Horse ownership and parenting share a number of parallels. Everyone is happy for you, and everyone has advice. Articles, research, and anecdotes abound, and often they all seem to contradict. At no point does owning a horse feel more like parenting a child than after the birth of a foal.
Fortunately, owners of a new foal rarely have to consider nursing vs. formula, and the diaper debate is moot. However, when it comes to education (training), horse owners face as many conflicting viewpoints as new parents. Questions arise around the handling of the new foal: How much? How soon? Will handling the foal disrupt the bond with the mare or delay nursing? Will it make for a more tractable foal? What about imprint training?
The First Few Hours: Foal Brain and Needs
In The Lion King the hyenas gnaw happily on the haunch of a zebra. Zebras, antelope, cattle, and, yes, horses are prey animals. Their place in the circle of life is just above the grass. But unlike horned antelope and cattle, horses don’t have much in the way of weapons. While the impact of a well-placed hoof can be significant, those hooves are better designed for gaining traction in flight than they are for fighting.
Prey animals that give birth in the open (such as horses and cattle) generally produce what are known as precocial young–offspring capable of using all of their senses, standing, nursing, and moving rapidly out of danger’s way within hours of birth. In contrast, predators and animals that give birth in safe burrows typically