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Safely Weaning A Horse

By Jeffrey Rolo

In Preparing Your Foal For Weaning we looked at a few necessary steps and considerations to undertake in order to prepare your foal for a safe horse weaning. This article will assume you have already taken the necessary steps to determine your foal is now ready to be separated from his dam.

The major factors to keep in mind during the weaning period are:

Surroundings

It is essential that the paddock, stall, etc. you keep your foal in is safe and secure. The stressed foal may attempt to escape a shoddily constructed fence, rub against a wall or stall door, rear, etc. Make sure there are no nails or similar obstructions that your horse could catch his "coat" on. Also check the ground and ensure 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 and stall, but it's of particular importance to young, stressed foals.

In addition I recommend weaning the foal in the stall or containment area that he is already familiar with if at all possible. The adult dam will be able to handle an unfamiliar territory far better than the young foal.

Feed

Make sure your foal has plenty of clean water and roughage to eat throughout the day, as well as daily servings of grain or pellet. 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. People often eat to relieve anxiety or stress, and the same is true of horses.

Companionship

It is often a good idea to wean multiple foals together so that 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 first hours of separation, eventually they will find the companionship to be reassuring.

If there is no other foal on the premises then don't worry direct contact with peers of like age aren't absolutely mandatory for a safe weaning. In fact 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 a horse's life that he is most vulnerable and impressionable: the first hours of his life and the weaning period. Most horse owners nowadays seem to understand the importance of properly imprinting their foal, yet in my experience 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 mother, 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 young foal and reassure him that everything will be fine. If you already imprinted the foal or worked with him regularly, he'll appreciate your presence from the start, whereas a foal not acclimated to human contact will require a slower and more patient approach. Either way, how you interact with your foal during this weaning period can determine how he will behave for life.

Earlier 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 (whether the other horse be a foal or adult) 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 I think 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 should it 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.

Gradual Or Abrupt?

There are two styles of weaning:

bulletAbrupt Separation The dam is taken as far away from the foal as possible, such that she is not within eyesight (and preferably earshot) of the foal.
bulletGradual Separation The dam is either kept in a next-door paddock or permitted to visit the foal daily for increasingly shorter periods of time.

There are good arguments to be made for both styles - arguments that will be covered in Abrupt Or Gradual Weaning?



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