30 Jun 2022

An analysis of physical maturity in horses

There has been much debate regarding when horses physically mature and whether a horse should be allowed to physically develop before mounting them. Horses are often worked and used in competition starting from a very young age. It’s very common for racehorses to start training and even competing before they reach three years old. It is important to understand how and when horses physically mature before determining if your horse is ready to work.

When Do Horses Become Physically Mature?

The majority of horses do not skeletally mature until at least six years of age, while some do not reach full physical maturity until eight years of age. The breed of the horse is not what dictates when the animal will reach physical maturity. Instead, factors that affect growth also impact physical maturity, such as nutrition, environment, diet, ligaments, tendons, muscles, stress, and genetics.

What a horse is fed can directly impact when they reach physical maturity. In the same way that malnutrition can cause stunted growth in animals, feeding a horse too much high-energy grain at a young age can contribute to the progression of Developmental Orthopedic Disease (DOD). Other factors can also impact the mobility and development of a horse, such as the intensity of exercise that the animal is submitted to when young.

What Is the Natural Development of a Horse?

Dr. Deb Bennett, Ph.D., who graduated from the University of Kansas in 1984, is known internationally for her scientific conformation analysis. In an article titled “About Maturity and Growth Plates,” Dr. Bennett provides an analysis of the skeletal maturity and formation of the equine. The article discusses the schedule for horse bone formation and reveals that the spine is the last system of bones to fully develop and fuse.

A horse’s spine does not fully fuse until it is at least 5.5 years old. The taller the breed of horse and the longer the horse’s neck, the later this spinal fusion may occur. Males also take an additional six months for their spines to fuse compared to female equine. The vertebrae, located at the base of the horse’s neck, are typically the last to fuse. For this reason, it is critical to never yank on the head, especially during early development.

How Can I Best Protect My Horse While It Matures?

As your horse physically matures, there are several things you can do to help keep it healthy and happy.

  • Understand your horse’s genetics. While it is not always possible to know an animal’s background, know that each horse has a specific genetic potential for mature size and growth rate. However, these genetic constraints can be influenced by nutrition and exercise.
  • Focus on good nutrition. Although nutrition can usually not overcome poor genetics, it does play a key role in growth rate. For example, processing feeds can result in a greater average daily gain.
  • Don’t rush training and competition. It is important not to rush into training and competition, especially if your horse has not yet physically matured. When properly managed, horses can live well into their 30s but rushing to ride could compromise their skeletal integrity in the long term.
  • Provide a natural joint supplement. Most horses can benefit from a natural joint supplement like Elite Equine. This organic, pure rosehip supplement contains vitamin C and antioxidants to help reduce inflammation, stimulate the appetite, provide immune system support, and much more.

Genetics, exercise, and nutrition all play a critical role in the healthy growth and development of horses. If you’re looking for a natural and competition-safe supplement to provide your horse with further health benefits and support, try Elite Equine.