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FOAL HANDLING AND HOOF CARE


The new-born foal generally represents an important economic investment and it therefore makes sense to promote all of the factors that will assist the foal in its development into an adult performance horse that is able to express its genetic potential.

Handle your foals from day one. Since Dr. Robert Miller introduced foal imprinting about 20 years ago, breeders, trainers, and owners have embraced this hands-on approach credited with producing more manageable, more trusting, and easier to train horses.

What exactly is foal imprinting? In a nutshell, it is desensitizing the foal to human interaction immediately upon birth. During imprinting the foal is handled by humans before its fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. There are two goals with imprinting: to train a horse to have little or no resistance to veterinary, farrier, and training procedures; and to establish a human dominance in the young foal's life, leading to a more willing and trainable adult horse.

What does foal imprinting consist of? Immediately following birth, a handler gently probes the baby's gums, teeth, ears, mouth, nose, and rectum. He or she handles the foal's feet, applies gentle pressure to the sides and back, and introduces it to distracting sounds like the vibration of clippers, the sounds of crinkling paper, and flapping plastic. The goal is to get the foal to experience sensations it will experience throughout its life, and accept them at the earliest stage.

When is the right time to begin imprint training. Most people begin to imprint train their foal about one hour after birth, right after the foal has stood and nursed. Begin by touching the horse's body very gently, all over. This will help the foal learn that he can be touched anywhere and it won't hurt. And best of all, this is a lesson the horse will carry with him throughout his life! Foals who have been touched in this manner shortly after birth learn not to move into or jump away from pressure on their bodies.

One thing that is very important to note. Take care not to desensitize the area around the foal's sides. You want to preserve sensitivity to the rider's cues in that area! However, you do want them to understand that they should move away from pressure. You can do this by tapping them until they move. When they finally do move, stop tapping. By teaching the foal the concept of moving away from pressure early on, saddle training will be a breeze later on down the road!

By the time a foal is four weeks old it should lead, stand tied, stand to be groomed, and--most important to those of us who have to trim its feet--stand to have its feet picked up. All four feet must be picked up, inspected, and cleaned daily. When time comes for the foal to have its feet trimmed, there's no need for a fight.

Some people tell me they handle their young horses, but I can tell by how nervous and afraid the little ones are that the only handling they have had was a pat on the nose a couple of times, or worse yet - a beating. Please handle your foals enough so they think you're part of their daily life. Be firm only when you need to be, to keep you or the horse from getting hurt.

The condition of the foal's feet should be evaluated when the foal is four to six weeks of age. A veterinarian or farrier is the best source for this appraisal, but if you are independent-minded, here's what to look for:

All four feet should point forward and toe-out just a little. The knee and hock should be in line with the rest of the leg, from the point of the shoulder and the pin bone at the haunches to the bottom of the hoof. Babies are often cow-hocked and knock-kneed, which is normal to an extent. Over-correcting normal toe-out in babies by trimming the hoof lower on the outside often results in pigeon-toed adult horses.

The point of the frog should be centered in the sole of hoof. The hoof wall at the toe should be the same slope as the pastern when viewed from the side, with the foot on the ground and the horse standing and squared up. When you look at the hoof from the front, the hair line and bottom of the hoof should be horizontal.

The foal's hoof should look much like a full-grown hoof, just smaller. Take care of any twist or deformity as soon as possible. For this you may need professional help from a farrier or a veterinarian. With so many possible problems, and so many ways to solve them, sometimes we all need help from somebody else. For the health of the horse, it's okay to ask.

The baby hoof will grow out in 5 to 10 months, to be replaced with stronger hoof growth requiring hoof nippers to be trimmed. Have the hooves trimmed on a regular schedule, every 4 to 8 weeks is normal, depending on hoof growth and wear. By evaluating the foal during its growth any problems can be dealt with conservatively with a higher success rate. Thoroughbred and standardbred foals experience 50% of their height growth in their first six months of life and after this critical growth period visits can usually be lengthened.


 

Here's my method for picking up the front feet: Start with the left front(horses are approached from this area most often for tacking or mounting) and run your hand from the neck down the shoulder to the forearm, knee, and cannon bone to the fetlock. Most of the time when you lightly tug the fetlock, the foot will come up. For young horses in training or with stubborn equines, babies or adults, I press firmly with the tips of my fingers under the fetlock, just beneath the ergot, then release the pressure when the foot comes up. Most horses will respond to this pressure and give up the foot willingly.

Remember that getting the foot off the ground is only half the training. Standing still on three legs to be worked on is the other half. Please practice.

On the hind feet, I stay close to the animal's side and, with the hand closest to the horse, run down from the flank to the inside of the cannon bone to the inside of the fetlock. I then pull the foot forward and walk it back. Sometimes I use slight pressure with my shoulder to shift the horse's weight off the foot I'm asking for.

While holding the rear leg in your lap, or the front foot between your knees, tap lightly on the hoof with a hammer or stone, as a farrier does while shoeing. This little exercise will get the horse accustomed to the feel and sounds of being shod.


Remember that horses trained for the farrier will have a higher market value. I'm an advocate of not shoeing before the horse is two years old, later if possible. Early hoof growth should not be restricted by shoes. If a horse has a problem that shoes can help, or if you are advised by a veterinarian, then shoeing is appropriate.



With modern technology corrections to badly aligned feet in foals can be made without applying shoes but by using fast setting adhesives to make corrective shoes and extensions.

Here is a foal that has been allowed to grow very long heels; even if he was born with "clubby" feet, the lack of trimming has made them worse. This horse will have a difficult life if he grows to maturity like this.

We would need to shorten the heels to the edge of the sole, and then begin on a determined program of giving this foal many miles of movement on rather firm ground (but not pavement) every day. This situation can be prevented by keeping mares and foals outdoors on firm ground from the day of birth but this is not always possible or practical. A regular trimming schedule could prevent later problems.


Good hoof care is one of the most important aspects of keeping a horse healthy. So go out to the barn and play with the baby.

(Note that no information given on this website should be considered a substitute for consulting your veterinarian or farrier)


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