Researchers: Young Foals in Halter Training Need Frequent Days Off

Biting is a sign of stress in foals. In this study, foals less than 8 weeks old that didn’t have training breaks bit their handlers more frequently than ones that got days off between training sessions.
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Researchers: Young Foals in Halter Training Need Frequent Days Off
The researchers recommend planning a day off within the first four days of training young foals in order to decrease potential stress-related behaviors. | Photo: Courtesy Hayley Randle
He’s just a baby, but he can still learn important tasks like leading. According to Australian and New Zealand researchers, though, he’ll need a day off about every two or three days.

“We were really surprised to see such a significant difference in the amount of biting these young foals did according to how often they got days off,” said Hayley Randle, PhD, of Charles Sturt University’s School of Animal and Veterinary Science, in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia.

“Biting in young foals is a behavioral sign of stress,” she explained. “These foals were only training less than half an hour a day, but by the fourth day in a row many were biting the handlers, some frequently. Meanwhile, foals of the same age that got a one-day break after the second training day were much less likely to bite, even on the fourth day of actual training.”

Randle presented the work of her colleague, Jaymie Loy, BSc, of Charles Sturt University, during the 15th annual International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held Aug. 19-21 in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. The team worked with foal trainers in New Zealand who practice evidence-based foundation training using negative reinforcement

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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