For the first year of the horse’s life it is known as a foal. If you have a mare in foal read on to know more about them!
For a foal to be fully developed this takes around 11 months, however some foals may be early or late just like human babies. On occasion the foal can be up to 4 weeks late. If you are a breeder, try to time it so that the foals are born in early spring so that the foal can grow and exercise through the summer months.
Your foal will be able to stand, walk and trot very shortly after birth. Your foal should be up and nursing itself within two hours, however if it does take longer you might want to call your vet just so that you can check everything is okay. If your mare has a filly, they are quicker to get on their feet than colts are. Foals can gallop up to 24 hours after birth.
When the foal is first born, they will drink milk (called colostrum) from its mother. This milk will provide antibodies and boost the foal’s immune system. Your foal should get the colostrum within the first 24 hours from birth, this will also help the foal pass its first manure (which is called meconium). The foal will receive about a quarter or a litre of colostrum in the first hours of their life.
The foal and its mother will connect/bond very quickly. Much of their communication is almost unseen by the human eye.
As a foal does not have an immune system of their own, infections can set in very easy and very rapidly. The foal’s umbilical stump must be disinfected for a few days after birth and then keep a close eye to make sure that no infection has set in.
A lot of foals are born with bowed legs, this is called ‘windswept’. This happens mainly with large foals born to smaller mares. They also might walk with their fetlock touching the ground as their tendons and ligaments are so immature. They should be a lot stronger within a couple of days and their legs should have straightened up. If the legs haven’t straightened, then it’s time to call the vet.
Foals are often born at night, and the process can happen very quickly. Its not unheard of for owners to quickly pop out and grab a coffee to come back and find a foal in the stall! The reason for this quick birth is because in the wild it protects the mare and foal from predators when they are at their most vulnerable.
A foal will taste grass for the first time when they are about a week old. By the time they are around 10 days old they will start to eat a bit of grass and hay. When the foal is 2 months the foal will need more than their mother’s milk alone.
A foal’s legs are around 80-90% the length they will be when they reach adulthood.
You can measure the height the foal will ‘finish’ at by doing a string test, this can be done two ways:
Measure from the elbow to the mid-fetlock with string. You need to hold the string against the foal’s elbow flip or turn the lower end up, then turn it so it goes from the elbow to the withers, this is thought to be the foals final hight.
The second way is to hold the string between the centre of the knee and the hairline at the coronet band at the top of the hoof. If it measures to 14.5 inches your foal will be around 14.2hh, however this is not 100% accurate.
Foals can start to be weaned as early as 3 months. They are usually left longer, however if there is a concern to the condition of the mare or the foal show signs of rapid growth, then early weaning may be for the best. When they grow too fast joint problems can occur. When the foal is four months, they no longer need its mothers’ milk.
Although your foal has a long way to go before you can ride them, you can start training them. Foals can be taught lots of things which will set them in good pace for riding.