10 Facts About Foals

Low angle view of horses and foals grazing on grass

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Foaling season is an exciting time around any stable. Breeding stables often have many foals being born around the same time. And, of course, owners are excited to greet a new addition to their four-legged family when their beloved mare gives birth. Here are 10 facts about foals you may not have known.

  • 01 of 10

    Gestation Period of 11 Months

    Mares and foal

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    It takes around 11 months for a foal to fully develop inside of the mare. Some foals can be several 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

    A group of galloping horses and a foal in an open field

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    Foals can stand, walk, and trot a very short time 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. Many breeders maintain that filly foals are quicker to get on their feet and nurse than colts. Foals can gallop after about 24 hours.

  • 03 of 10

    Mare's Milk Provides Immunity Boost

    A newborn foal suckling at the mare

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    The first milk a foal gets from its mother is called colostrum. This milk boosts the foal's immune system since it is born with little protection. Ideally, the foal should get colostrum within the first hours of birth or at least within 24 hours from birth. This not only provides antibodies, but colostrum helps the foal pass the first manure called the meconium. The foal will receive about a quart or liter of colostrum in the first hours of life.

  • 04 of 10

    Mares and Foals Endure Silent Communication

    A mare and foal bonding silently

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    Mares and foals bond very quickly. Much of their communication is almost imperceptible to the human eye.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Foals Lack an Immune System

    A wild newborn foal with a mare

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    Because the foal has no immune system of its own, 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.

  • 06 of 10

    Foals Might Have Bowed Legs

    A newborn foal laying on the group with mother

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    Many foals are born with oddly bowed legs. This is called "windswept" and is common to large foals born to smaller mares. 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

    A newborn foal rests as mother tends to it

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    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 he or she returns. 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 in a Week After Birth

    A colt and mare eating grass in a field

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     A foal will start to taste grass after they are about a week old. By the time they 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 newborn foal with wobbly legs trying to walk, side view.

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    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.

    1. Measure elbow to the mid-fetlock with a string. Hold the string against the foal’s elbow flip or turn the lower end up, and hold it so it is perpendicular to the ground against the foal’s withers. This is thought to be the foal's final height.
    2. 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. 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

    A foal resting in the sun

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    Foals can be weaned as early as three months. Generally, they are left with their mothers longer. However, if there is a concern about the condition of the mare or the foal show signs of too rapid growth, early weaning may be best. When foals grow too fast, problems in their leg joints can occur. 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

While it will be years before a foal is mature enough to be ridden, it can start learning good ground manners right away. It can be taught to lead quietly and to pick up its feet to be cleaned.