Baby horses are, by far, one of the cutest creatures on the planet. With their knobby knees and wobbly footing, they are truly a miraculous sight to behold. No words can truly describe the experience of watching a foal develop into a beautiful horse.
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What Do You Call a Baby Horse?
The most accurate name for a baby horse is a foal. “Foal” is a generic term that is used until the horse reaches one year of age. While some people call a baby horse a colt or filly, this is not the appropriate term for the youngest of horses.
Another name that can be used for a baby horse is weanling. A weanling is a horse under a year old that has successfully transitioned from reliance on its mother for food to following a traditional equine diet. Yearling is also another term that is used during these early stages of development. The name yearling is appropriate for any horse that is one year old.
As the baby horse continues to mature, it is appropriate to begin calling them by gender-specific titles. A female baby horse is known as a filly. A female horse can be considered a filly until she turns four years old. At this point, a female horse is considered mature and is called a mare.
A colt is a baby male horse. A male horse is called a colt until they reach four years of age. Once a male horse reaches four years old, they are considered mature and are called either a stallion or gelding. The proper name for an adult male horse depends on their ability to reproduce.
Gestation Period For a Baby Horse
The gestation period for a foal is around 11 months, however, foals have been known to arrive several weeks early or up to four weeks after their due date! The best time for a foal to be born is in the early spring. This provides the new foal with several months of warm weather in which to grow and exercise before cooler temperatures return. Breeding a mare with the hopes of a springtime foal requires lots of work and attention.
Do you suspect that your mare may be expecting? Here are 8 ways to tell if your horse is pregnant!
Why Are Most Foals Born At Night?
While the days leading up to a foal’s birth may seem to drag on, the actual birth process is typically fast and furious. The majority of foals are born in the middle of the night. Although this can cause exhaustion for the owner, there is a very good explanation for this phenomenon.
Foaling at night is a natural instinct of a mare. In the wild, a nighttime birth allows a mare to birth the foal with minimized interference from predators. Because the foal is unable to gallop at birth, they are incredibly vulnerable. With a quick, nighttime birth, the mare hopes to protect her foal from potential dangers.
Every Horse Shares a Birthday!
Wait, what?! How can that be? We know that every foal is not born on the same day. In the Northern Hemisphere, a horse’s age is calculated using the universal birthday of January 1. In the Southern Hemisphere, the universal birthday for horses is August 1. This allows for standardization for showing and racing purposes.
Professional horse breeders work to plan the birth of their foals as early in the year as possible. Foals who are born late in the calendar year have the potential to be at a disadvantage in racing as they will be racing against horses who could be 10 months older than them. In the equine world, these few months of growth can make all the difference.
Foals Are Quick to Their Feet
There are not many things that are cuter than a foal taking their first wobbly steps. After a foal is born, they should be able to stand and walk within one to two hours. More shocking than the ability to walk an hour after birth is the fact that most foals can gallop within 24 hours of birth!
If you notice that your foal has not attempted to stand or walk within the first two hours, it is wise to contact your veterinarian. The inability to lack of desire to walk may point to an orthopedic abnormality or other health condition that requires professional intervention.
Foal’s Legs Are Almost Fully Grown At Birth!
Horse breeders will predict the full-grown height of the foal shortly after birth using a piece of string. While these methods have been used for centuries to approximate the growth of a foal, they are, of course, not foolproof methods.
The most common method of predicting a foals’ final height is to hold a piece of string from the center of the knee to the hairline at the top of the hoof. If the piece of string measures 16 inches, for example, the predicted final height for the foal is 16HH.
What to Do If Your Foal Has Bowed Legs
You may be surprised to see that the newborn foal has bowed legs! While this may be alarming at first, it is quite common. Bowed legs in foals are most common in large foals born to a small mare. This condition, known as “windswept”, is caused by immature ligaments and tendons. You may notice that the foal walks with their fetlocks touching the ground.
While this condition typically corrects itself within a few days, it is important to seek professional intervention if the legs show no sign of improvement or seem to get worse in the first few days of life.
Eating is An Important Part of A Foal’s Early Days
Within the first few hours of birth, a foal begins to receive sustenance from its mother. The first milk a foal will get is called colostrum and is full of important nutrients to help the foal adjust to life outside the mare. Although the mare will instinctively encourage the foal to nurse immediately after birth, it may take up to two hours.
If the foal is not able to nurse within two hours of birth, it is important to contact an equine veterinarian as this may be a sign of a health condition or abnormality. In the first few hours of their life, a foal should receive between a quart to a liter of nutrient-rich colostrum.
After the foal has received colostrum from the mare, they will continue to nurse approximately every 30 minutes, or around 30 times each day. It is important to observe the mare’s udders to make sure there is a visible change in size. This is one of the best ways to ensure that the foal is nursing properly and receiving the nutrients they need.
