Foal season has just started, the most beautiful season of the year with foals playing in the fields, drinking with mum or stretched out sleeping in the grass. People often ask what is the best thing to do with your foal. How do you give them the best education and the chance to grow into a balanced and reliable, mature horse?
We humans learn to talk at a young age. We learn our mother tongue without any problems and we adopt the accent of our parents. The same goes for foals. All the experiences they get after birth, the different developmental phases they go through, are of great importance for their further development. Who better to teach foals their own language than other horses. Right?
Life in a herd
Turning the foal out in a herd where they can play and run will make them a much more balanced horse later on. We humans are not horses, we react differently to a foal than their own mother or ‘parenting aunt’ does. Horses can quickly teach each other which behaviour is acceptable and which is not. Horses are always clear and consistent to one another, which is very good for social development.
A great example is a few years ago, when Annemarie brought a bottle-raised yearling to a client in the Ardennes to grow up there. The yearling ended up in a herd and acted like a spoiled child. Without thinking about the interests of the other group members, he was very boisterous and, moreover, very disturbing. The herd responded by chasing the foal away from the herd. After all, horses live in herds for safety reasons. There is no place for troublemakers. It took three weeks for the foal to realize that he had to be humble and show respect in order to be accepted back into the herd.
Let your foal be a horse
As mentioned above, no one can raise the foal better than the mother and the herd itself, but preparing the foal for life as a domestic horse is also very important. A foal that gets used to the halter at a young age and will learn to walk on a lead without any problems, give their feet and undergo any veterinary treatment without any problems is very pleasant for both the horse and the
owner. Besides these ‘small’ training sessions, it is important that the foal should also be a horse as much as possible in the first years of their life.
Too young to learn?
Scientific research has shown that it is good for the foal to learn a number of things so that they are not afraid of human touch. This is also called ‘imprinting’. The research showed that if you touched new-born foals in a fixed place for three weeks on a fixed schedule, they were easier to approach and touch in that place later in life. Suppose you touch the foal on their left side for three weeks, they then go out into the field for three years and then you start working with them: it will then be easier to touch them on the left side. After all, the foal is already used to this contact. There are different views on the correct imprinting of foals. Here are some general steps that you can follow:
Step 1: Let the foal and the mother ‘bond’ for a while after birth. Sit quietly next to the foal and stroke it over the body for a few minutes with long, gentle strokes. Don’t forget the legs.
Step 2: When the foal is in a good position and has had a drink, wrap one arm around their chest and gently stroke the foal again with the other hand. Also touch their face, ears, legs, belly, etc. Don’t forget to do this on both sides.
Step 3: When you first take the mare and foal out of the stable, make sure that the foal stays with their mother first.
Step 4: Continue to touch the foal for the first three days, for a maximum of fifteen minutes at a time. The foal still has a short concentration time.
Step 5: Repeat the touches at least on days seven, ten, fifteen and twenty-one.
Quickly give the foal a halter. Let them get used to it, but take the halter off and on regularly. This ensures that the foal gets used to this action.
If you can, it is a good idea to regularly walk into the field to pet the mare and make contact with the foal.
Be careful with teaching tricks. What is cute with a foal may become undesirable behaviour for an adult horse.