All baby animals have names, but we often get them wrong. Sometimes, it is because multiple animal babies have the same name. Sometimes, it is simply due to being taught informal or incorrect terms as we grow. One common question is what to call a baby horse.
A baby horse, regardless of its gender, is called a foal. At certain milestones of a foal’s life, the name is modified to describe the current stage it is experiencing. Regardless of the modifications, a baby horse typically continues to be called a foal until about three years of age.
From the time most people are kids, they think of baby horses as ponies. It seems like a logical term as ponies look like small versions of horses, but this term is actually inaccurate.
A pony is actually a horse of any age that has a thicker mane and coat, a wider body, and a thicker neck than full-sized horses. They are also shorter- a little over 14 hands tall maximum where horses are 15 hands and up. So basically, a pony is a short, stocky version of a horse with fuller hair. Some examples of ponies include those such as Hackney, Fell, Exmoor, and Shetland ponies.
Another common misnomer for a baby horse is a miniature horse. A miniature horse is actually what the name suggests- a miniature horse. This means that it is a full-grown horse in a smaller frame- a 34 to 38-inch frame, to be exact. These are a breed of horses all their own- not a baby horse.
Now that we know what a baby horse is not called, let’s talk about what they are called. A baby horse that is under the age of one is called a foal, no matter what gender it is. Some people refer to a baby horse as a youngster, but this is an informal term. If you are unaware of the gender of the baby horse or it has yet to be born, just calling it a foal is the best way to go.
If, on the other hand, you do know the gender, you can be more specific. A filly is a female horse that is typically under the age of three, so you can refer to a baby girl as a foal, a filly, or a filly foal.
A colt is a male horse that is under the age of three. Therefore, a baby boy horse can be called a foal, a colt, or a colt foal. Though some people have called all baby horses colts, this is not accurate. Colts only refer to baby boys.
As the little ones grow, they take on some new names, although they are usually still referred to as a foal until age three. From the time a foal is born until somewhere between four and six months, they are still nursing.
Some foals are weaned a little sooner, such as at three months. Others may continue to nurse until their mom, or dam, becomes pregnant again. As long as they are nursing, they may be called a suckling foal.
As they cut their first teeth within the first week, it does not take long before they can graze on their own or eat their dam’s feed. The weaning usually happens completely naturally, as the foals instinctively begin to feed themselves when the time is right. Once they are weaned, they are called a weanling foal.
Foals are quite amazing. Within hours of birth, healthy foals can focus their eyes, stand, and usually keep up with the herd. This does not, however, mean that they are ready for work or training. They are still babies with weaker bones and muscles.
A foal usually weighs about ten percent of its mom’s weight at birth no matter what gender or breed they are. If the mom weighs 1,500 pounds, the filly foal or colt foal should weigh 150 pounds. Any less than ten percent is considered low weight and premature. Premature foals typically have trouble standing due to weak tendons, and may not survive.
Another risk to survival with foals is being a twin. Though twin foals are a possibility, one or both of them usually die soon after birth due to the low birth weight of each. In some rare cases, both foals survive, but it is highly unlikely.
During their first month, foals can gain more than three pounds each day. From two to three months, they gain up to two and a half pounds per day. The daily weight gain gradually decreases, but they are steadily growing and developing for the first few years of their lives.
Horses are not fully developed until around age four, so this is the safest age to start anything strenuous with them. Though some people do start training them for races at age two, this should be done carefully and with guidance from your vet. Certainly, no hardcore training should start until they have grown, but light training can start very early. By letting a foal train beside its mom, they will mimic her and the activity will come more naturally.
Foals are no different than human babies in that their security and confidence revolves around their mom during the early years. Even if you are not training the little one directly beside its mom, be sure the foal can see her for more fruitful training.
When the foal turns one until the age of two, it is called a yearling. For most foals, they turn one on their actual birthday- one year after birth. For Thoroughbreds, their first birthday comes on January 1st, no matter when they were actually born. Sometimes, people call the horses young mares or young stallions at this point, but this is also inaccurate as mares and stallions are considered to be fully grown.
At ages two and three, you may hear terms such as two-year filly or three-year filly. However, at age three or four- depending on who you ask- horses are considered adults, so they are officially referred to as a mare or a stallion. When it comes to Thoroughbred racehorses, it is age five.
There can be some other exceptions to the rules of horse names, such as:
- A male horse that has been castrated is called a gelding, regardless of age. A stallion is a grown, uncastrated horse but is not called a stallion until at least age three.
- Any female horse that has been bred is called a mare, regardless of age. While many owners do wait until around the age of four to breed their mares to allow them to first fully develop, not all do. Fillies are technically sexually mature at the age of two. If owners begin to breed them at age two, then they become mares at age two.
- When mares are carrying babies, they are said to be in foal as opposed to pregnant.
It is also important to note that baby horses are not the only animals that go by the name “foal”. Other babies in the equine family do as well, including baby ponies and miniature horse babies, donkeys, mules, and zebras.