Foals have to go through their share of experiences - with and without humans, and a lot of them are stressful for the young horse. In order to reduce stress exposure, what should we teach them? As far as foal care and „foal pre-school“ goes, we believe that it is best to do as little as possible, as much as necessary and to keep things as natural as circumstances allow.
Cheerfully cantering around meadows, playing with other foals in endless fields, keeping mummy nearby in case things get scary, and no trace of humans whatsoever: this must be foal heaven. Unfortunately, in most cases, the reality is far from this idyllic picture. There are appointments at the vets, the blacksmith, foal shows and children wanting to touch and play with the little one. The bottom line is that we are responsible to teach our foals about life.
Some adoptive foal-parents simply leave the youngsters alone and see what happens once an appointment is due. Of course, this can go well, but it’s more likely that the foal undergoes enormous stress. The results: Humans are associated with traumatic situations.
How much intervention is necessary and how can we teach our foals that neither foal shows, farriers or vets have to cause trauma?
Since we cannot avoid contact with the real world, I feel it’s the owner’s responsibility to prepare the horse for the life to come.
I love this quote (translated) from barnboox.de:
„To find its identity as a „horse“, the young animal has natural needs in form of playing, moving, social- and other horse-specific behaviours that it wants to address due to its instincts. A healthy body, spirit, and soul can only be developed if the foal experiences a social structure with other horses and play mates."
As much as necessary, as little as possible
In order for my foal to get used to humans, I started to introduce myself more and more after a few weeks. For example, once mother and foal were out in the fields I would just go and sit there. Since Tara, our little one, was naturally curious, she soon came over and soon I was able to stroke and pet her, and she really enjoyed it.
I soon introduced halters to her, and I put it on and took it off playfully. I don’t think it's good for a foal to wear the halter all the time, just in order for you to catch it faster. A foal learns quickly, and the only „lesson“ it takes away from this treatment is to how to avoid your grasp and become head shy.
Let the foal come to you.
Keep the head collar in your hand and let the foal snuffle on it.
Accustom the foal to noises and slowly introduce it to new situations.
Tying & Leading of the foal
Once the animal is accustomed to the halter, you can slowly introduce the lead rope. Take your time - patience and playfulness are the most important attributes here. If you want to teach the foal how to be led, take a long lead rope and simply try to walk your foal, without any pressure. If the foal doesn’t follow up because it doesn’t know what to do, put the rope on its hind legs and apply light pressure. They usually learn really fast.
I also use my voice to give commandoes and extensively praise the foal if it does a good job. Don’t overwhelm the young animal - it should also enjoy its kindergarten time. And don't forget: a foal has an attention span of 5 to 10 minutes only! It’s not necessary to have lessons every day.
Grooming your foal
Immediately after birth, foals imprint on their mother. The mare is obviously the most important social contact, and the licking and cleaning is one of the first experiences the foal has after birth. I don’t think you should introduce yourself immediately, but within the first few weeks, you can briefly hold a brush towards the foal and brush it lightly, and start to pet it. During the times you brush your mare, you can also accustom the foal to brush, sponge and cleaning products.
Keep it that way, and the foal gets used to you checking it for injuries easily. Check it on a regular basis, and if you plan to go to foal shows, make sure your foal knows rugs too and enjoys to have a bath as well.
Keep it simple with your horse care products and pay attention to natural grooming products. Use as little chemicals as possible and wash the foal only if it’s absolutely necessary. Keep an eye on parasites or fungi, since foals are more prone to skin diseases than adult horses.
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When does my foal need the first hoof care?
Hoof care is important, as is teaching a foal to to pick up its feet. Start as soon as possible and definitely as soon as necessary, and definitely within the first year of life.
Immediately after birth, the hooves are very soft, in contrast to adult horses. But they harden fast in order for the foal to get up soon after birth. The hoof is not only growing externally, but internal structures are developing as well. Carefully watch the development of the hooves, you neither want contracting or narrow hooves, nor growth disorders or dislocation of the limbs. The most important prevention is exposure to many different grounds, most of all hard surfaces, in order for the hooves to be stimulated.
Also, a professional should keep an eye on their shape. Let the hoof care specialist pick up the hooves regularly, check them and decide whether or not to correct them. If strong deformations are developing, the hoof care specialist must intervene.
Teach your youngster the necessities from an early age. Do as much as necessary, and as little as possible. You won’t be able to shield the foal from the real life, nor should you. But you can minimize stressful or even traumatic situations. In terms of foal care, I think you should use natural horse care products instead of chemicals.
Have a fun time with your foal, until next week,