Foaling season is an exciting time around any horse stable. Breeding stables often have many foals being born around the same time, and of course, horse owners are excited to greet a new addition to their four-legged families when beloved mares give birth.
What Is a Baby Foal?
A baby horse is called a foal until it reaches 12 months of age. The term is also used to identify baby donkeys, but it's most common when referring to newborn and young horses.
If you've ever seen a newborn horse or come across videos of mares with their brand-new offspring, you've likely already noticed their distinct ability to stand up and walk shortly after birth—but there are plenty more interesting facts about foals that make them unique.
Here, find 10 facts about foals to discover more about these baby animals.
01 of 10
Gestation Period of 11 Months
It takes around 11 months for a foal to fully develop inside of the mare. Some foals can be a few weeks late or early. Occasionally, a foal can be up to four weeks late. Most breeders try to time foaling for early spring, so the foal can grow and exercise throughout the summer months.
02 of 10
Foals Can Stand Within Two Hours of Birth
Foals can stand, walk, and trot shortly after birth. Ideally, a foal should be up and nursing within two hours of birth. If the foal takes longer, it may be a good idea to call the veterinarian. Foals can gallop within 24 hours.
03 of 10
Mare's Milk Provides Immunity Boost
The first milk a foal gets from its mother is called colostrum. This milk boosts the foal's immune system, as it is born with little protection. Ideally, the foal should get colostrum within the first hours of birth or at least within 24 hours of birth. This not only provides antibodies, but colostrum helps the foal pass the first manure called the meconium. The foal needs about two liters of colostrum in the first 24 hours of life.
04 of 10
Foals Lack an Immune System
Because the foal is born without infection-fighting antibodies, an infection can set in very rapidly. The foal’s umbilical stump must be disinfected for a few days after birth and watched for any signs of illness.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
Mares and Foals Engage in Silent Communication
Mares and foals bond very quickly. Much of their communication is almost imperceptible to the human eye.
06 of 10
Foals Might Have Bowed Legs
Many foals are born with oddly bowed legs. This is referred to as "windswept" and one cause may be a relatively large foal born to a small mare. Because their ligaments and tendons are immature, they may also walk with their fetlocks almost touching the ground. Within a few days, as the foals become stronger, the legs should show signs of straightening up. If not, it’s time to call the veterinarian.
07 of 10
Most Foals Are Born at Night
Foals are most often born at night, and birth often happens very quickly. It’s not unusual for an owner to nap by the stall then run and grab a quick cup of coffee or take a bathroom break only to find a foal waiting for them when they return. In the wild, this nocturnal and rapid birth helps to protect a mare and foal from predators when they are at their most vulnerable.
08 of 10
Foals Enjoy Grass Soon After Birth
By the time foals are about 10 days old, they’ll start to eat a bit of grass and hay. By two months, the foal will need more nutrition than mare’s milk alone can provide.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Foals' Legs Rarely Grow in Length
A foal's legs are almost the length they will be when they reach adulthood. One way breeders determine the height a foal will "finish" at is to do a string test. There are two different ways to do this.
- Measure elbow to the mid-fetlock with a string. First, hold the string against the foal’s elbow, and measure the length to the fetlock; then, flip or turn the lower end of the string up, and hold it so it is perpendicular to the ground against the foal’s withers. This is thought to indicate the foal's final height.
- The second way is to hold a string between the center of the knee and the hairline at the coronet band at the top of the hoof. If the measurement is 14.5 inches, the foal’s final height will be 14.2HH (hands high). If the measurement is 16 inches, the foal's final height will be 16HH. While breeders may use these methods to get an approximation, neither are 100 percent accurate.
10 of 10
Foals Can Wean at Three Months
Foals can be weaned from four to nine months of age. However, if there is a concern about the condition of the mare, or the foal shows signs of too rapid growth, early weaning may be best. By four months, the foal no longer gets a substantial amount of nutrition from its mother’s milk.
A Long Time Between Foaling and Riding
Although it will be years before a foal is mature enough to be ridden, it can start to learn good ground manners right away. It can be taught to be led quietly and to pick up its feet to be cleaned.
Why do foals need colostrum? University of Minnesota Extension.
Routine & Emergency Foal Care. University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
Horse Foaling.Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Foal Growth: Special Care and Nutrition. American Association of Equine Practitioners.