A good breeder establishes the basis of trust by rearing and handling young horses correctly, which prepares then for subsequent work with a rider. Education begins as a foal. The first days and weeks set the foundations for later development of a trustful working partnership between man and horse, not by hours of aimless playing around with foals, but by winning their trust. This begins with them becoming accustomed to the stable. Foals are naturally inquisitive and after a while will investigate contact with people, but they are braver more quickly if one crouches down to their level and waits until the foal comes to you. This acceptance of human contact is developed by keeping low and stroking the foal at first, progressing to holding him with the left arm under the neck and lightly passing the right arm around the hindquarters. Through this he learns that existence in the world is not entirely a matter of being free. His inborn urge for freedom must be slowly but surely brought under control.

Once the foal lets you hold him for a short time a headcollar can be introduced (it must not be too big), which can be fastened around the foal’s neck. The advantage of this is that you do not have to interfere with the sensitive ear area. Once it is in place, the foal must be praised. This is enough for the first lesson. When the foal accepts the headcollar confidently, then you can begin leading him.

To start with when leading, one must go along with the free movement of the foal. This can be done first of all in the stable provided it is a minimum of 15-16 square metres, such as a foaling box. The next step is to lead the mare from the stable to a nearby field with the foal following, wearing a headcollar. You need two people for this as a young mare can become unsettled by this first outing. This short walk should just be fun for the foal and a way of quickly building his self-confidence, so discretion is important in these first days of holding and leading the foal. Pulling at the rope can be detrimental and should be avoided. If the foal stops, the person leading the mare should walk ahead undeterred. The further the mare walks away from the foal the more inclined he will be to follow. From experience, the person leading the foal should have learned not to turn to look him but to stand their ground and expect him to follow.

Once the foal’s trust has been won and he has been led successfully he must be praised immediately. A short word of praise is enough. Excessive patting and caressing at this age are dangerous as this arouses the foal’s urge to play and may encourage him to nip, which is not desirable.

Foals are inquisitive. They want to smell and nibble everything such as halters, ropes, and sometimes their mother’s mane and tail. Even the handler’s arm will do. If you allow the foal to play around with you, you will not surprisingly be covered in bruises. Vicious biting from the foal, which is distinct from inquisitive nipping, should be recognized and punished. Maliciousness is frequently made worse by anxiety on behalf of the handler. Experienced breeders do not allow close-contact playing with the foals. They would rather keep the youngsters at a safe distance and occupied with educational exercises for a few minutes at a time.

When the foal totally accepts being led behind his mother you can begin the next stage, which is to tie him up. In times past, this was done outside using a strong rope or chain which would not break if the foal pulled at it. Later, research by vets found that the inability to coordinate muscular movement could be caused by strong pressure on the upper vertebrae of the neck, so this method has been superseded.

Tying up must first be done in the stable. The lead-rope is passed through a ring on the wall and the end of the rope is held loosely in the hand, which enables you to give and take as necessary. Tying the foal to the mother’s girth and going for a short walk is another way of introducing the idea fairly easily. The foal must learn to stand still beside his handler when the handler is still.

Grooming and picking up the feet come next. Foals love their coats being brushed gently with either a rubber curry comb or a brush. They often begin to nibble the person brushing them in return as a sign of grateful thanks. Should they bite, however, it is best to push them away or reprimand them with the voice in a sharp manner such as ‘leave it!’ This behaviour with people is not desirable and must be corrected before the foal grows up.

Foals learn easily to pick up their feet. One begins with the leg that has the least weight on it and lifts it, not too high, so that the foal does not lose his balance. It does not matter if a front or hind foot is picked up first, but saying ‘foot’ as the leg is raises teaches the foal the relevant voice command so that he understands readily what is required.

Experienced breeders are satisfied when a young foal will pick his feet up, accept being groomed and can be led around on the halter. More than this is not required at this stage; training a horse is a long and difficult enough process without extending it any further. In the first and second year the young horse should be given the chance to grow up naturally and he should spend plenty of time-out in the field.

Leave a Reply