Foal Training: Practice Makes Perfect
Just like humans have to practice to become good at something, successful foal training commences from day one. Right after birth, the so-called imprint training is started. This is crucial to establish a peaceful community and to get to know each other.
Imprint training is a method by which the newly born foal gets to know the humans who live with him. Thus, the first step in foal training is actually touching the little newborn foal to establish a relationship. The next couple of days are dedicated to make the foal familiar with the head-collar and how to raise his hoof. This is important so that the first visit at the blacksmith runs smoothly.
The biggest issue in the early days of foal training is that a newly born can only concentrate for short periods of time. It is important not to challenge the young horse and not to expect miracles. If the foal is able to walk a few steps with a head-collar on, it is already progress! Since the foal training commences from birth, you can take your time and not over-challenge the animal. Stress will only achieve the opposite of what is crucial at first – if you stress, the foal will not trust you and eventually despise you. A relaxed approach is not only more successful, but it is also a lot of fun! Foals are babies after all, and they must have enough time to discover the world and learn in a playful way.
It is best to integrate a foal into an existing horse community because it is the best way to teach certain behavior that is acceptable when living in groups. The trainer is certainly the leader in this herd, but he or she must earn respect through fairness and consequence. This does not imply strict teaching or even punishment! It rather means providing love and security, showing the foal that it is safe with the trainer and that they will care for him. These things are taught much easier when there are other horses around because the foal will also learn who is leader by looking at who the others understand as leader.
The foal training is then focused on walking: The head-collar is connected to a loose string or line. The leader (trainer) then walks up front, and the foal is following. It is important to establish the dominant figure in this picture and the trainer must insist on walking up front. It is also crucial to teach the foal not to push, cuddle or play while walking. While a foal is cute as a baby, it will sooner or later grow to be much larger and stronger than the trainer. Thus, the authority needs to be established as soon as possible to ensure that the grown-up horse will follow you and your commands.
Speaking of commands- that is the next step in foal training. The foal gets used to certain calls, gestures or words that require a specific reaction. It is important to walk frequently and practice these commands
After that, the foal is familiarized with possible disruptions such as street noise, lights, bikes, cars, umbrellas etc. This is important because a horse that is scared and freaking out is very hard to control. It is also important that other pets such as dogs or cats are introduced so that the foal can grow up around them and get used to having them around.
So step by step, the foal will get used to the most common things that could be scary, and he will learn that there is nothing to worry about. Good foal training will result in a well-behaved, cool horse that follows and obeys the trainer while living peacefully in a mixed community with humans and horses.