Weaning your foals can often be tiresome and tests your patience. This blog posts will look at a few necessary steps and considerations to undertake in order to prepare your foal for a safe weaning. The major factors to keep in mind during the weaning period are:
It is essential that the paddock, stall, etc. where you keep your foal is safe and secure. The stressed foal may attempt to escape, rub against a wall or stall door, etc. Ensure there are no nails or similar obstructions that your horse could catch his "coat” on. Also, check the ground to make sure there isn't any bailing twine, hay nets or any other similar obstructions that could potentially tangle around your foal's legs.
Of course these are good practices for any horse, but it's particularly important to young, stressed foals. In addition, I recommend weaning the foal in the stall or containment area with which he is already familiar. The dam will be able to handle an unfamiliar territory far better than the young foal.
Your foal needs plenty of clean water and roughage to eat throughout the day, as well as daily servings of grain or pellets. Chances are your foal will not at all be interested in the hay initially, but once he begins to settle down the food can be a good stress reliever. Similar to people, horses eat to relieve anxiety or stress.
Weaning multiple foals together is always a good idea so they may be turned out in the same paddock and socialize with each other. Although the foals will gain little comfort from their peers during the separation, eventually they will find the companionship to be reassuring.
Don't worry if there are no other foals on the premises – direct contact with peers of like age isn’t absolutely mandatory for a safe weaning. If you introduce your foal to other horses incorrectly during the weaning period, you can actually create a lifelong problem by making your horse herd-bound.
Keep in mind that there are two points during horses’ lives when they are most vulnerable and impressionable: the first hours of their lives and during the weaning period. Most horse owners seem to understand the importance of properly imprinting their foal, yet the weaning period is equally, if not more, important than the imprinting period.
Most foals will be desperate to find someone to fill the void left by the absence of their mothers, and this is where you come in. It is essential that you wean your horse during a week where you will be readily available to spend a good deal of time with your foal.
If you already imprinted the foals, or worked with them regularly, they'll appreciate your presence from the start, whereas a foal not acclimated to human contact will require a slower and more patient approach.
I mentioned a horse could potentially become herd-bound during the weaning period. This is generally caused when a vulnerable foal is placed with another horse and then left alone for the most part. The stressed foal will be much more susceptible to developing an unhealthy attachment to his peer, eventually reaching the point where he won't be able to handle being separated from other horses for any length of time.
To prevent this from occurring, it's essential that you try and make the foal look towards you as his source of shelter and protection, rather than another horse. While it's a good idea to allow your weaned foal to share the company of other weaned foals, this contact should not be 24 hours a day, nor take the place of your human contact. Try to make sure the foal looks towards you first and his peers second, rather than the other way around.