If you have ever considered buying a foal, you will understand the difficulty that many riders face when trying to assess a baby. Young horses are certainly cute, but they don’t look anything like the mature horses that they will develop into. So how can you assess a foal, and make sure that you are likely to get something that will suit your needs?
There are many opinions as to when the best times are to look at a foal. There are certain points in which a foal tends to look its best, and if you are able to see it during that time, you will get a better idea of what it will look like.
The first such time is around 2-3 weeks old. At this point the foal has outgrown most of the natural crookedness it may have had at birth, and has developed enough flesh and muscle to cover its bones. While the foal may still be a bit unbalanced, generally by this time most foals are reasonably level from front to back. They have enough sense of balance that they move well, and can show off their gaits.
The next good window is around 2-3 months of age. Once again, most foals level out around this time. The only drawback is that many foals are in the middle of shedding their foal coats, so they will look a little motley.
Unfortunately, after those brief periods, there are few opportunities for the inexperienced person to be able to see what a foal may turn out to be like. Most youngsters go through a brief period around two years of age where they look much like they will when they are mature, but it lasts less than a month and the rest of the time they look dreadful.
So, how can you assess a foal if it is not in the ideal stage of growth? There are several things about a foal that remain mostly unchanged when he grows older. The first is basic overall conformation.
Once they have straightened out, most foals will have the leg conformation they will grow up with. Unless trimmed correctively, or surgically corrected, most conformational flaws will not be grown out of. The foal’s shoulder angle will stay more or less as it is, as will the neck to shoulder connection. While adding muscle can improve a weak connection, the bone structure remains the same. Likewise, a foal with weakly built hindquarters will not likely change the overall structure of the hind end. Muscle can be built up with time, but the bones remain aligned as they are.
Because of this, it is possible to get a pretty good idea of what a foal’s movement is like. As long as the baby isn’t overly butt high you can see a foal’s ability to use itself naturally from an early age. The foal’s natural carriage will continue into his maturity, although training can of course make a difference.
Another thing you can get to know fairly early on is a foal’s personality. While still with his dam, a foal may behave differently than he will once weaned, but once he is weaned his true colors will come out. Look for a foal who is brave, and curious. If a foal is flighty or silly, he will probably remain so later in life. Of course all foals are prone to silly moments, so take any behavior with a grain of salt.
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If at all possible, bring someone experienced at looking at youngsters with you when you look at a foal for sale. Years of experience watching foals develop makes a huge difference in your ability to assess young horses. If there are any photos of full siblings, ask to see them. The more input you have to help you judge the foal, the better your chance at seeing his long term potential.