The Dietary Needs of A Foal Change Rapidly
While the mare provides the foal with necessary nutrients through milk, this will not sustain the growing foal for long. Foals often begin to taste grass within a week of their birth. At first, this is simply out of curiosity. However, by around 10 days old, foals will begin to incorporate grass and hay into their diet.
As they continue to grow, a foal will begin to require other sources of nutrition and sustenance. Around two months old, a foal will begin to transition into a more traditional equine diet as they wean off their mother’s milk.
The weaning process may begin naturally. However, in some cases, a horse owner may choose to encourage the process due to health concerns for the mare. Sustaining a foal is hard work! After three months, the mare is often ready for a break.
Another reason an owner may choose to encourage earlier weaning is if the foal is growing too rapidly. Increased growth in a foal can cause weakness in the joints and bones that may lead to other health conditions down the road.
A foal is typically fully weaned around four months of age, relying on outside sources for sustenance and nutrition. One the foal is fully weaned, many equestrians begin to refer to them as weanlings. Foal and weanling can be used interchangeably until the young horse reaches one year of age.
A Foal Gets Their First Teeth During the First Days of Life
Unlike humans, a foal will begin to get their first few baby teeth during the first days of their life! This provides them with the ability to begin the quick transition to solid food within a few months. Before the foal is one week old, they will develop two incisors in their upper jaw and two incisors in their lower jaw. A foal will have a full set of baby teeth by about six months old.
Between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, a young horse will lose their baby teeth which will be replaced by a full set of permanent teeth. It is important to conduct regular oral health checks as your horse begins to mature to make sure that this process is moving along properly. Occasionally, a baby tooth can become loose and lodged in an odd position, causing problems with the development of the month.
Mares and Foals Have An Undeniable Bond
Successfully Training a Foal
Although it is important to facilitate the bonding of a mare with her foal, it is also important to begin introducing the foal to human interaction and handling from the day they are born. Far too often, horse owners delay any form of handling or training until after the foal is successfully weaned. While two or three months may not seem to make a significant impact, it can be the difference between any enjoyable relationship or one that involves significant stress and injury.
One of the most important things you can do to set a foal up for lifelong success is to desensitize the foal to human contact early in life. This process should begin with the first few days following birth. By rubbing and touching the foal from ears to tail, the foal will learn to accept human touch. This is a process known as imprinting.
With any type of training, it is important to remember that patience is key. You must not assume that a newborn foal will be easy to work with. While there are certain steps you can take to alleviate unnecessary stress, you will need to work gently with your foal as you establish proper behaviors and responses.
Don’t Rush to Ride Your Horse!
While your young horse will have grown to almost 90% of their height by the age of one, they are not close to being strong enough to bear weight. Riding your horse too early can result in physical injury and even permanent damage to their skeletal structure. Additionally, there is much work to be done to lay the groundwork for a successful riding relationship.
Although each horse and horse breed varies, it’s often wise to start groundwork exercises around 2 years old as they continue to grow and mature. A horse is full-grown around the age of four. For most horses, this is a great time to begin riding as their skeletal system is mature and they have had the opportunity to gain the strength necessary for bearing weight.
As always, it is wise to consult your veterinarian before making any significant changes in your horse’s activities. Because riding is such a change from groundwork exercises and other activities, it is important to make sure your horse is properly developed. Remember that there is no rush to ride a young horse! Patience in this process will benefit both horse and rider in the long run.
To know more about the growth process for your horse and the best time to start riding, check out our article Horse Growth Guide: When Do Horses Stop Growing?
Caring For a Newborn Foal During the First Hours
If it is your first time caring for a foal, you may be feeling slightly overwhelmed. Have confidence in knowing that the mare is equipped with natural instincts to care for her foal. Your role as the owner is to oversee the process and intervene if you recognize signs of illness or abnormalities.
Immediately following birth, carefully remove the birth sack from the foal’s head and make sure that the foal is breathing. Assuming the foal is breathing, step back, and allow the mare to care for her foal in the first few moments of life. If you do not notice signs of breathing, stimulate a respiratory response by blowing in the foal’s mouth.
Once the mare begins to move, the umbilical cord should break on its own. You will need to carefully clean the umbilical stump with a gentle iodine formula. This will aid in the drying process and minimize infection.
Continue to monitor both the mare and the foal to watch for signs of birth abnormalities or complications.
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Naming Your Foal
The foal is here and it is now time to name them! Most horse owners wait a few days to name their foal to get a sense of their personality. Are you stumped on what to name your new horse? Check out my list of the best horse names ever! Finally, enjoy your time with your precious foal. Their tiny size and adorable features change quickly, leaving you with only memories of their first few days.
Want to know more about caring for young horses? Check out this article: How to Train a Young Horse: Everything You Need to Know