When do you start working with your foals? As soon as possible. Beware cranky foals who may be aggressive. A barrier between you and the foal may be needed when starting out with these ones. I try to avoid using crush type restrictions if possible but sometimes you have no choice or you’ll get hurt.
Try to keep at the foal’s height so as not to scare them off and watch out for any sudden moves. Be ready to move away quickly so as not to get hurt. They may look cute but at this stage you don’t know what’s going to upset them or what their temperament is like. Arguably foals are the most dangerous age as you don’t know them yet or how they will respond to different circumstances and situations. Like us they are all individuals and have different likes, dislikes and tolerances.
My mares do not foal down at home as my closest “breeding” vet (as opposed to general vet or racehorse vet) are at least 45 minutes away if I have a problem. Also my mares are usually going to be mated to a stallion in the same season so they spend the season near the stallion(s) they will be covered by.
I try to visit my mares as soon as possible after they have foaled to start to get to know the foal and make sure that all is good with the foal.
I bring the mares and foals home as soon as possible after they have had their 45 day test and I start working with the foals and getting them to get to know me. I try to work with them on a daily basis and well before they are weanlings. Getting to know you while they are still with Mum gives them a bit of security. Mum can be some protection for you too if the foal is aggressive. Weaning is very stressful and imposing yourself on your weanling for the first time as a weanling can often mean that they may be wary of and hostile to you. They are also more likely to hurt themselves.
Depending on temperament and time, I will try to get a headstall on them fairly quickly. In recent years I’ve spent more time just hanging out with the foals and getting them used to me and to being groomed etc. before putting a headstall on. This year I was able to groom Goldie all over and pick up all her feet before putting a headstall on her and the only trouble I had was sizing the headstall correctly.
If you leave it a bit longer then you’ll need something bigger than a foal slip! A range of sizes is a good idea. I put a pony size on which was too big but was small enough to allow me to get something on without a problem and then I was able to put on a smaller headstall without any problem at all.
A simple headstall with a headband and noseband that undoes at the front is best for a first go. Headstalls with nosebands that do not undo are not ideal as a first headstall nor are the ones that do up underneath the jaw – TOO COMPLICATED when trying to get a first headstall on.
Once the headstall is on I find foals are easier to get on with and you can start teaching them to lead. I find gentle constant pressure released as soon as the foal moves forward so they get to understand that forward movement releases the pressure works to start with.
Here is a not wonderful photo of Goldie with her headstall on. Done easily a few weeks ago before she was weaned. She seems happy with it and has not tried to get it off. She is leading nicely now as well.