Restraining a Foal, Part 1

Tips on how to properly hold your young foal.

Someone who can restrain a young foal well is a blessing to a veterinarian. “It’s always appreciated,” says Dr. Racquel Rodeheaver-Lindroth. In her years of private practice and teaching veterinary students, she has learned that lesson over and over. “They’re going to wriggle,” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth says of the foals. “The ability to have a firm hold and keep them from getting away from you or from becoming dangerous to themselves or to you, just makes any procedure easier. And we aim to create a friendly first introduction to the vet!”

Here are some tips on how to restrain that youngster gently and confidently, especially when your veterinarian comes to call.

Training your foal to accept a halter doesn’t have to be a struggle. AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal report explains how siblings Tom, Wayne and Margo Ball of Ball’s Quarter Horses use old fashion horsemanship in their halter breaking.

The ‘Hug’

Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth likes to approach foals more at their level. “When you walk into a stall, and you’re 2 feet taller than them, it can be intimidating,” she says. “If you just kneel or bend down, then they often approach you. I prefer when they come up to you curious, with their ears forward. “I always approach the foal’s shoulder and side, and then move into a hug,” she continues. “I try to capture the foal with one arm around the shoulder and one arm around the rump.” Remember, horses are flight animals. A secure hold lends confidence to a foal, but a light touch makes him skitter away. “They respond favorably to slow, steady movements, and firm pressure,” she says. “Foals are more accepting and stand better when you have a secure (not tight) hold on them rather than a tentative hold. They respect feeling solid contact on their shoulder and hip, your leg against their flank and your arm completely around their shoulder.” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth also points out that you’re safe standing closer to the foal. If you stand away from the foal, with just a hand on the shoulder or rump, it’s difficult to anticipate the foal’s movements. And a “bump” from up close usually hurts less than a kick from farther away.

The Basic Hold

“When I do a physical exam, I always recognize that foals are ticklish when you go to listen to their heart and lungs,” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth says. “You have to know that the person has a good hold on the foal if they start to wriggle around. “Here the holder is positioned well,” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth continues, referring to the photo above. “She’s at the foal’s side. Her body supports the foal’s haunches at the hip, with her leg slightly under the flank. With her body close to the foal’s body, when the foal moves she’s going to be immediately aware of that. “Her hand is on the rump, below the point of the hip. “She has the proper hold at the front: her hand is at the shoulder and arm around the neck. If you have to take a more secure hold, you don’t want to go too high on their neck where you could restrict their airway. “She’s not threatening the foal at all,” she says. “She’s not pinching her anywhere; she’s just giving her a ‘frame.’ If the filly lunges forward, she can move with her.”

Learn how to fit a foal’s halter, introduce the lead rope, leading techniques and sacking out for the first time. AQHA’s FREE Halter Breaking Your Foal report is essential for breeders, foal owners, 4-H groups and anyone else interested in training young horses. Download and print it out today!

Giving Oral Medications

“To administer oral medications, I stand with my body against the foal’s shoulder with firm pressure,” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth says. Her helper continues to hold the foal in the “basic hold.” “My arm is completely around her head,” she says. “Many times they’ll resist by throwing their head up. My arm and shoulder stabilize the foal’s head and give me better control of her head motion to prevent getting the ol’ head-butt to my chin. “I’m also able to have a hand at her mouth so that I can give her medication.” Dr. Rodeheaver-Lindroth also points out that you can use this hold if you are alone. “Position the foal’s hindquarters into a corner of the stall (to support the rear end), and then use the same basic approach,” she says. Come back next week for more tips and common mistakes in Part 2 of this series!