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What Is a Baby Horse Called? When Do They Stand and More…

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We took my granddaughter to a friends’ ranch to see his “baby horses,” he pointed to a few and referred to them by various names. My confused granddaughter asked us why he doesn’t call them baby horses.

All baby horses are called foals, regardless of their gender, until they’re one year old. Males foals are also called colts, and female foals are fillies. These terms are used until the horse turns four years old.

Aside from the fact that a baby horse is called a foal, there are many more things to know about “baby horses.”

Picture of a chesnut baby horse.

A baby horse is called a foal.

The foal pictured above is a two-month-old male Thoroughbred baby. A male foal is called a colt. So he is a foal colt, colt, or stud colt. A female foal is a filly.

The terms colt and filly are not really different from how we refer to our children as boys or girls. However, when a horse reaches four, they are no longer called these adolescent terms.

Like the term foal, other equestrian terminology identifies them by their age or position in life. For example, a foal that recently stopped nursing is called a weanling, regardless of sex.

Foals typically stop weaning around six months old. After weanling, horses are called yearlings. A yearling is a horse that has reached its first birthday but hasn’t turned two years old. This term is also used for either sex of horses.

Male horses over one year old but haven’t reached two are yearling colts, and females are yearling fillies. After horses turn two, they are called colt (male) or filly (female) until they turn four.

After four years old male horses are stallions, and females are mares. If a male horse is castrated, then it’s a gelding. These are not hard and fast rules.

We had a three-year-old filly who acted like an old horse since birth. Everyone that spent time around her called the filly a mare.

My neighbor has a five-year-old stallion that kicks up its heels and plays in the pasture like a yearling. All of us still refer to him as a colt. It’s not unusual to bend the rules for a horse’s personality.

Baby HorsesFoalColt (male)Filly (female)
Male HorsesColtStallionStudGelding
Female HorsesFillyMareBroodmare

Horses primarily used for breeding are referred to in specific terms. A stallion used for breeding is called a stud, and a mare is referred to as a broodmare.

A foal (baby horse) can be conceived either by “live cover” or artificial insemination. Horses mate naturally in the wild or pastures.

However, domesticated horses are commonly selectively bred in a controlled environment under the watchful care of a veterinarian or owner.

picture of a baby horse standing in a paddock,

“Baby Horses” Can Stand Within One Hour of Birth.

Standing within one hour is a sign your foal is healthy. A newborn foal enters the world with enthusiasm, bright-eyed, with a pale coat that will change colors as it ages. The newborn should be able to stand within the first hour, nurse within the two hours, and pass his first stool within three hours. These steps are referred to as the “1-2-3 Rule”.

The foal’s dam instinctively knows the importance of colostrum to her baby. She will encourage her baby to stand and nurse right away. The ability to suck the mare’s teat is present shortly after birth.

Foals will nurse approximately every thirty minutes after their first nursing. Keep an eye on your colt; failure to suck from her mother regularly is an early sign of a problem. Have your veterinarian examine your foal within the first day of his birth.

After the birth of your new foal, you should keep an eye on the baby and be able to answer these questions:

  • How long after birth did the foal stand?
  • How often is the foal nursing?
  • Are the mares udders reduced in size after the foal feeds? Check udders before and after nursing, does the foal exhibit milk on its nostril and face?
  • Has the foal had his first bowel movement? (if your foal has not had its first bowel movement one enema can be given. If the medicine fails to work on your foal, call a veterinarian)

When to wean a baby horse.

After three months, most foals can wean, but this isn’t etched in stone. The timeframe to wean a baby horse is a topic for debate. First, to answer the specific question, foals can be weaned safely in three months. By the third month of a foal’s life, he is likely foraging enough grass to maintain a healthy diet.

Because of the addition of nutrition from other sources, the foal no longer needs his mother’s milk to remain healthy. His mother could also use a break from providing milk to her foal. Weaning her baby would allow her to regain some of her prior strength.

The next question should be, what is the best age to wean a foal? This is where we enter the gray area. Some studies have shown that horses weaned at three months are at a higher risk of developing behavior problems and prone to more orthopedic diseases.

The timeframe to wean a foal is a topic for debate. First, to answer the specific question, foals can be weaned safely in three months. By the third month of a foal’s life, he is likely foraging enough grass to maintain a healthy diet.

Because of the addition of grass, he no longer needs his mother’s milk to remain healthy. The mare could also use a break from providing to her foal. Weaning her baby would allow her to regain some of her prior strength.

Exposure to other horses makes weaning easier.

The ideal weaning procedure includes having other horses with the foal to reduce the anxiety associated with separation from his mother. This group of horses will ideally include some barren mares and foals.

