For most animal species, their young have a unique name or term to describe them. This fact holds true for horses as well. What is a baby horse called then? A baby horse is called a foal.
The fact that they’re called foals may come as a surprise to many since a lot of inaccurate information has got people calling them ponies. Ponies are a different thing compared to what foals are!
This article aims toward helping you understand foals, what they are and what they’re about so you can understand them better. We’ll also explain why they aren’t to be referred to as ponies!
Early Stages of a Foal
The life of a horse begins at conception. After a mare is covered (inseminated through AI or live copulation), it takes about three weeks to confirm if conceiving was successful.
Using ultrasound technology, vets can confirm the presence of an embryo. Physical examination via rectal probing is also done to confirm the state of the mare’s uterus and other related parts.
After being conceived, foals take up around 11 months to complete their gestation. We use around because the gestation period varies due to a few things, top amongst them, the breed of the horse in question. Either way, normal gestation (for most breeds) takes around 320 to 342 days.
Foals born below 320 days are premature, and medical intervention is necessary for their survival. Those born below 300 days commonly fail to survive.
Foals can take up to a year to gestate, so you shouldn’t fret if they go over 342 days. They’ll still be born in due time.
After they’re Born
After foals are born, there are a few precautions you can take to ease their new beginning to life. They’re usually weak and need some time to get acclimated to the outside world.
Some steps you can take to help them out include:
Confirm Proper Breathing
Considering all the fluids and discharge associated with giving birth (foaling), they could potentially cause temporary breathing problems. This is because these fluids can block the foal’s nostrils.
Confirm the nostrils are clear and if they aren’t, take appropriate measures. Wiping off with a cloth or hay ought to do it.
Ensuring it can Walk
Unlike babies, young ones in the wild tend to start walking a few moments after birth. Horses are no different in that regard, and fifteen minutes after birth, they start attempting to stand. After about 1-2 hours, they can begin to walk a little steadier.
This stage is an important point of their growth, and as such, no attempts should be made to help it stand or walk. The best you can do is make sure the surface isn’t too slippery for its first steps. Having hay on the ground ought to be enough for this.
After birth, foals require food. At this point in their life, however, they can only consume their mother’s milk. It contains essential nutrients necessary to upstart its maturity and growth.
So, when they start walking, guide them to their mother’s teat to get their first meal.
Professional Veterinary Check-Up
If everything has gone well after the birth of the foal, it’s still necessary to have a vet check it out. A professional medical assessment is sure to help realize any missed problems and confirm the wellness of the foal.
Names that Describe Baby Horses
In the equestrian world, there are a lot of names or words used to describe horses based on their gender, age, and use. They aren’t hard to learn, and once you do, their necessity becomes apparent.
Focusing on baby horses, you should know these terms:
Foal: As previously mentioned, this term describes all baby horses regardless of gender.
Colt: This term is used to describe a male baby horse.
Filly: This term is used to refer to a female foal.
After a baby horse becomes one year old, it’s called a yearling, regardless of age. At this point, you can think of them as being adolescents. They’ve grown significantly, but are still a long way towards reaching maturity.
What do Foals Eat?
After birth, foals need to have their first meal within a few hours. This food is provided through suckling. The milk comes in the form of colostrum.
Colostrum refers to the early stage of breast milk observed in all mammals. It has a yellowish hue to it and contains essential nutrients for the young. Colostrum plays an important role in helping develop the immune system of foals.
Two weeks into suckling, a foal can start experimenting with eating solid foods. They begin nibbling on grass, hay, grains, and in some instances, feces! (This behavior shouldn’t alarm you though. It’s been discovered to aid its gut in gaining the necessary micro-organisms needed for hay fermentation in its later life).
When foals get to around 10 weeks, their mother’s lactation rate starts declining. As such, their diet needs to be supplemented with other food sources. At this point, you should start what is known as a creep feeding program.
Creep feeding refers to giving foals supplementary feed so that they can meet all their nutritional needs. Foals at this age and above would be at an important stage of maturation, so they need enough feed to maintain their growth.
Weaning a Foal
At three to four months old, foals can be put on a weaning program. When they get to this age, their nutritional requirements can’t be wholly met by their mothers. (Since their milk production declines)
Creep feeding is the first step toward total weaning of a foal. After four months, solid foods form the core part of their diet.
Just like how it is with babies, eating solids is a process that takes time to get used to. If not done properly, the foal could end up under or overfeeding, both of which are detrimental to its overall growth.
Keep in mind the following during weaning:
- Plan the weaning program adequately. This means taking into account the state and health of the foal up to that point. It helps to create a diet regiment appropriate for its needs.
- With weaning, you may have to feed the foal and its mother separately. The separation can cause anxiety for both of them and interfere with feeding. Ensure they’re both in a calm environment to avoid this issue.
- Socializing with other foals can help your foal endure the weaning process better.
Can You Ride a Baby Horse?
At their tender age and maturity as foals, they shouldn’t be ridden. Even a yearling isn’t ready for riding yet.
Horses are strong creatures as adults. They have a well-formed frame, skeletal structure, and developed muscles. All these aspects combine toward making them strong enough for riding. Foals, on the other hand, haven’t developed all of these yet.
As such, if they were to bear the weight of a rider or heavy load, their joints could incur damage. The knees are especially susceptible to this type of damage.
If a foal is subject to this kind of injury or damage, it can become a deterrent toward it realizing its full potential. It could gain issues like fractured or broken bones and chronic joint problems.
Horses can bear the weight of a rider after reaching two or more years. That’s the consensus on when to start training most horse breeds as well.
Can You Buy a Baby Horse?
There’s no denying how awesome horses are as pets. So, why not get a baby horse and grow with it?
That isn’t a bad prospect for most equestrians. It does, however, demand a significant amount of investment with regard to several aspects of your life.
- You’re financially stable enough to buy and maintain the foal.
- You can avail the proper environment required for its growth and development.
- You can afford to spend enough time with it throughout its early stages of growth.
- You can be or already are emotionally invested enough to take on such a responsibility.
- You can bear taking the gamble of raising a foal to maturity while limiting expectations. Not all foals grow to become champions or are good enough for use in equestrian sports in the first place.
If you think you meet this and other demands for the foal, it’s not a bad idea to get one. You’ll have gained an awesome companion!
Ponies aren’t Baby Horses?
No, they aren’t!
I’m sure the countless movies and videos floating online where people refer to foals as ponies are responsible for the spread of this inaccuracy.
Ponies are actually a breed of horses! They are typically shorter than other horse breeds, and that’s why they’re called so.
Foals are short (well, they haven’t grown yet), and ponies are known to be short. Could someone have started using the name pony indiscriminately to refer to both? Is that what created this confusion in the first place? Maybe so.
Either way, baby horses aren’t ponies. To the experienced equestrian, there are several indicators as to whether a horse is a foal or a pony.
The Foal Picture
Baby horses are called foals. That was the main point of this article, and besides that, you’ve hopefully also gained more insight about them.
They are fun and cute, and because of that, their videos can give cat videos a run for their money! Remember to properly care for yours so you can have a strong companion in the future!