A foal is the name for a young horse from birth up to one year of age (when they become a yearling). A foal is either a colt (male) or filly (female). A mare carries her foal for a pregnancy period of around 11 months. Foals are typically weaned from their dam (mother) at between six months and a year after birth.
A foal’s initial food source will be to drink milk from its dam. The first milk or colostrum is extremely important as it contains vital antibodies to help to foal thrive. Foals will typically drink from their mothers for at least four months, after which time the mare’s milk becomes a less importance nutrition source as the foal becomes able to digest grass, forage and supplementary hard food.
If a foal is rejected by its dam, or loses its dam through illness or injury, then they can be hand-raised by providing milk via a bottle or bucket. However, hand-reared foals can struggle from a lack of equine ‘instruction’ as their dam teaches them what is acceptable behaviour and and how to interact with other equines. Foals that miss out on these lessons have to carefully managed to ensure this does not have a negative impact as they grow up.
Small horses that measure under 148cm to the top of the shoulder when they have reached maturity are called ponies. Foals are horse or ponies of any size aged from birth to one year.