Weaning : Rising Sun Stables
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Weaning

by Karen Tharp on 07/19/11

Here at Rising Sun Stables, we have two foals out of Twister.  The filly was born March 8, 2011, and the Colt was born March 21, 2011.  They are growing and doing wonderful.  They have gone through many changes and will continue to do so.

Part of being a good breeder and trainer is realizing you have to back off because the mother has much to teach her foal during the first year. A foal learns by mirroring its mother. The first couple of months of the foal’s life, mother is in a protective mode. She will fend off any critter that intends to do harm.  The Mother has a keen sense of hearing and is alert to any unusual sounds or movement.  During the third month mom lightens up on protection, and switches into a mode of being a teacher. Mom teaches the foal about socialization through the use of example and demonstration. She demonstrates when to be cautious, when to be aggressive, and when to circle (avoidance). True herd socialization can only be taught if a band of horses exist. A typical band in nature is made up of several adult horses of both genders and various ages.  Today behavioral problems are caused because many horses do not live in a band or a band that does not a have a good gender mix. Also confinement in small spaces causes abnormal behavior.

Don’t get me wrong we still handle the foals, but we do in a way that both the mom and baby are not stressed.  The mother learns that we are not taking the baby away.  The baby learns that it will be returned to its mother.

My personal observations during the early months of a foal’s life, revealed when you use “force separation” to wean, undesirable traits frequently develop because the mare/ foal bond is broken at the same time nursing is stopped, and mom is not available to provide comfort.  These young animals appear to be much more flighty, less trusting (more fearful), and very anxious.  As the young animals mature, many showed extreme aggressiveness and others behave excessively timid and would not defend themselves or be persistent at the feeder for acquiring their fair share. Undesirable behavior may last a lifetime; pacing fences, chewing, unsolicited biting, and kicking, to name a few. 

 Also, when horses are limited in numbers (less than typical horse band), the bond between mother and baby become abnormally strong (unnatural).  The two primary elements are necessary for a mare and foal to develop a natural and healthy bond; living within a band of horses (comprising of at least three horses and of mix gender if possible but not necessary) and having ample space for a quick exit from harm. It is important for us to be aware of this information, in order for steps to be taken to compensate or make reasonable adjustment to have the mare and foal develop a more natural bond. 

 We also take time to observe the animal’s behavior, improve herd membership and conditions, and be sensitive to appropriate timing and techniques used. These care adjustments will result in the development of an animal with self-confidents, exceptional calmness, and trust. Horse traits/qualities that ever first time horse owner desires.  

For centuries, man has been weaning by separating their animals. Often times the owners would just plan on shipping the baby to a new owner at the time he/she thought the baby should be ready to go it alone, with no more nursing.  Seldom was there any follow up to find out what really happens to the young animals and understanding the effects force separation may have caused; out of sight, out of mind, has been the attitude by so many.  We take pride in weaning in a way that both mare and foal are not stressed.

We taking weaning serious and we leave the pair together longer and rebreed the mares.  The mother weans the baby well before she gives birth.  This way the stress is reduced when mom can continue to nurture and educate her baby during the most formative months of life, when baby is developing self-confidence. Mom will actually wean her foal, just as if she were in the wild, with baby at her side. 
 
Hope everyone is staying cool, remember drink plenty of fluids.  Don’t over work in this heat.  It can cause serious damage, remember your horse is hot too.  Keep plenty of fresh water handy.  Have a great day.

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