Handling the Young Foal

Handling a foal is not something a novice horse person should attempt, at least not without the continued guidance of someone more experienced. Foals may look cute and innocent, but they grow strong quickly and can kick and hurt you like any other horse if you don't handle them with care and know-how. Many a spoiled foal has grown into an unmanageable, illmannered horse simply because her owner didn't know how to handle her and teach her good things instead of bad.

Good handling starts from the moment a human first comes into contact with a foal. This doesn't mean you need to halter up a three-day-old filly and drill her with groundwork exercises for two-hour stints. That is absolutely not a good idea. But what it does mean is that every time the human interacts with that filly — halter on or not — that interaction needs to be handling that is conducive to desirable behavior.

No matter what the foal's age, she does not need to step on you, knock you out of the way, or otherwise disregard you. Each simple interaction can teach the foal to yield and step away from your pressure. One touch and one step is the first building block, negative or positive. Even simply scratching the young horse can be an enjoyable and educational experience. By continuing to scratch only when the foal is behaving herself and moving her away (very important — move her away, don't move away from her!) when she is being obnoxious about it teaches her that only respectful behavior gets respectful and generous behavior in return.

Clicker training is a dog training method that has become popular in the horse world. It involves repeatedly asking for a specific action, rewarding the performance of that action with a treat, and marking the desired action with a click from a little clicker box or even a click of your tongue. The click is used to recall and reinforce that action.

Be ever mindful not to teach the foal to pull back against pressure. Although typically a very young foal does not need to be led (he will follow his mother anywhere), if you do need to lead him, run the lead rope around his rump to help encourage forward movement and avoid setting up a pulling match. Never engage in a pulling match with horses because even a foal is strong enough to win.

These are tiny steps taken over the six months or so that the foal is suckling. Get her used to being groomed and sprayed with a water hose. Give her a bath. Get her accustomed to having her feet touched and picked up. The earlier you start with these things, the better.

After the foal is weaned and more independent, it is time to take all the steps you've set up since birth and begin to build on them. Again, this doesn't mean taking a young horse and drilling her for hours each day. Let the horse be a horse for a while — once she is under saddle, she will spend the rest of her life working for you. Having the first three years to just play and grow up seems like a fair deal.

  1. Home
  2. Horses
  3. Handling
  4. Handling the Young Foal
Visit other About.com sites: