Just because a new foal is a baby doesn’t mean it can’t learn to be obedient and respectful. Its mother and any other horses it is pastured with will teach it how to be a well-mannered horse. But, you will have to teach it how to properly interact with humans. From the day a foal is born it should learn respect and the basics of good manners. Lessons should be very brief and not cause the mare or foal stress. Most handling can take place during routine care.
Behaviors of Foals
Most of the foal's time will be spent napping, nursing, and playing. As much as possible foals should spend time outside with other mares and foals. Occasionally you might see a foal sampling a pile of manure. This is natural and will not harm the foal.
Foals should not be allowed to nibble on people, strikeout, or kick. While these behaviors may be cute in a small foal, they can become dangerous as the youngster gains size, strength, and speed. Don’t teach it cute tricks that could be dangerous once it weighs 1000 lbs. It might be great to ‘shake a hoof’ with a tiny foal, but a full-grown horse offering up its hoof might not be safe.
Foals should learn early what it is like to have their feet handled, especially if corrective trimming may be needed. This is done by holding the foot up for a few seconds and putting it down again. As the foal learns to accept the handling and learns to balance, the length of time can be increased.
A small foal halter can be put on, but it can be a hazard to leave it on if you're not present. Foals often scratch their ears and face with a back hoof and a hoof can get caught in the halter. Foals can stick their heads through gaps in fencing or stall walls that a larger horse wouldn't, catching the halter and becoming entangled.
A foal should learn to walk quietly beside the handler. Many people delay teaching a foal to be tied until it is older. This lesson can be learned a bit later in life and then taken slowly and sensibly so there is little chance of the animal panicking and hurting itself.
What to Avoid in Training
It can be easy to over-do working with a foal. At this point, very short sessions are better than long. And, don’t be tempted to let a foal do ‘cute’ things like nibbling you or your clothes, striking out at you, or kicking at you. A firm but quick reprimand should cease these behaviors. Things like this may be cute now, but they will be considerably less cute and can become dangerous when your horse matures.