One of my mates lives in a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Sydney. On a recent visit, my wife and I took a walk around the block from where he lives. The land is split into hobby farms between two and five acres in size. During our two kilometre (1.2 mile) walk, I counted more than 100 horses of all shapes and sizes. Some were well looked after but plenty of others were left in their paddocks to look after themselves. There were fences of all shapes and sizes too – some good but many with gaps and broken steel posts and barbed wire.
We walked past quite a few mares and foals. Many of the properties had no yards or stables where a foal could be handled. It reminded me of something our local vet said years ago. He often received phone calls that went something like this:
“Oh thank goodness you answered. My horse/ cow/goat/alpaca has cut his leg on the barbed wire. Can you come and stitch it for me please?”
Our Vet: “It’s okay Mrs Jones. Catch him and I’ll be there straight away.”
Mrs Jones: “But I can’t catch him. He’s never been caught.”
Our Vet: “Don’t worry. Just run him into the yard and I’ll be there soon.”
Mrs Jones: “I don’t have a yard.”
Our Vet (to himself): “Who do these people think I am? How on earth am I supposed to treat an unhandled animal in an open paddock.”
This story is sad but true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I arrived to transport a horse, only to find that the horse was three years old and had never been caught. To make matters worse, there were no yards suitable to handle horses. Sometimes I had to run the horse into cattle yards and load him into a cattle truck to make the journey to my stables. This is far from ideal and certainly not the best way to begin any horse’s education.
There’s no excuse for not having proper facilities to handle your horse. And there’s no excuse for leaving any horse unhandled until he’s two or three years old.
Some horse people say that you shouldn’t handle a foal until he’s ready to be weaned. Just leave him with his mother and let him be a foal, they say. These people have obviously never had to catch and treat an unhandled foal that’s been injured. I wonder how they’ll give their unhandled foal an injection, or treat the thousand and one other problems that can arise.
Many people own a mare that they don’t like or they get sick of riding. And so they decide to get her in foal. Not much thought is given as to why they want a foal, they just find the nearest stallion and let nature take its course. For a week or two there’s great excitement when their pretty new foal arrives. After six months the novelty wears off and next thing there’s an unhandled foal that needs to be weaned.
If you breed horses, you have an obligation to handle them and gain their confidence as soon as possible. The sooner you gain a foal’s confidence and start him thinking, the better off you’ll both be. A week-old foal can learn just as much as a three-year-old horse. There’s no excuse for leaving any horse unhandled until he’s two or three years old. It’s not fair to the horse and it’s certainly not fair to the vet when you call him or her in an emergency.
When you breed a foal, you have an obligation to the foal, to yourself, your vet, your farrier and the world at large to handle that foal and have him confident and relaxed with people as soon as possible. Otherwise, through no fault of his own, your foal may be labelled ‘bad’ or ‘mad’ and become just one more reject who never had a chance.
Read more on this subject here: www.fearfreehorsetraining.com/blog/handle-your-foals-correctly-from-day-one