A foal is a newborn horse of any breed that is less than one year old. A female horse is called a “filly foal” and a male is called a “colt foal”. Once they have been weaned from the mare (at about four to six months) they are called “weanlings.” At one year of age they become known as “yearlings” then “two-year-olds” at the age of two. At three, horses become known as “mares” (females) or “stallions” (uncastrated males) or “geldings” (castrated males).
The gestation period for horses is about 11 months (330-345 days), although foals can be delivered a few days to a few weeks early or late. Most breeders tend to aim for the birth to happen in the springtime so the foal can grow, graze and exercise throughout the warmer months.
Mares typically give birth during the night; in the wild, this helps protect the mare and foal from predators. On average the birth weight of the foal is about 10% of the mare’s weight (i.e. a 100-lb foal from a 1,000-lb mare).
The foal is capable of standing and nursing shortly after birth, typically within an hour. In a feral herd setting, a foal is usually able to run alongside the mare within 90 minutes to two hours.
The first milk a foal gets from its mother is called colostrum, which helps boost the foal’s immune system. The foal should get this milk within a few hours after birth and at the latest by 24 hours after. After nursing and hopefully within the first three to four hours after birth, the foal should pass the dark fetal excrement called meconium. If this meconium is not passed, the foal can become constipated and may need an enema.
To prevent infection, the umbilical stump should be disinfected with iodine and monitored for a few days.
The bond between a mare and her foal happens quickly after birth, and human interference should be kept to a minimum to allow this to happen. Foals can be weaned from their mothers after three months, however, it is not uncommon for a foal to stay with the mare for up to six months or longer.
Between one and three weeks of age, the foal will start picking at grass, hay and grain. After two months, a foal needs more nutrients to grow than its dam’s milk alone can provide and will need a specially-formulated foal feed..
Although horses cannot be ridden until a few years after they are born, foals need plenty of room to run and stretch their legs. They can begin learning good ground manners after the first week, such as being touched, wearing a halter, picking up their feet, and leading.
For more information on newborn foals, click here.