Underage Workers

I am currently in the frustrating limbo of having lots of study to do before I am able to get started on massaging my case studies! What I learn will be invaluable when I’m out with clients though, but is also incredibly eye-opening.

Would you send your child out to full time strenuous work at the age of 13 years, or would you allow them to mature, learn, grow and strengthen?

Studies have attempted to highlight the comparison of physical ageing between horses and humans. Beginning at birth, horses apparently age 6.5 years for each human year until puberty. Once a horse reaches age four, that rate slows to 2.5 years for each human year. Studies have also shown that key bones are unlikely to be fused until at least 5-6 years, and potentially much later for large horses, particularly warmbloods and thoroughbreds, and even later for males (not unlike human development rates!). The last bones to fuse (and therefore to be developed enough to withstand rider weight and impact of fast or jumping work) are the femur, the pelvis, hocks and spinal bones. With the impatience to ‘start’ our horses younger and younger, is it any wonder that potentially career-ending injuries to these areas are becoming increasingly prevalent in later life?

Unfortunately, the option to wait for maturity is not available to TBs in the racing world, where the likeliness of injury and a shortened career is weighed up infavourably against the hope for a fast winner on the track and plenty of money being made in a short time. A flat racehorse begins his ridden training from 1.5 years, human age equivalent of 9-10 years old. He may then be active on the track by age 2 (13 in human years), with all the joint strain of the stall start and full pelt galloping around sharp bends that comes with it. The career of a racehorse may be only a couple of years long if injury is avoided, and undoubtedly they are left with at least some irreparable wear and tear.

Despite the obvious moral issues this raises, we must remember that the racing world is obviously very different from the leisure horse one, where we hope to continue to ride and enjoy our horses up to perhaps into their late 20s if we are very lucky (equivalent to an 80+ year old human!).

With this in mind, perhaps we should be a little more mindful of being patient enough to look after our horse ‘children’ until they are physically ready to take on the challenges we ask of them. I wonder whether my training will eventually enable me to spot these growth-related problems and hopefully ease any discomfort caused.

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