by Judy Coe
The ideal time to start handling your foal is practically the moment it is born! We foal out the mares next to our house where we can check on them several times a night when they are due. I have raised foals for the last twenty years, and have found that mother nature usually takes care of the foaling just fine, but I always like to be nearby, just in case! Do not hesitate to call your vet if you think anything is not right!
After the mare has foaled and he/she is standing and walking on their own, I like to put the two in a pen by themselves for a little while so they can bond and poor Mom can have a rest without worrying about the other horses bothering her baby. This also gives me an opportunity to handle the baby and get him/her used to seeing people and being touched. Some take to people right away and others take a little longer to get used to being caught and scratched. It, of course, helps if your mare trusts you and isn't too protective of her new foal. It pays to keep an eye on Mom to see what her reaction to you catching her foal will be!
I usually put my left hand around in front of the foal's chest and front shoulder while holding on around their rump with my left hand. This allows me to direct their movement which is usually just in a circle until they quit struggling. This is also advantageous later on as they have already learned to give to pressure and that they cannot get away from you when you take hold of them. Halter training is usually much easier after a few of these lessons.
I try to handle the foals at least once each day even if it is just to catch them and pet them for a few minutes when I go out to feed. I sincerely believe that this helps give them a positive attitude towards humans and handling for the rest of their lives!
I will then start putting a halter on them (when they are about a week old) while I am scratching and talking to them. I stand on their left side with my right arm over their neck. At this point, I will take hold of the halter strap that goes up over their ears with my right hand while holding on to the buckle with my left hand and bringing the noseband up and over his/her nose.
I try to do all this in the least traumatic way possible along with a lot of scratching and talking the first time. At this point, I have attached a soft cotton lead rope to the halter. Next I usually make a loop in a nice big cotton rope (big ropes will not burn you or the foal quite as quickly as the little ropes will) which I ease up over their rump. Try to do all of the above as quietly and easily as possible.
Once in awhile, you will run across a foal who will respond much better with the rope looped around the middle and up between their front legs better than they will to the rump rope. The rump rope allows you a little more control and the option of not pulling on the young foal's head as much.
I hope this has been helpful to the new foal owners and brought a few smiles back to the old pros as they think back on the foals they have had in the past.
~Reprinted from the Pintabian Ink Spot, Vol. 1, No. 2