What Is a Foal

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Broodmares and foals. Image:John P Kelly/Getty Image

 

What is a baby horse called? It’s called a foal. A foal is a baby horse, donkey, mule, zebra or pony under one year old. If you need to specify what species the foal is of, you can describe a baby zebra as a zebra foal, a baby donkey as a donkey foal or a baby mule as a mule foal.  Specific foal genders are colt for a male foal and filly for a female foal. So you might hear someone talk about a filly foal or a colt foal, or they will use the term colt or filly on their own.

 

How The Word Foal is Used

The terms colt and filly may be used until a horse is about two to three years old, after which it will be referred to as a mare, stallion, or gelding. In the race horse world, the terms colt and filly may be used until the horse is in its fourth year. Occasionally, a very young stallion may be called a stud colt.

A mare is said to be ‘in foal’ if she is pregnant. The gestation period of horses is about eleven months and the time of birth may be called foaling, or foaling out.  The date the mare is expected to give birth is called the foaling date. The horse’s birthday is when it foaled.

Pony Foals

Foals are not ponies. Ponies are diminutive like foals, but they stay small throughout their lives. A baby pony is called a pony foal. A full grown pony may be the same size as many horse foals, but they are adults and the offspring of other similarly sized ponies.

Nursing Foals

Foals live on their mother’s milk for the first weeks of its life. The first milk it receives shortly after birth contains important immune building qualities. By the time a foal is about two months old, it will need to eat grass, and is often fed special concentrates made for foals, because its mother’s milk will no longer supply enough nutrition to support its rapid growth.

 

Domestic horses are usually weaned early, at about three to six months, while feral horses may wean much later. Mares are often bred shortly after they give birth, so in early pregnancy, are nursing a rapidly growing foal.  Occasionally, a mature horse will still try to nurse, and be very attached to its mother, but this is largely due to poor management by its owners, rather than any need on the horse’s part.

 

Weaning

Foals may be weaned at any time between three months and a year. Once weaned, the foal may be referred to has a weanling.  During this time, they continue to grow rapidly. While it’s best to start handling a foal from birth, training in hand can begin and it’s necessary to teach a weanling ground manners . They will not be ready to ride until they are more mature. Some people start as early as two years, while most prefer to wait until the horse is about four years of age.

 Usually the term foal is used to refer to a very young horse, but you'll sometimes hear an adult horse referred to as another horse's, either it's sire or dam's foal.

The word colt is sometimes used to refer a baby horse, but this is incorrect as a colt is always a male foal.

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