Caring For Foals
By Don Blazer
Some how, no matter how hard I try to give good advice, when it comes to foals, I end up being viewed as, and called, “Mr. Grumpy”.
I love foals…I think they’re cute and wonderful and fun to watch. But, I know they are babies, and babies need to be cared for and protected and loved.
So why don’t you do that?
Most of the time most foal owners don’t care for, protect and love foals. They love the idea of having a foal. But when it comes to the nitty gritty of taking care of them…they don’t love that.
The first problem too many foals face is a big face getting in the way of the foaling process. Go to bed…let the mare have the foal…come out in the morning and start the chores of caring for a foal, which means teaching restraint. That doesn’t mean in the first few hours of the foal’s life, it means give the foal about 10 hours before you start the human interference.
And yes, I mean restraint. No not imprinting. (Imprinting comes later, much later, after the foal and mom have done their natural imprinting thing.)
Restraint means the foal must stand still, be rubbed all over, and have its feet pick up, held, slapped and cleaned. Do not let the foal decide when you are done with his feet. Not teaching a foal to have his feet handled is the first sign of neglect. (Plan on having the feet rasped lightly about every five days—pay your horse shoer to do it, or learn to do it yourself, but get it done…not caring for a foal’s feet is on-going neglect. While you are working on the foal’s feet, the foal is going to try to get away…this is when you teach restraint.)
The second sign of no care, no love, no protection, is keeping the foal in a box stall or small pen for hours, days and weeks.
As soon as the foal can get up and down easily—just a few hours after birth—he and mom should be in the biggest area you can find where they can and will exercise, exercise, exercise.
And let them exercise. No box stalls, no small pens…get them out where they run and play and use those new muscles, tendons and bones.
After they’ve been out all day (or all night, depending on the circumstances) you can bring them into the barn for the night (day). This is where you continue restraint training. The mare and foal should be haltered and led to the barn. That doesn’t mean allowing the foal to run along helter-skelter…it means the foal learns to lead properly and respect the handler.
Within five days…if the foal is haltered and taken out in the morning and haltered and led back at night, he’ll be a perfect little soldier, marching along to the beat of your drummer. That’s love and protection and caring…anything less is a dereliction of duty.
Now keep it up, the trimming of the feet, the restraint training, the leading properly—that’s a show of love and caring and protection. This foal isn’t going to suffer the fear, battles and abuses that so many foals will endure when someone decides they “have to learn it all now.”
The third sign of no love, no caring and no protection is the foal owner who hasn’t got a clue about feeding the foal. They’ll spend hundreds of dollars on “grow ‘em up” feeds and “shine ‘em up” supplements, but not 10 cents on education.
Don’t over feed foals.
They need grass (not pellets or concentrated feeds) in front of them at all times, whether pasture or processed hay and they’ll eat what they want and need. You may need to feed some grain to balance out the calcium/phosphorus ratio, but that comes when they are a little older.
Keep foals thin; overweight foals are going to suffer joint and tendon problems.
How’s that for a formula for loving a foal…teach restraint, keep their feet trimmed and in balance, be sure they get all the exercise they want, and don’t over feed them.
You didn’t see anything about treats and little blankets and play toys and keeping them in box stalls.
Okay, okay, just call me, “Mr. Grumpy.”