Study: Young Foals can Learn Basic Handling Skills

Researchers found that training using learning theory principles can yield excellent results in weeks-old foals.

Study: Young Foals can Learn Basic Handling Skills
Each foal learns at a different rate, and breeders should be aware that learning differences are normal and not a cause for frustration. | Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse
When’s a safe, effective time to train young foals basic handling techniques? And what’s a reliable method? Researchers in Australia and New Zealand have determined that training young Thoroughbreds using learning theory and equitation science principles at only 3 weeks old can yield excellent results.

However, each foal learns at a different rate, and breeders should be aware that learning differences are normal and not a cause for frustration, said Leigh M. Wills, BSc. Accompanied by study co-author Andrew McLean, PhD, of the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, Wills presented her work during the 2016 International Society for Equitation Science (ISES) conference, held June 23-26, in Saumur, France.

“Training using the 10 ISES training principles was successful for all foals in our study,” Wills said. The 10 ISES training principles are guidelines for horse training developed by leading equitation science researchers, founded on learning theory—the science of how horses learn and respond to training.

Using the principles described on the ISES website, Wills and her fellow researchers taught basic handling skills to 56 Thoroughbred foals from one stud between the ages of 3 and 6 weeks. “This corresponds to the critical socialization phase, in which young horses seem to be naturally more open to being handled by humans,” she

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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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