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What Is the Difference Between a Colt and a Foal?

When it comes to discussing horses, there are a lot of terms that are thrown around. I know that when I first started associating with horses, I was confused by a lot of the jargon. However, I eventually got up the courage to ask, and I got the answers I needed!

Two of the terms I heard used a lot when I was around horses were colt and foal. In many cases, these terms were used interchangeably, which made it hard for a newcomer like me to keep up!

The good news is that I eventually learned the difference and can now share this with you!

What’s the Difference Between Colt and Foal

The name “colt” means young male horse. A foal is a horse of either sex less than one year of age. Young female horses are called fillies; once they’re adults, they’re called mares.

There Are Lots of Types of Foals

Foal is the term used to describe a baby horse. When a horse gives birth to a baby, this is called a foal. A foal can either be male or female and this term is used up until about one year of age. In addition, some foals are called “suckling” if the horse is still feeding on milk from its mother.

The typical gestation of a baby horse lasts about 11 months. When baby horses are birthed, the process is usually straightforward. When foals come out, their legs are often 90 percent of their adult height already. Foals stand directly in front of their mom to nurse and usually do this until about a year of age.

Within a few days of birth, foals usually learn how to gallop. They start to eat solid food at ten days of age and, once foals reach one year of age, they are no longer called foals. Usually, this term shifts to yearling.

What is a Colt

Colts are young male horses, usually under four years old. Horses are called colts (male) after they turn two.

An Overview of a Colt

A colt is a male baby horse and is only one type of foal. Think of a colt as a baby boy horse instead of a baby girl horse. Usually, colts are referred to as such until around four years of age. However, they are also called yearlings once they reach a year of age.

In the wild, colts will often be driven away from the pack at around two or three years of age. The leader of the pack will drive these colts off on their own to prevent these younger male horses from breeding with their sisters.

Then, a bunch of males that have been driven from the pack will run off together. In some places, this group of young male horses is called a rag or a rake.

What is a Yearling

I know that I used to get confused between the terms “colt” and “yearling” as well. I thought that I was missing something because two people would refer to the same horse in two different terms.

Eventually, I learned that the same horse could be defined as a colt and a yearling. Some of the horses at the ranch I worked at were being bred for racing.

Sometimes, colts would be castrated at two years of age in order to prevent them from breeding; however, this largely depends on the place at which the horse is kept. The horses at our ranch that were not castrated were called stallions.

If the horse was castrated, this horse was called a gelding. This leads to further confusion that has to be explained.

What Is a Gelding Horse?

A horse is called a gelding if it has been castrated. In some cases, people refer to geldings as donkeys or mules. I have seen horse professionals refer to numerous types of horses as donkeys or mules.

In general, a horse is called a donkey or a mule if it cannot breed. Therefore, some horses are born as donkeys (because they cannot breed) while other horses become them because they are castrated.

In addition, the process of castrating a male horse is called a “geld” procedure. If someone “gelds” a horse, this is castration. After speaking with some of the horse professionals at my ranch, I have learned that there are a few reasons why a horse might be castrated.

First, this is a form of population control. Some ranches do not have the resources to take care of additional horses. Therefore, they castrate their male horses in an effort to prevent new horses from being born. Second, castrating male horses is sometimes necessary to make them easier to control.

The added testosterone can make male horses too aggressive. They might harm the riders or the horses that are present. In general, if we aren’t going to use a horse for breeding purposes, then we usually castrate it.

An Overview of a Filly Horse

In general, the opposite of a colt horse is called a filly. The filly is the term used to describe a female horse that is under three years of age. Once a female horse reaches three years of age, we refer to this horse as a mare.

Therefore, a filly is a female foal. Again, half of all foals are colts while the other half are called fillies.

Aside from gender, there are a few other differences between colts and fillies as well. In general, fillies are much calmer than foals. This makes them easier to ride.

Fillies tend to have less free will than colts and are more obedient. This is a major factor when we give riding lessons to young kids at our ranch.

When kids show up for lessons, we think carefully about which horse we are going to let them ride. While we certainly want to think about the height of the child when compared to the horse (as well as the personal history of the horse), we are also going to think about the gender of the horse.

Colts tend to have much more energy and are harder to control. They tend to want to do their own thing. Fillies have far less aggression and energy. As a result, they are much easier to control. That is why we tend to use fillies to teach kids how to ride.

Once fillies reach three years of age, we call them a mare. There are two distinct types of mares at our ranch.

Mare Versus a Broodmare

A mare is a female adult horse that has reached three years of age. In racing, a mare might be referred to as a thoroughbred if it is used for racing.

Of note, thoroughbred can be used to describe either an adult male or an adult female horse that is used for horseracing. Therefore, it is easy to see how and why this term might be confusing.

Think of a male as an adult female horse. Again, mares are much easier to ride than stallions (adult male horses). This is because they don’t have as much horse testosterone pumping through their bodies.

As a result, we like to use mares to teach people how to ride. Because mares are larger than fillies, we usually reserve mares for taller riders such as teenagers or adults. Kids with more experience can do well with mares as well.

Now, it is important to discuss broodmares as well. A female horse that is used for breeding is called a broodmare. Brood is a term that means young.

Therefore, broodmare literally translates into a young female horse; however, in this situation, young is used to refer to the potential for offspring.

Therefore, a more literal translation might be a “female horse that provides offspring.” That is exactly what a broodmare is.

Now, this term is not used until the horse has given birth to a foal. Prior to this point, the horse is still called a mare or a “prospect broodmare.” At our ranch, we use the term “prospect broodmare” once the horse has become pregnant.

We want our young horses to be as happy and healthy as possible. That is why we take care of our broodmares by providing them with special attention. Furthermore, we usually select our strongest, healthiest mares to become broodmares.

That is how we ensure our next generation of horses is happy and healthy as well. A broodmare is one of the most important horses in our stable.

When Does a Foal Become a Colt

A foal becomes a yearling when it turns one. Male foals can be called colts, and females can be called fillies.

When Does a Colt Become a Horse

The fifth birthday usually marks the start of adulthood. Most associations give a horse the “birth” date of Jan 1, so the true age might be anywhere between 4 years and 1 month to 5.


What is it Called When a Horse Gives Birth?

Mares that are pregnant are said to be “in foal.” “To foal” is the term used when a mare is about to give birth. Newborn horses are foals.

When Does a Colt Become a Stallion

  • Colt: A male horse under the age of 4. 
  • Stallion: A non-castrated male horse 4 years old or older.