Facts on Horse Foals

Horse foal with mare.
Horse foal with mare. (Image: Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)

For equines, foalhood is the first stage of life. It lasts until the age of 6 months or so, when the foal is weaned from his mother. At that point, he becomes a weanling. Horse foal fact: A male foal is a colt, while a female foal is a filly. They remain "colts and fillies" until the age of 4, when they reach full growth and sexual maturity.

Up and Nursing

After birth, a foal doesn't spend much time on the ground. Generally, he'll try to get up within half an hour after entering the world. Once he's up, he'll totter over to his mother's teats and try to nurse. Those first steps can take a while, but he should start nursing within another half hour to an hour after rising. Colostrum, that first mother's milk, is essential as it contains antibodies necessary for his immune system. If the foal doesn't rise and nurse within three hours after birth, seek veterinary attention.

Feeding Foals

For his first two weeks of life, a foal receives all of his nutrition from his mother's milk. At about 2 weeks of age, he'll start nibbling on grass in the pasture, but most of his food still comes from mom. When he's between the ages of 2 and 3 months old, he can start consuming feed for extra nutrition. At that stage, he's experiencing a growth spurt while his mother's milk production is slowing. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a suitable feed for your foal. You must ensure that his mother can't eat his feed. Install a "creep" feeder -- an area he can slip into that his mother is too large to access -- or tie the mare in her stall to eat and wait until the foal is finished with his feed before letting her loose. Depending on his age and size, your foal might consume between 1 to 5 pounds of feed daily.

Twin Foals

In equines, twins are trouble. Mares are designed to carry and deliver one foal per pregnancy successfully. If twin foals do survive -- many are premature, stillborn or die shortly after birth -- one or both are likely to be unusually small. It's not uncommon for a mare to reject one of her twins, meaning at least one of the surviving foals requires a nurse mare or hand-raising. Because of the inherent problems caused by twins, veterinarians examining a broodmare in early pregnancy will "pinch" one embryo if ultrasound testing reveals twin fetuses.

Foal Training

Basic training starts early. When handling a foal, there's one large, important consideration: mama and her attitude. Whatever you do with a foal, make sure his mother can see the two of you at all times. Start slowly, making sessions brief. Get the young foal used to being touched all over his body. After he grows accustomed to you, try putting a halter on him. A few sessions should consist of just putting the halter on and taking it off. From there, you can progress to teaching the foal to lead, pick up his feet, and all the other simple but necessary things a horse must learn. Always stay calm and make training a positive experience for the foal.

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