15 quick tips for building trust with your new foal

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  1. Give him time to gain his senses and bond with mom prior to forcing training (or desensitization) on him. Of course, birthing emergencies require immediate attention, but if the birth is normal (most are) there should be little need to control the foal prior to IgG bloodwork and the initial foal exam unless he needs help standing to nurse.
  2. Move slowly when entering the stall, approaching him in the pasture or attempting to get near him.
  3. Let him get comfortable with you by being patient, quiet and responsive to his concerns instead of tackling and restraining him when you enter to the stall to work on or with him.
  4. Spend time giving attention to the mare while he watches how she trusts you and enjoys your contact.
  5. Find a spot he likes to be rubbed and reward him by scratching or petting that area when he approaches you and/or when he responds to a request.
  6. Don’t put yourself between the mare and the foal during the first few days of his life. This will not only likely cause both to panic, reducing trust, but can also get you hurt.
  7. If the mare is overly protective or busy about herding the foal (this is common with maiden mares), tie her to the wall as you calmly encourage the foal to come check you out (foals are naturally curious – most will approach on their own if you’re not in a big hurry).
  8. Don’t try to chase, herd or corner the foal – instead, back off when he expresses fear and let him know you are willing to take the time necessary for him to be comfortable with your approach.
  9. Get lower by squatting or sitting in a corner of the stall to be less threatening. Most foals will have their nose in your face within a few minutes if you’re still and at their level.
  10. Calmly stroke the foal (in the direction of the hair) once he’s comfortable enough with you approaching and interacting. At this point, you should be able to curl your arm around his chest to stabilize him for a few moments as you demonstrate your touch will not hurt him.
  11. Take your time about forcing early training on him. While there are a few immediate tasks necessary for the health of the foal, if you wait until your baby indicates he’s ready to interact with you as a trusted guide, you’ll set the stage for a partnership in the future that is built on trust and mutual respect.
  12. Be the purveyor of fun or relief before you jump in as taskmaster. Little things like giving him the opportunity to kick his heels up during pasture time or providing relief from the bugs with barn shelter can be great ways to encourage the foal to appreciate and trust you.
  13. Use the mare to help direct the foal in a way that puts him near you. Many mares will herd their foals to walk in front of them, which provides a great opportunity for you to be beside the foal for early trips to and from the pasture in a non-threatening manner. With sick foals, many moms will know (provided you’ve established a trusting relationship with the mare) you are trying to help. Let her assist and you might be amazed at how much she’ll do to restrain and/or discipline to foal to be still.
  14. Be happy when you spend time with the foal. Horses can sense when you’re angry, afraid or upset and even if the young foal doesn’t immediately pick up on this, the dam will. Get yourself in the right frame of mind prior to interfacing with your baby.
  15. Listen. Foals (and their moms) will tell you when they are alarmed by your behavior or receptive to your guidance. Merely showing you are willing and able to hear such communications can go a long way in your effort to build trust.

Some are in a big hurry to accost a foal with training regimens the moment he drops. This may create a compliant equine, but it rarely teaches a baby to view human contact as interesting and engaging – and to enjoy building a trust together that offers a lifetime of opportunities for collaboration. Usually, it’s just a matter of days spent giving the foal the opportunity to choose that means the difference between forcing a conciliatory attitude and building a reciprocal, exciting and special relationship. It’s quicker and easier to dominate and control, but can be a lot more satisfying to include the foal in the conversation. Try it. You might learn something along the way – even if it’s that you decide it takes too much time to let the foal decide when training begins.

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