A baby horse is called a foal, though it may go by other names. If it’s still nursing from its mother, it may be called a suckling. After it weans from nursing, it may be called a weanling. If the foal is a male, it may be called a colt. If it’s a female, it may be called a philly. Once the foal is a year old, it may be called a yearling. After two years, the young horse is considered an adult and is called a mare if it’s a female and stallion if it’s a male.
An adult female horse, or a mare, is designed to have one foal at a time. Though rare, twins may occur, but the pregnancy and birth of twins are dangerous for both the mare and foals. The typical gestation period for a horse is around 11 months or 340 days, though some horses may remain pregnant for an entire year. Mares typically mate during early summer and birth their foals in springtime.
Birth of a Foal
Once a foal is born, it bonds quickly with its mother and stays by her side until it weans. Within two hours, the foal should be up nursing and attempting to walk. Females are often quicker to walk and trot than males.
A Foal’s Diet
During the first few weeks of life, a foal relies on its mother's milk for nutrition. Like other mammals, the first milk produced by the mare is called colostrum. It’s important for the foal to have access to the colostrum within 24 hours of birth because it provides antibodies that help prevent infection. Within the first couple of weeks of life, foals may practice grazing on hay and grass alongside their mothers, but milk makes up the majority of their diets. A foal may wean itself as early as three to six months after birth, though horses in the wild may wean much later.
Foals and Ponies
One misconception that many people have is that a pony is a foal. A pony is actually a miniature horse, and while it may be the same size as an average-sized foal, it’s most likely fully grown. Ponies do give birth to foals of their own.
Riding and Training Foals
Foals should never be ridden. Most horses are ready for horseback riding around the age of two years. However, it’s important to work with foals early on to train them to interact well with humans. Training sessions are typically short, and tend to involve simply handling the young horse so that it gets used to engaging with people. A foal’s training may include wearing halters (headgear used to lead or tie up animals) for a brief period of time, learning to walk alongside a human, and having its feet handled. If the foal exhibits naughty behaviors, like kicking, experts suggest putting a stop to it as soon as possible.
More Facts About Foals
The majority of foals are born at night, and they are born quickly. Some experts believe this happens because of the mare’s instinct to protect her baby from predators. While a foal is much shorter than an adult horse, its legs won’t grow much. At birth, they’re about 90% of the height they’ll be in adulthood. This can make walking, running, and even bending over to graze on grass difficult in the beginning.
Other Horse Terminology
Take a look at a few other terms that may relate to foals and young horses:
- Gelding: Adult male horse that has been castrated
- Hand: A measurement of about four inches that is often used to measure the height of a horse
- Gait: The speed at which a horse moves. Its four gaits are walk, trot, canter, and gallop.
- Tack: Equipment needed to ride or lead a horse, such as a saddle, halter, and bridle.
- Equus: a genus of the family Equidae that comprises horses, donkeys, zebras, and related mammals