What Should a Foal Know?
When your foal arrives, it can be hard to imagine that there is a lot that you can do with him. However, a lot of the most important training in a horse’s life happens before he turns a year old.
Much of this training ideally should happen before he is weaned. Unfortunately, a lot of young horses do not get enough handling while still with their dam, and arrive at their new homes as weanlings with very little education.
Because horses grow so quickly, a lot of their life’s lessons need to be taught while you are still bigger and stronger than they are. This does not mean that you need to rough them around, but instead means that they must truly believe that you are the one in charge of the situation. By weaning, many horses are already big enough to be very difficult to handle, so the sooner your teach them, the easier it is in the long run.
By weaning a foal should know how to be haltered and led. He should accept having the halter put on and taken off, without resisting, and lead calmly with a plain cotton lead. Ideally, he should be friendly and easy to catch, although many weanlings go through a stage where they like to run away and avoid their owners.
A foal should also have been taught to enjoy being groomed. He should stand quietly in his stall while he is brushed and curried over his entire body. While it might be necessary to use a lead rope to keep him from wandering around the stall as you brush, you should avoid tying him as his neck is not yet strong enough to prevent damage should he panic and fall while tied.
By weaning, most babies have had their feet trimmed several times. Your baby should lift his feet when asked, and permit you to hold them long enough to give them a quick pick out. You may need a helper to hold him, as most babies will try to wander away as you pick their feet.
If you can, it is a good idea to introduce your foal to the clippers and horse trailer before he is weaned. The comforting presence of his dam will make the experience less stressful, and will make it easier for him later in life. Don’t overdo it; a quick introduction is usually enough.
As long as your foal has these basics, he will be ready to continue his training once he is weaned. If at all possible, have different people meet him and handle him before he needs to move to a new home. He needs to know that all humans are his friends, not just the ones he knows.
In the meantime, give him lots of time to be a baby. Turn him out as much as possible, and give him friends to grow up with if you can. Horses need to learn how to be horses in addition to learning to be human companions.