A foal’s diet is critical to development, disease prevention, and future performance.

Proper nutrition throughout the foal's first year of life can impact his musculoskeletal health and his future performance as an athlete. The growing foal passes through three important nutritional phases: nursing, creep feeding, and weaning. During nursing, proper feeding of the dam ensures her milk production and quality are adequate for the foal. Creep feeding (feeding foals concentrate separate from mares) then provides nutrients as the mare's milk production begins to wane and minimizes the stress of weaning. Finally, once the foal is weaned, the diet must be formulated to provide all of the nutrients the growing horse needs.

"During the first few years of life, nutrition has a large impact on many body systems," says W. Burton Staniar, MS, PhD, assistant professor of equine science at Pennsylvania State University. "During this time the skeleton is developing at a rate only second to that which occurs in utero. The tissues and organs are adapting to the nutritional environment of the foal. Tissues are all turning over at a great rate and this all means that it is during this time in a horse's life that those feeding the horse can probably have the greatest impact on the future health and athletic performance they will see from their horse."

Staniar stresses that those directly caring for the growing horse should monitor his condition closely and adjust nutrition appropriately.

The Nursing Foal

The foal should begin to nurse within the first couple of hours