The foals provide play companions and mares discipline and manners. Separate the mare and foal, so they can not physically touch each other. Keep the horses separated for at least one month,

Picture of a two year old horse in training

You can’t ride a baby horse.

If you’re thinking of getting into horseback riding, you may be wondering how old your horse should be before you start riding it. The answer is: most horses are over two years old before they are ridden.

There are a few exceptions to this rule, but for the most part, it’s a good idea to wait until your horse is a little older because their bodies aren’t developed enough to carry a rider safely.

Before putting heavy weight on a horse, their bones need to be able to support the load. A veterinarian needs to check a horse’s growth plates in its knees to ensure it can bear the burden of a rider before it’s ridden for the first time.

How long it takes for a horse to develop physically so you can ride it depends on several factors — the breed of your horse and the horse’s physical development. Quarter horses are often broke for riding as yearlings and begin hard training as two-year-olds.

Thoroughbreds are broke at a similar age. Larger breeds of horses aren’t ridden until three years old, and some breeds as late as four years old. Your horse must be physically developed to a certain degree regardless of the breed before you can ride it.

Horses are individuals and must be checked out by an experienced horseman before you begin riding a young horse. Riding a horse too early can cause severe leg damage to your horse. If you want to learn more about the development of horses, check out my article to learn how to find out when a horse is fully grown.

A foals’ mother is called a dam or broodmare.

The mother of a horse is called a dam. Mares are females over four years old, and filly refers to females four and younger. The mother of a horse is listed on the horse’s pedigree as the dam. The father of a horse is listed as the sire.

Many breeders emphasize the dam’s bloodline over the pedigree of a sire. Some successful broodmares have produced multiple stakes-winning horses. (See article here about stakes races) The great racehorse Secretariat was the sire of many successful broodmares.

Broodmare is the term used to describe a female horse used for reproduction. Mares that have been successful on the track often transition to life as a broodmare after their racing career. Besides a winning racing record, other factors such as conformation and pedigree are also vital considerations determining the success of broodmares.

Mares can have a lot of babies over their lifetime.

The number of babies a mare can produce over its lifetime is approximately 16. Having 16 foals would require a mare to begin breeding at four years old and remaining fertile until 20 years old.

The limitation of one baby a year is due to a horse gestation period. A horse has an eleven-month gestation period, thus limiting the number of babies to approximately one per year.

There are situations where a mare could produce more foals over a lifetime. For example, a mare could have twins one year or remain fertile until 25 years old. However, either of these scenarios would be rare occurrences.

Horses’ gestation cycle is eleven months.

The gestation period is generally eleven months. Just like with humans, every birth is going to vary some. It is not unusual for horses to deliver their babies a few weeks early or late.

The horse breeders’ goal is to have a foal born as close to the beginning of the year as possible. A breeder wants an early birth because the horse’s age is calculated using January 1 as a universal birthday.

Horses born late in the year will be at a disadvantage in many races designated for two and three-year-olds.

picture of a baby horse nursing,

A mares’ udders stay full shortly before giving birth.

The udders are a good indicator of when a mare is about to give birth. During pregnancy, especially in the last month, a horse’s udders will occasionally fill but shrink back to average size.

If you notice the udders remain full all day, then the baby is coming pretty soon, and you need to keep an eye on your mare. It is harder to notice, but the stomach will shrink as the baby shifts into a position to exit his mother and enter the world.

You can also see the muscles in the hip and buttock area relax. These are hard changes to notice in some horses. Watch for the waxing of the teats. Waxing is when beads of colostrum appear at the end of the mare’s teats.

The colostrum will be noticeable between 12 and 36 hours before the foal’s birth. Your horse may also begin to leak milk from her nipples shortly before giving birth.

It’s doesn’t occur on every mare, so it’s not a reliable predictor of foaling for all horses. Your mare should not be losing significant amounts of milk or colostrum.

Colostrum provides the necessary vitamins and antibodies needed by the newborn foal. If your horse is losing a large amount of colostrum, try to collect it and freeze it for later use.

You should also call your veterinarian to inform him of the leaking colostrum. The mother may show signs of restlessness and irritability. This aggravated activity is expected behavior when a mare is entering the early stages of labor.

Also, the mare’s vulva begins to swell in the last 24-48 hours before delivering the foal. The vulva must relax to allow the baby horse to pass. Excessive sweating during labor is common. The mare will feel warm and likely be wet over her entire body.

When a mare is close to giving birth, her water breaks, she lays down, and the two front feet will begin to come out. After a short time, usually, within 15 minutes after contractions start, the foal is delivered. The mare should expel the placenta an hour after the birth of the foal.

picture of a baby horse

Baby Horses: The Struggles They Face

Did you know that baby horses face a lot of difficulties? They may be small and cute, but they have to overcome many challenges to survive. First, they must learn to stand and drink from their mother to survive. Unlike adult horses, baby horses are not able to eat hay or grass.

