When foals are born at John and Sue Rawding’s Church Farm Stud in Leighton Buzzard, Beds, their priority is to make sure that the mare bonds with the foal.
“We keep an eye on them with closed-circuit television,” explains Sue, “but the last thing you want is spectators. Obviously, foals have to be helped if they don’t suck, but I don’t think they want too much pulling around.”
Sue says that it is important to always think about a horse’s instincts. “We’ll probably put a foal slip on at three days old, but it must be a clean one – you don’t want to use one that has the scent of another foal on it.
“The sense of smell is important and you have to be careful. We once had a rug belonging to another horse on a mare, and the foal went nuts and jumped out.”
The Rawdings’ foals have to learn to walk out properly, particularly the ones destined for the sales.
“We always lead with a slip rope, never with one that clips on,” says Sue. “If the foal gets away, the slip rope pulls free, but a clipped-on lead rope dangling round its legs can cause damage.”
Sue believes that youngsters have to respect their handlers.
“Ours only have to see John and they practically stand to attention, but no one is softer about horses than him. The important thing is that they respect him. They don’t want to be made a fuss of too much and they certainly don’t want titbits.
“Think ahead. Behaviour that may seem cute in a foal, won’t when he’s a two-year-old.”
The Rawdings find that consistency and routine are the keynotes to handling foals.
“We had one foal this year who was generally a bit wayward, but with routine handling he became perfectly all right.”