Have you been wondering when your horse would stop growing? If yes, then we’ve got your back.
So, really… when do horses stop growing?
The growth rate of horses is dependent on its breed, but on average, the majority of horses stop growing between 4-5 years of age. The breeds with larger horses, like Draft horses, take longer to stop growing. These horses are fully mature around 8 years of age.
Like any other living being, horses go through different stages of development during their lives. During the life cycle of a horse, there comes a time when it has attained its full potential of growth and from there onwards, it stops growing.
In order to have a clearer picture, let’s have an overview of:
Horse Growth Stages
We can divide the life cycle of a horse in 7 stages.
1. Conception & Birth
The life cycle of a horse begins at conception. The pregnancy of a female horse (mare) lasts around 11 months or 340 days on average.
The mare can deliver the baby on its own and likes to be alone while birthing.
A horse is called a foal from birth to the time it stops nursing. A foal will nurse 3-5 times a day and the usual intake of milk is equivalent to 15-25% of its total body weight.
It can also eat a small amount of food around two months of age.
Between 3-6 months of age, the foal stops nursing and is there onwards called a weanling till it reaches its first birthday.
When the foal stops nursing, it requires food which is the right balance of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
The daily weight gain of a weanling should not be more than one pound. If the weight gain is above or below this number, then it means that you need to adjust the food intake of your horse.
Weanlings also need ample amount of physical activity to stay healthy and in shape.
When a horse turns one, it’s called a yearling until it hits the two-year mark
Yearlings have growth spurts and they attain the majority of their height during this period.
Pro tip: Between 1-2 years of age, a horse needs a lot of water.
Between 2-3 years of age, a horse reaches adolescence. In the adolescent years, a horse’s growth slows down considerably.
This is the time which is ideal for training a horse.
For most breeds of horses, when a horse hits the four-year mark, it’s considered as an adult.
Adulthood is the time when a horse stops growing. The average food intake of adult horses is 2% of its body weight during this time.
If you plan to use your horse for breeding, this is the right time to do so.
Depending on the breed and the health of a horse, it becomes a senior between 15-20 years of age.
Seniors are given soft diets and are provided with additional care.
Want to learn more about what horses eat? Here’s a great guide on the diet of horses.
Honest recommendation: If your horse is running into digestion issues, then Purina Waggin’ Train’s Senior Horse Formula is highly recommended.
When do Horses Really Stop Growing? Skeletal Maturity And Its Effects
The horses stop growing physically when they attain skeletal maturity.
Naturally, foals have growth plates at all ends of their bones.
These growth plates are made up of cartilage which helps the bones to develop and grow.
When a horse is fully mature or it has stopped growing, this cartilage fuses with the bone and itself turns into a bone. At this stage, the bone is stronger and less prone to damage.
This process of cartilage infusion or growth plate infusion starts from bottom-up, meaning that, the plates in the legs fuse first.
Now, you might be wondering:
How Old Does a Horse Need to Be Before You Can Ride It?
You might be thinking:
Should I ride my horse only when it has stopped growing?
The answer is: Not exactly!
You do not need to wait until your horse has stopped growing completely and is fully mature.
Having said that, your horse needs to be at a certain horse growth stage before it can carry you on its back.
While horse riding, the majority of the weight is on the lower limbs of a horse.
Therefore, you should never ride a horse when its growth plates in the knees have not fully developed. This phenomenon is called ‘knee-closing’.
Having said that, knee closing is not a sure-shot sign that your horse is ready for heavy riding.
You should always consult your horse’s vet and trainer before making the decision to ride.
Even after a green signal from the vet, you should proceed slowly and observe the horse all along the way for any sign of injury or discomfort.
Do horses need a shoe before they can be ridden? Here’s an article on why horses need shoes!
Developmental Diseases in Horses
There are a few developmental orthopedic diseases (DOD) in horses which may hamper the proper growth of their skeletal system.
Some of these diseases are visible at birth and some of them show up in the coming months.
A brief description of these developmental diseases are:
In this condition, the growth plates at the end of large bones are inflamed.
The signs of physitis might be bony ridges on the carpus or a deformed shape, similar to an hourglass, of the fetlock joint.
This disease disrupts the conversion of cartilage to bones. If the disease is less severe, over time, it may heal on its own.
3. Cervical Compressive Myelopathy
Horses with Cervical Compressive Myelopathy have an unstable or compressed spinal cord.
As a result of this compression, the horse will wobble.
4. Angular Limb Deformities
In these deformities, the horses might have crooked legs.
These deformities can be present at birth or they might develop later in life.
5. Flexural Limb deformities
These deformities are caused by contracted tendons.
Like angular Limb deformities, these deformities can also be either congenital or develop later in life.
In severe cases, foals will be unable to stand.
In this condition, the hoof is smaller and steeper in angle as compared to a normal hoof.
It can be treated with corrective shoeing and trimming.
You might be wondering:
What are the Causes of Developmental Orthopedic Diseases in Horses
Some of the most common causes of these diseases are:
- Inappropriate Nutrition
- Lack of Exercise
- Excessive weight-bearing
- Bacterial infection
Physically, horses stop growing when their skeletal growth is complete.
There is another important factor which needs to be considered when you talk about horse maturity and that is called:
Emotional & Mental Maturity in Horses
Research has proven that horses, like humans, have emotions. They take around 5-7 years to fully mature emotionally.
Similarly, horses need enough mental maturity to understand complex commands.
If you are working too aggressively with your horse before it’s emotionally mature, you may face unwanted behaviors from your horse.
In such cases, your horse might resent you, be grumpy, feel anxious, or develop bad habits.
Your horse might bite you in anger too. Here’s a great guide on how you can train your horse to stop biting.
Horse Maturity and Riding
It is always advised to start riding your horse when it’s physically and mentally ready.
If you ride your horse too early you might damage its bones in its legs and in the spine.
On the other hand, if you wait too long to ride you might face problems in training the horse.
Your Vet can better assess the physical and emotional maturity of your horse.
As a safe bet always consult your vet before deciding to ride your horse.
Riding a horse becomes easier once the horse has physically and emotionally matured.
Here are the most common questions that our readers ask about horse growth stages and maturity.
How can you tell how tall a horse will be?
In order to estimate the adult height of a horse you can proceed as under:
Stand the horse at a level surface.
You can estimate the adult height of a foal by measuring its length from its elbow to the ground. Multiply this length with two and you will have an approximate adult height of your foal.
In case of a weanling, you will have to double the measurement from the elbow to halfway between its fetlock and ground.
And for a yearling, you will have to double the measurement from the elbow to ¼ way between its fetlock and the ground.
When do Thoroughbreds stop growing?
Thoroughbreds stop growing between 4-5 years of age but they grow slightly quicker than other breeds.
A 6-month-old thoroughbred has already grown to 84% of its full height.
By 22 months it will reach 97% of its expected adult height.
How old does a horse have to be before you can ride it?
This varies from breed to breed but the minimum threshold for breaking a horse is when its knee-closing is complete.
Those breeds of horses which grow quickly like Thoroughbreds can be ridden earlier. On the other hand, breeds with a slow growth rate need more time before they are ready for riding.
Only a vet can give you a green signal when it comes to when you can ride a new horse.