Do you think it is safe to say, that at least once in a life as a horse person we thought about buying a foal and train it by ourselves to create the perfect equine friend just for us? I certainly remember my 13 year old self having such a want and had I the conditions to bring on a foal I would probably succumb to my teenage dream at the earliest possible moment 😉
There was a time when I was very much into breeding knowledge. I loved reading everything about genetics and studied various lines, mostly jumping ones at the time, wanting to know what crosses created what offspring. I owned a licensed Trakehner stallion in my teens (the perfect schoolmaster I learnt a lot from) and was a member of regional club of Polish Horse Breeding Association that met quarterly and chatted about all things, well, breeding.
I always looked through the photos of the mares thinking which one would make a good match for Fetas and as he was an older horse, my plan was to breed a youngster by him to keep and compete.
Alas, my knowledge hunger moved from breeding to actual husbandry and I realised very quickly that I had no conditions in a sports oriented stables to rise a healthy, well socialised foal.
Interestingly, Fetas did go on to a stud to breed but proved infertile. I was somewhat surprised as he covered a mare on a yard I was at one day (due to stupidity of youth and two girls letting a mare and a stallion go for a “run” in the same field – “since they always travel to shows together just fine”…yes, I know..we were severely lacking common sense it seems!) and she did breed a foal (she didn’t accept it and it died a few days after he was born).
But I digress.
My fascination with training of young horses got me to various dealing yards where I backed and ridden different breeds and witnessed handling of weaned foals and yearlings. Those experiences taught me that to bring on a foal so he/she becomes a great adult horse requires few basic elements…
1. The best mare we can afford to get…
By this I don’t mean she needs to have a Grand Prix/top record in whatever discipline we want to flourish. Taking on the World means something different to different horse people and the mare needs to shine the qualities we are after. Good stallion is important but the right mare is the key.
Personally, I want the mare to be strict but caring, patient but confident in what she likes and what she doesn’t, people friendly and brave. I will say here though that I once took on a mare with her 2 year old filly and an unborn foal. The mare disliked people immensely. It took me 4 months to even be able to groom her without having to constantly monitor her front and back…
She disliked being touched or even looked at. However, her 2 year old filly was a dream to handle, became friendly very quickly and was the easiest horse I ever backed. The later born foal also grew into a confident, extrovert people oriented youngster so nervous and distrusting mare could have become so due to her previous environment rather than her real make up.
Oops, digression again. Exceptions aside, I prefer a mare with friendly outlook and level headed approach to life. Good conformation and movement are high on my list too due to soundness that usually goes with both.
2. The right place for the foal to grow up in
My preference is rough but safe lifestyle for a foal and youngster. The manicured lawns for thoroughbreds look fabulous on the photos but I’d rather see youngsters being challenged balance and movement wise. There is a place I go to in Cheshire where I see foals grazing on hills and on different terrain – that’s what I would be personally after. Sand, grass, woodchip, gravel, unlevel ground – all this develops proprioception and athleticism both of which are the key to a good riding horse whose muscles, ligaments and tendons are to be ready to carry the rider safely and in a healthy manner.
3. The right company
The best weanlings and youngsters I have worked with came from breeders where mares graze together with offsprings of similar age. I do believe this is vital for how our relationship with the horse develops later in the horse’s life. There are of course exceptions where hand reared and single kept youngsters grow up without any issues but on the whole, I prefer that the horse learns his equine etiquette from the herd he is in. He can get reprimanded, accepted, rejected, played with and groomed by and all this shapes character and trainability.
Many cocky youngsters who disrespect personal space and don’t accept “herd rules” come from environment were they did not experience those vital first lessons.
There is also the play factor. Playing is learning, training, stimulation and contentment all rolled into one great activity. Interaction with others of the same or similar age can rarely be matched by addition of other animals like goats or donkeys.
So there, I look forward to breeding or buying my own foal one day when I can fulfil those 3 key factors . Do you? 🙂 What’s your take on buying a foal to bring on?