From the day of your foal’s arrival, handling and training should begin. Many people make the mistake of waiting until their foal is weaned to begin the process, however this is already a very stressful period of time for the young horse and when they are not used to human contact, it can make foal training even more painful (and potentially dangerous for both of you).
The early days for your foal are instrumental to their confidence and understanding for the rest of their lives. When a foal does not have regular human interaction from day one they may regard people as predators and their natural flight instinct is more likely to kick in when they’re faced with a new situation. Foal training from an early age will help your horse get accustomed to you right from the beginning and it means that you’re less likely to need to resort to strength or brute force to handle him later in life. These measures not only lead to mistrust, fear and stress for your foal, but can also cause possible injuries to both of you.
Foal training from day one
When your foal is born you should allow him to become familiar with you very quickly. This should be done in the very early hours of his life, as this is the crucial time when bonds are created. At this time, allowing your foal to become accustomed to you by rubbing and touching him all over will help him accept human contact. This is perhaps one of the most crucial parts training a foal and will stand you in positive stead later on in his life.
To halter or not to halter
Many people have foal halters and it is a good idea to get them used to wearing one from an early age. However, halters can get caught on fence posts and stable edges so be cautious about leaving them on your foal if he is left on his own for a while. To reduce the risk, it’s advisable to use a leather foal halter, which is more likely to break in the event of him getting caught in an accident. Make sure you get a foal slip that can be adjusted on a regular basis, as you will find they grow very quickly in the early days!
Handling a foal from the start
Your foal needs to learn to be controlled from the very beginning, whether it is for routine check ups, leading practice, veterinary procedures, feet trimming or simply the foundations of good training. The best way to do this for foals up to 3 months of age is by placing one hand around his chest and the other around his rump; this allows you to help direct him without the pressure from a foal halter or leadrope, and guide them into position. If your foal is not used to human contact it may be less stressful for both of you to seek the assistance of a veterinarian for sedation. You want to encourage an experience for your foal that is not traumatic or stressful in order to create a good basis for development and further foal training.
Leading your foal
You will find that your foal will follow his mother to begin with, however as he grows more confident and inquisitive, it is beneficial to get him trained to lead. You can start this within the first few weeks of his life and to begin with, simply walk beside your foal as he follows his mother to get him used to you being in close proximity. Then begin to guide him with one hand around his chest and one around his rump, walking just behind him as the mother is being led.
Once your foal is happy with this arrangement, you can use a long lead rope to create a loop that goes around the rump and around the chest to guide him, as you have been doing with your arms, without ‘pulling’ on his head with a rope. By encouraging your foal forwards, rather than dragging him and putting pressure on his head and poll, you are laying the foundations for a more forward thinking horse later in life. It is beneficial to have a helper with you when leading a foal to offer assistance and encouragement when necessary. It is also important when training your foal to reward him with a release in pressure, so that he can learn the techniques quickly when he does them right.
If you are not experienced in handling and training a foal then always seek the assistance of a professional with experience. It is better to put safe and stress-free foundations in place early on, rather than having to ‘undo’ problems that have occurred later on in his life due to inexperience.
Have you ever trained and handled a foal? What tips and advice would you give? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.