Raising foals is one of the jobs needed to ensure grown horses behave well and treat their owners with the respect they deserve. As much as I am a supporter of animal rights, I also believe that owning a pet is natural, and that they do need to learn ground rules – just like we need to know our place at home and in society. But what makes a foal become that adult horse that everyone wants? What are the basics that create a well-disciplined and loved horse?
You can definitely start from the day it is born. Manners are important, as well as respect, but keep lessons short since the mare could become upset and the foal could become stressed. The rest of the time the foal is awake can be spent outdoors with other mares and foals.
Try to correct behaviours such as kicking, biting and nibbling, and striking out as soon as possible, as these will be too hard to fix once the foal becomes older and stronger.
It is also recommended to get the foals used to having their feet handled early. It is not necessary to start immediately with full grooming, but starting with balance and gentle touching should be sufficient, then adding the actual cleaning later on.
Halters are fine but only while the owner is around. Foals may try to remove the halters or may get stuck and entangled somewhere, much more easily than an adult, so supervision is required until they are used to having it on.
Trying to teach the foal to walk beside the owner is fine as well. Tying is not recommended from the start as this could frighten it, risking causing itself and the owner injuries.
As for the actual birth and nursing, if you can manage to have a veterinary present, it is recommended to do so. This ensures that the foal is healthy and gets all necessary vaccines. Also, the vet can make sure the mare is ready for nursing and the foal does so within the first three hours.
If the foal has diarrhea, it could be because it ingested some of its mother’s manure. Try to keep an eye out for this and, if necessary, muzzle the foal between feedings.
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