Mirror KB Appaloosa Horse Ranch & Photography Logo, professional equine photography and online gifts for the equestrian

Mirror KB Articles
about horses & horse care

by Kim and Kari Baker


Mirror KB Equine Article Series

Handling Foals
From Nursery School to Kindergarten
In Safe Hands
part 1

by Kim and Kari Baker

     There are as many thoughts on how to handle and train a foal as there are horsemen and women. Some prefer to work with the foal on a daily basis, even starting within minutes after the birth, while others are in favor of a minimum of handling, going as far as little interaction until the horse is old enough to ride. Most however, fancy the middle ground.

The Newborn in Safe Hands

      The healthy newborn, once in control of its legs, looks strong and robust, but rough handling or misguided techniques can cause the little one serious injury or stress. However, you don't have to handle the youngster with kid gloves. To limit stress, allow the foal access to the mare's milk before you work with the foal and keep the mare as close as possible to the foal during your training or handling sessions particularly for the first fourteen days.

     The very young foal, or for that matter older foals that have not been trained to halter, should never be restrained by the head using a halter as we do with the adult horse. Neck injuries can occur when the foal resists the unfamiliar confinement. When it is necessary to hold the newborn for short basic procedures, the foal can be held by "cradling."  This is accomplished by placing one hand across the chest of the foal and the other around the rump. Grasping the tail will often steady even the liveliest foal but be careful. The tailbone can be broken or nerves damaged when aggressive force is used. Once you have the foal under control, an assistant can then perform the required task. For longer procedures, the foal can be placed on its side in a well-bedded stall. Always let the foal settle between activities.

     Controlling the foal away from a contained area can be a challenge. Outside a familiar stall or paddock, the foal can become full of life and excited, or even confused and run dangerously about. When you must move the newborn from one location on the farm to another, the safest approach is with a harness that will effectively control the mid-section rather than the head. Placing an adult halter upside down, attaching through the front legs, and buckling under the thorax can quickly make a harness.

First Lessons

      Before you begin the time-honored training lessons, the foal should be comfortable with being touched and rubbed all over. If you take the time to talk to and handle the youngster every day until it will approach you with confidence, these lessons will come easier. You can include an introduction to the halter on your daily visits with the foal by sliding the halter over the nose and sliding it off again several times. Once the foal is comfortable with the slipping of the halter on and off, you can buckle the halter on, but don't try to use the halter to lead the foal yet. Let the foal wear the halter while you remain close-at-hand. Due to the high risk of injury, you never want to leave the halter on the foal unattended.

Halter Breaking

     Because the foal's attention span is limited, lessons should be taught during the youngster's routine handling rather than within specific training periods. "Some foals you can barely get five minutes of work out of," says Erica Frei of Jobi Farm in Milton, Wisconsin.  "Others it seems, could go happily for hours, but you don't want to wear out your foal with a work session so keep it short and to the point." Halter breaking should never be rushed and learning speeds vary so be patient with your youngsters.

     One of the older popular methods still in use today to teach the foal to lead is the use of a butt rope. However, many horsemen are moving toward a more natural way of training the foal. "The natural instinct of foals is to move into pressure. When putting pressure on the rump with a butt rope," explains Frei, "the foal tends to lean into it and doesn't learn to move forward confidently on its own."

    It may even surprise you that much of the training for halter can be done prior to the actual haltering. Depending on your mare, you can confine the pair in a small corral or allow the mare to graze at pasture while you work with her foal. Ask the foal to "dance" with you by pressing with your fingertips on selected pressure points (only a step or two is necessary at first.) Move the hips over, ask the foal to drop its head, pivot on the rear, or take a step back. Guide the foal a step or two in this manner then step back and ask the foal to come to you. 

     By teaching the foal to move away from you as well as with you and to drop its head when it feels pressure to the neck behind the ears, you are educating the youngster in halter etiquette before you even put the halter on.

    When you are getting the responses you want, slip the halter on and ask the foal at first to only turn its head by putting light pressure on the lead. Remember this is a dance not a fight. If the foal begins to struggle against the pressure move with the foal until it stops, then gently make your request again. When it gives you the response that you want, immediately release the pressure. 

    "Always set your foal up for success," insists Frei. You will ask this of both directions several times.  Then, still asking for movement to the side, you can ask the foal to take a step or two toward you or away from you. Reward the foal and let it settle before asking it to take another step. 

     As the foal begins to respond faster with more confidence, ask for more steps. "Keep asking the foal to move a step or two in one direction until you are making a tight circle.  Slowly increase the size of the circle and soon you will be leading the foal forward."


Read Handling Foals - Part 2 

If you'd like to read more interesting articles click on the following drop down link: 

Choose which Article you want to ride down, then click on the Let's Ride button.

Mirror KB Photography & Gifts

1132 Arabian Lane

Libby, MT 59923-7982


Phone: (406) 293-6586

Got questions? Contact us at: wranglers@mirrorkbranch.com

Trailhead | About Us | On the Trail | Raising an Orphan Filly | Tales of the Twin Wranglers
Training Philosophy | Photography | Promotional Photography

Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | Gallery 4 | Gallery 5
  Gallery 6 | Gallery 7 | Gallery 8 | Gallery 9 | Gallery 10  | Gallery 11
Just Text Horse T-shirts | Just Text Mule T-shirts

Montana T-shirts and more | Clothes an' more with Robert Fuller

Design your own | Product Information

Equine Articles | Twin Wranglers | Ol' Bake

Equine Hangman | Product Order Form | Links
Our Privacy Policy
Send an E-greeting | order Greeting Cards



© Copyright 1998 Mirror KB. All Rights Reserved. Duplication of  article and all photos or images, for any reason, without the expressed permission by us is strictly prohibited under the law.