Advice for all horse owners. How to treat foals.
There is no doubt that, like humans, horses can learn more and learn more quickly when they are young. When foals are first born they have a particularly impressionable period when their behaviour can be influenced substantially. If a human spends time with a newborn foal within the first 3 hours of his/her life and then regularly over the next 3-4 days it is possible to form an extremely strong bond with the foal – significantly stronger than is usually possible in a relationship between two different species. This bonding process is known as imprinting. During this period the foal should be handled gently all over the head, neck, body and legs and can even be introduced to grooming implements.
Fitting A Headcollar
To begin with, you will need a special foal headcollar, called a foalslip, which can be fitted soon after the foal is born and used when you are handling the foal. The foalslip will allow him/her to be handled more easily, which is particularly important when he is due a visit from the vet or farrier. Generally speaking, do not leave a foalslip or headcollar on a young horse unless they are difficult to catch. This is because, if the collar becomes caught on something, the horse's natural tendency is to pull backwards strongly and this can cause damage to the neck. If a horse is difficult to catch, introduce him to lungeing early in his training. The foalslip must be soft and it must fit on the foal's head closely so that it cannot catch on anything. Never be tempted to use a bridle on a foal, no matter how difficult he may be: introducing a bit to his highly sensitive young mouth may cause pain and possibly severe damage and a lifelong aversion to the bit.
Begin to establish communication early on by asking the foal to lead a step or two in the stable on the left rein and then halt. If she is reluctant, bend her neck gently towards you, taking a step backwards to encourage her to follow you. Reward the first step. Work quietly until it is easy to walk and halt on one rein. This may take 5 or 10 minutes. Later in the day repeat this on the other rein, staying on the inside. Do this again on the second day. Gradually progress to a small enclosed area outside the stable and then to the arena if your foal is obedient. In 2 or 3 days your foal should be good at leading. If you are not leading him to the field as part of your routine, repeat these lessons every few weeks. Never wrap the rope around your hand.
Once comfortable with human contact, most horses will enjoy gentle grooming. Initially, do not tie your horse up for grooming: instead have him held by an assistant, who can also reassure the young horse. Your foal should be encouraged to stand still and to move over when asked. Use a soft body brush and keep your free hand in contact with his body.
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