But even before they enter the world, they can face difficulties.

Difficult births

On average, baby horses weigh about ten percent of their mother’s weight at birth. They are huge compared to other mammals such as dogs or cats, which only typically weigh around one pound at birth.

This makes it difficult for them to be born, leading to complications for both the mother and baby horse during labor. The formal term for a foaling problem is dystocia.

It is a severe condition and can lead to the death of the mare and her foal. Even if she lives, she could be barren in the future. It is typically caused by an oversized foal or a foal in an awkward position.

Signs that foaling is not proceeding in a typical manner:

  • After breaking water foal has not been delivered;
  • No progress is being made with delivery and the mare is in hard labor;
  • Only one leg is visible extending from the vulva.
  • A red mass appears at the vulva, and the mare’s water has not broken.

If you notice any of these signs, contact a veterinarian immediately. Get the mare on her feet to slow the uterine contractions. In the case of the red mass showing before the water breaking, the placenta is coming out. It needs to be cut open to allow the foal to breathe.

Baby horses may not nurse.

Some baby horses fail to nurse; when this occurs, you have to bottle feed the foal colostrum, which is the first milk produced by a mare after giving birth. It is high in nutrients and antibodies that help protect the baby from disease.

Baby horses not wanting to nurse at first is a common problem. Foals should nurse 30 times a day to fulfill their daily nutritional requirements; this is paramount to a healthy foal’s development. If a foal is not nursing, you need to develop a plan to get him nursing or bottle-feed your baby horse.

picture of a baby horse in a pasture,

Abdominal distension

Some foals also get abdominal distension caused by gas accumulation in the intestines, which causes bloating and is painful. Abdominal distension can be caused by malnutrition colic; it can result from sepsis, a life-threatening condition caused by infection.

Sometimes a baby horse will eat poop, this may worry you, but experts believe they do this to take in good bacteria to help with digestion. However, another theory is that they eat manure to stimulate their immune system.

Straining to defecate

Some foals will pass meconium which means first poop within a few hours after delivery, but sometimes they won’t until a few days later, which isn’t unusual. Typically baby horses pass their first poop within 36 hours.

Straining to defecate can be caused by stool impaction. You can administer a phosphate enema to try and release the stool. Impaction is the most common cause for straining to defecate but not the only one.

The foal could have colic or other serious problems requiring veterinarian attention. If you’re worried at all, just call your vet immediately since there are some serious problems associated with delayed passage of meconium.

Limb abnormalities or deformities and lameness;

Some foals are born with leg deformities such as crooked joints, contracted tendons, and muscles in their legs or feet. These things can be fixed with surgery if needed, but they do need to be watched out for early on because sometimes there is a genetic component that you cannot correct through orthopedic procedures.

There are many different types of congenital leg deformities a foal could be born with. Two common problems are flexural tendon laxity and flexural contractures.

Although abnormalities are shocking to see, they may be corrected, and the horse lives a healthy life. Seek advice from a veterinarian experienced with orthopedic problems in foals. Click here for more in-depth information to help you recognize illness in foals.

There are many differences between ponies and baby horses.

The difference between a baby horse and a pony is a baby horse will grow over 14.2 hands tall and become a horse. A pony will always be a pony. Horses are 14.2 hands or taller, and a pony is below 14.2 hands tall.

There are horse breeds that aren’t taller than 14.2 hands and are not ponies. These short horse breeds aren’t classified as ponies because they don’t share the other characteristics of ponies. For example, check out the Icelandic horse. The following is a list of differences between horses and ponies:

  • Height: Horses are over 14.2 hands tall, ponies are below 14.2 hands tall;
  • Confirmation: The body structures of horses and ponies are different even though similar. Ponies have short legs, broad chests, with dense bones, thick necks, and a small head. These characteristics are in contrast to most horses.
  • Hair: Ponies have thick coats, manes, and tails, horse much lighter coats and thinner manes and tails.
  • Ruggedness: Ponies have better endurance than horses and can tolerate colder weather conditions more naturally.
  • Intelligence: Ponies are smarter than horses.

FAQ

Are baby horses born with teeth?

Baby horses usually don’t have teeth when they’re born, but they grow teeth quickly. To learn more about baby horses’ teeth, you may find this article helpful: Are Baby Horses Born with Teeth?

Is a pony a baby horse?

Ponies aren’t baby horses; however, they are equines that are under 14.2 hands when fully grown. To learn more about this topic, check out 10 Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds

Do baby horses change color when they get older?

Baby horse’s coat colors usually change as they age; they are typically born with dull coat color. Their color transformation begins when they shed their foal coat at about three months.