Research Ramblings: Growing Horses and the Labels of Adulthood

My current work in progress involves chariot racing, and given its substantial equine components, I’ve recruited the aid of horse owners Julie and The Boyz’ Mom to keep it real. (For more about them, read this post.) They love sharing about their horses, and hopefully you’ll get some entertainment out of our exchanges.

Julie’s mare Elle is big as far as her breed goes. Morgans average between 14 and 15 hands (56 inches to 60 inches at the shoulder). Early last year, Julie was telling me and the Boyz’ Mom that Elle had gotten all awkward again because she had hit yet another growth spurt.

To which I responded, Elle’s STILL growing?

You see, I’d read that the cutoff between a filly and a mare is four years. At the time, Elle was already past her fourth birthday so she had to be a full-grown adult already, right?


While people do use the age of four to delineate between mature and immature horses, it’s no absolute. Rates of growth differ from horse to horse and there are definite variations between breeds. According to the Boyz’ Mom, Friesian horses don’t start training until they’re three and training continues on till they’re around six. That’s because they don’t fully mature until they’re six to eight years old. By that age, some thoroughbreds have already reached the end of their racing careers!

Once my horse ladies explained this to me, I felt a little silly. After all, I should’ve known better, considering what I’ve learned about ancient Olympic horse racing. The officials spent the month before the Olympics determining whether young animals would compete in the horse races or colt races. If physical maturity was simply a matter of age, they wouldn’t have had such a rigorous process.

So using age 4 to delineate between colts and horses is about as accurate as using age 18 to delineate between adults and children. I reached my full height (just over 5 feet) at age 15, but one of my guy pals kept growing well into his college years (I forget his exact height but he’s well over 6 feet tall).

By the way, Elle will be five this year, and her current height is over 16 hands and still going…


4 responses to “Research Ramblings: Growing Horses and the Labels of Adulthood

  1. She stopped growing UP. Now she’s growing OUT. She’s finally starting to fill out and she’s not as lean. Finally!

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