Breaking In at 2- Is it all bad?

One of the most frequently worded complaints of horse racing is the fact that the horses are commonly broken in at the tender age of two years old. At this age horses are still thought of as adolescents, with the mindset of one too.

It is argued that this seemingly strenuous activity on what is essentially a juvenile horse, could lead to a higher rate of breakdowns and injuries for horses. But of course, the whole story isn’t that simple.

The chief American racing authority, The Jockey Club, carried out a study on the breakdowns at 97% of American racetracks, and the figures they were left with all but confuses the story even more.

They found that of the 25,045 two year old horses that raced in America in 2016, there were only 33 fatalities, giving a fatality rate of 1.32 deaths per every 1000 starts. In contrast, of the 202,767 older horses (four years and older) there were 310 fatalities, giving us a fatality rate of 1.53 deaths per every 1000.

This shows that although two year olds are regarded as weaker, they have a lower fatality rate than older horses. Although there is no given reasoning as to why the rate increases for older horses, it could be due to the fact that older horses are more likely to have longer and heavy campaigns, making more runs than two year olds. Although this could show that two year olds have easier campaigns, these figures could also show that two year olds are stronger and more mature at their age, than for non racing horses.

Another explanation for this could be Wolff’s Law. In short, Wolff’s Law states that bone in a healthy animal will adapt to the load under which it is placed. This essentially proves that if a two year old horse is happy and healthy, it will quickly adapt to the pressures of racing and as a result it’s bones will become stronger than if it was started later. So there is the possibility that starting horses younger is preventing a higher amount of breakdowns.

In short, there is sufficient evidence to show that in the majority of circumstances, there would be no long term physical damage to a horse by starting it as a two year old.

But physical damage shouldn’t be the only damage that is focused on. There are ethical concerns about the horse’s mental wellbeing that should be factored in as well. If a young horse is not mentally ready to begin a racing career, it shouldn’t be started so early, even if there are no physically damaging side affects.

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