In many ways, talking about foal handling sounds a lot like the conversation around parenting. “What’s cute when they are young is not going to be so cute when they are older.” And, in a lot of ways, this is extremely true. You don’t want your horse to grow up to nibble on you all day long or kick you when he’s feeling playful. However, there are some qualities that foals possess that you do want to encourage in your soon-mature horse.
While the thought of starting to train a horse from infancy can be overwhelming, remember that there is no rush in training a good horse. Certain disciplines aside, most horses do not need to be ridden until they are a few years old. In the meantime, you can use these first precious months and years to instill positive experiences and habits to help your foal to become a well-mannered horse.
What You'll Learn Today
Unique Challenges In Foal Handling
If this is the first time you’ve worked with a foal, you may face some unique challenges that you would never encounter with the horse.
The first challenge is simply time. When a foal is really young, he will be spending most of his time with his mother. Furthermore, he should be spending time with other mares and foals, if at all possible. Socialization at an early age will help him be a well-rounded horse, which will in turn positively impact his life-long training.
Since your foal is still developing, you don’t want to spend more than 15-20 minutes training at a time. Even in that time span, you may want to give him breaks as well. As baby horses, they do not have the attention span of an adult, so shorter, more frequent sessions (even twice daily!) are better than two-hour sessions every week.
The other unique challenge with a foal is that he will not know anything. Many experienced equestrians have walked horses through something new, but imagine teaching a horse that not only knows nothing, but whose brain is still developing as well. Training a foal takes patience, as well as an eye for early (albeit cute) dominance struggles.
What You Should Be Training Your Foal From The Beginning
When training a foal, riding is clearly out of the question. However, there are many things you can work on with a foal to set him up to be a well-mannered horse.
Firstly, you want to get a foal accustomed to simply being around humans. Your foal may be a bit afraid of you at first, but that’s okay. You’ll want to spend some time showing him how to receive a halter and walk quietly next to you. This is also a great time to normalize feet handling and to desensitize him to being touched on different parts of his body.
Things To Discourage
Foals may undergo a brief apprehensive stage with human interaction, but this will soon give way to a completely natural dominance negotiation. They are still tiny horses, after all. Biting, kicking, or even “cute” nibbling should be clearly unacceptable as early as possible.
Subtler things that you want to discourage in a young foal are pushiness and running away. Clinton Anderson recommends utilizing the help of a friend and a small enclosure when working with a foal, because this will make it really hard for him to run away.
Likewise, when working with a foal, the key is to get him to move his feet when you ask him. Quite literally, horses who stand their ground are the dominant ones. If you stand yours when your foal is young, he will understand your leadership much more clearly for the years to come.
Remember, he’s going to be a full-sized horse in no time. Take advantage of this early imprinting stage to show him what is okay and what is not.
Things To Encourage
The wonderful thing about foals is that though they are timid around humans at first, they are also insatiably curious. If you nurture this curiosity at a young age, your training years to follow will have a more upbeat edge than if you simply focus on dominance.
Remember that your foal is still not used to humans, so you don’t want to approach him directly at first. Spend time in his pen with his mother doing non-training things. Clinton Anderson recommends going in to read a book aloud, talk on your cell phone, or simply hang out. Your foal will be curious enough to approach you in no time.
As you develop a report with your new foal, you will have the opportunity to lay a lasting foundation for human partnership for the rest of his life. Any horse benefits from being rewarded for the slightest step towards your desired outcome.
However, this is even more true with foals, since their early development will help pattern their mind in a profound way. If they learn early that they will be encouraged to just try, you will help eliminate future confusion and anxiety in their training.
Things To Keep In Mind With Foals
When it comes to training foals, remember that they are still just babies. They will not know anything, and you have to plan for that. In these beginning stages of life, you should have absolutely no expectations of what they should already know. They still have everything to learn. Every foal will have its own personality, but there is no “bad” foal out there. As in life, there are no mistakes, only lessons.
So, cherish this time with your foal, because there are a lot of deep lessons you can teach–without tack, without riding, and without an agenda–that will last him a lifetime. Take advantage of this slow and delightful season, and he will become an excellent horse.