Hello, all. I was a very happy attendee of Dr. Deb's "Form to Function" clinic in Vermont a few weeks ago, and I so glad I went. Needless to say I learned a lot, confirmed many things I did know, and got some new things to try and implement with my own mare.
My question is this (excuse the backstory): my mare is 4 1/2. I know there is no horse on this planet (thanks to the Ranger piece) that matures before age 6 besides scrubby mares on the range, which my mare is not. She is kept as "normal" for horses as I can manage, is given plenty of opportunity to exercise and move around, etc. I only started working her under saddle with any real serious intentions about 4 months ago; up until that point I'd trained her to lunge, done some in hand work, and trained her to long line and ground drive. I waited until she turned 4 to do more than get on, walk around, do some bending/lateral flexing exercises, etc. I bought her when she was 2, and she was obviously very behind developmentally due to lack of care. She's filled out very nicely, is starting to gain real, proper muscle, and is very happy and willing to learn and try. I don't push her to do anything beyond what I think is appropriate for her right now in her development: she can W/T/C in both directions, accepts rein contact understands basic leg aids, basic lateral movements like leg yields, turn on the forehand/haunches, etc. She is learning to round and I can see the positive effects in her muscular development, but I don't ask for more than just roundness.
Obviously, every horse is unique. Every horse needs to be looked at as an individual, and there's very few one-size-fits-all theories. In this case of my mare, I am hesitant to continue asking for more than I am asking for now due to the fact that I know she is not skeletally mature. She has handled everything I have asked for just fine, with relatively little hesitation and minimal soreness. Is there serious harm, at this point, with continuing to ride her as I have, 3-5 days a week? I know the detriment of starting horses at age 2, but how does that compare with age 4? Age 5? I have purposely waited because I figured she's got her whole life to be a riding horse, and I'd like to keep her happy and usable for as long as possible.
It just occurred to me that someone is probably going to tell me to read the Ranger piece again, because it does go into what I've asked. I know I probably won't be doing serious damage now that she's closing in on 5 years old. My questions encompasses a bit bigger picture: I've done the prep work, I have what I consider to be one of the calmest and most willing young horses I've ever known: if she is willing and comfortable, are there likely physical repercussions for asking for harder and more taxing things?