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Foals Versus Adults

By Jeffrey Rolo

If you are thinking about buying a horse in the near future, chances are high that you are looking solely for an adult. Although adults are indeed practical and popular choices for prospective horse owners (particularly first-time buyers), please permit me to play devil's advocate for a bit. First let me share my previous experiences as a horse breeder:

bulletAlmost everyone that visited my farm was looking for a trained adult riding horse.
bulletOver half of those visitors ended up purchasing a young colt or filly instead.

Why did the majority of those looking to buy an adult horse choose to change their mind and purchase a foal instead? There are a few significant reasons for their change of mind:

Developing A Bond

Although you can develop a bond of respect and trust with nearly any horse of any age if you have the skill and desire, I have found that there's often an even deeper connection between horse and owner when they have shared those early years together.

Young foals are also far more dependent and impressionable than mature adult horses. Most do not want to face this brave new world by themselves and are quicker to cling to their kind caretaker, whereas adults can sometimes be more aloof at first and require more time (i.e., round pen work) to develop a deeper bond.

Communication And Cues

If you purchase a trained horse then chances are you will do fine but chances are high you will either need to use the cues the horse already knows or attempt to re-train the horse to recognize your preferred cues. This of course is not a large problem, but when you purchase a foal you can train them to suit your style during their most impressionable age.

When I purchase a previously trained adult horse I may need to use vocal commands such as "whoa" and adjust the heaviness of my hands and heels depending on how the horse was originally trained. On the other hand when I can work with one of my foals from day one, we learn each other's body language and styles so that our communication and cues can become nearly invisible to onlookers.

To most people this may be a minor point, but to me it's a huge bonus to develop a customized style of training that suits my preferences perfectly.


We would all love to pretend price is not a factor when choosing an equine partner, but the unfortunate reality is it often can be depending on the breed you desire. I bred Mountain Horses which generally fetch high prices for trained adults (particularly for mares or those with a chocolate color), so often people would visit the farm and fall in love with the breed but become dismayed that a trained adult was just out of their price range.

The price for a foal is almost always less expensive than that for a trained adult in his prime years of life. By purchasing a younger horse, many people were able to own the breed they wanted instead of settling for "second best." The difference between a 1-year old and a trained 3-year old can mean thousands of dollars! Two short years before starting the horse under saddle can mean significant savings or the purchase of a specialized breed rather than a standard breed.


I will be the first to admit that fun is subjective, and what's fun for one person is entirely passable for another. That being said, colts and fillies have an inherent charm and joy that cannot be denied. In fact when I was a teenager my feeling was that foals were "useless" after all, if you can't ride them what good are they? Boy was I wrong!

The day my first foal was born I ate some serious crow, and quickly found riding to be a chore compared to working with the young horses. Beyond being adorable, foals possess a natural exuberance, curiosity, playfulness and loyalty that will quickly capture anyone's heartstrings. Yes, I'm now a full convert I find foals to be tremendous fun.

But I'm not a trainer!

I heard that concern from nearly everyone that purchased a foal it's a natural concern! My advice to each owner was to study natural horsemanship techniques from accomplished horsemen such as John Lyons and then try it for him/herself. One of the biggest misconceptions in the horse world is that training is difficult and potentially dangerous. Properly done, training is simplistic and very safe.

Although my advice was met with skepticism and vows that they would just ship the horse away to a professional trainer when the horse was of age, I believe no more than three ended up doing that. Nearly all those who purchased a young horse studied natural horsemanship techniques, worked with their horse daily and found the training process to be quite simple.

Don't worry if you haven't trained a horse before. You can enjoy the delights that only a foal can offer while studying various techniques. When the time comes to start training your youngster for saddle you will probably have gained the confidence to try it yourself. And if you haven't, you can still send him to a professional trainer.

Foal Or Adult?

In the end only you can decide. For many people, riding or participating in horse shows is of primary importance, so a foal would not work. The intent of this article was not to sway you to purchase a foal, but rather to at least give the possibility some thought. Most of us are quick to overlook foals during our searches, yet they can actually make much better economic sense and provide you a couple unforgettable years of delight.

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