slightest thing about horses can see that. If you can’t, you should not be commenting as you obviously are not in a position of knowledge and don’t know what you are talking about. These horses look immaculate and are very content.

    If you want to talk about cruelty then try looking at the thousands of privately owned horses that are cruelly treated and abandoned every year by your friends down the road and under your own noses.

  15. Rain

    The weight of their jockey and equipment is proportionally no greater than the bookbags our children carry to school… Didn’t you know there are tons of Olympic gymnasts 13 and 14 years old… Don’t tell me they only started prepping a month beforehand… Not to mention all the little league sports out there…
    This is tge first time I see a training video where the horses look unafraid and not in pain… For the most part open, curious, uncertain and happy… From this video this seems to be a great place to have your racer backed. Also, the trotting and galloping in straight lines or large ovals will actually help increase the bone density without putting a lot of soft tissue stress… The longing I’m less of a fan… Overall though it seems like they davor short jaunts. I’d be surprised if any of them were ridden more than 15 or 20 minutes once or twice a day.

    • John g

      Yes everyone wants their child to excel. I like your points. I was a child athlete. I never worked on the track; so, am unable to give an educated opinion.

  16. Sarah McCarthy

    I used to be in the group that would never run a two year old. Science proved me dead wrong, and I have altered my position on this matter. I have never heard anyone (including myself when I was in that camp) cite any scientific evidence to support the view that horses are better off if not raced until three or later. I turns out that this is because there isn’t any to cite.

    ALL of the science on the subject has shown that if you are going to race a horse, it is safer for that horse to begin racing at two than it is to delay the first start until three, and less safe yet if you delay the first start until a later age. The chances, for instance, that a horse will suffer a catastrophic racing injury – at any time during its racing career – are greater, the later it is when it makes its first start (from two on.)

    These studies have been done by different researchers on three or four different continents, and they have all found the same thing.

    Because the bones, tendons, etc of a two year old horse are more able to adapt in response to speed training , they strengthen appropriately to withstand the forces of racing. Mere galloping is insufficient to produce this effect, they must reach racing speeds. The bones, tendons, etc of older horses are able to adapt, but not as well. Hence they will never be as robust as as those of horses started at two. [Pretty much all of the two year olds in the study would have been started under saddle as late yearlings.]

    As with all aspects of dealing with horses, good horsemanship is key. A good horseman will recognize which horses simply are not ready, either physically or mentally for speed work no matter what any study says. No two horses are identical.

    There is also a difference between asking a two year old for speed in January, when it is probably less than 24 months old, and asking it to race in October, when in all likelihood it is at least 28 months old and possibly 33 months.

  17. Evelyn Williamson

    Beautifully, backed and ridden away – so lovely to see that the art of breaking has not been lost. As others have said most of these horses would be rising 2yrs old – or already 2yrs old. They all looked well and happy in their work.

    I’ve worked in the racing industry – these young horses are treated like royalty, then like all athletes some may not make the grade or may be injured.I’ve had a good many horses off the track – TB’s are my favorite breed, bold and intelligent. I had them in my riding school – track winners and then in their 20’s – so they don’t all suffer. There are a good many non-racing horses that are treated badly.

  18. Sara

    I think that when you should first start breaking a horse to ride depends more on his conformation and general health then how old they are. You go look at a well bred thoroughbred yearling compared to the average bred thoroughbred and you will see a difference. The well bred foals are easily able to take the weight at a year and a half (no they are not run at this age), whereas with an average to poorly bred thoroughbred (or any other breed) you probably aren’t going to want to get on the foal till its at least two and a half, and may not start actually riding until they are 3. This is simply because they are not as well put together as well bred, carefully planned foals. I think we should focused more on weeding out the poor breeders than the actual age factor. (I could say that sentence a million times over and it wouldn’t lose a bit of its truth)
    And these horses love what they are doing. They have been bred for centuries to run, and they clearly enjoy it, unless some idiot abuses his crop on them. If you think they don’t, then I think you should rake the time to just sit and observe horses’ body language for a month or two, then come back and watch the video again and see what you see. And if you don’t even have access to horse behaviour excepting by YouTube, don’t come on here pretending to know it all when really you’ve just been reading and believing, not any actual thinking and studying.

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