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We took my granddaughter to a friends’ ranch to see his “baby horses,” he pointed to a few and referred to them by various names. My confused granddaughter asked us why he doesn’t call them baby horses.

All baby horses are called foals, regardless of their gender, until they’re one year old. Males foals are also called colts, and female foals are fillies. Colt and filly are used until the horse turns four years old.

Aside from the fact that a baby horse is called a foal, there are many more things to know about “baby horses.”

A baby horse is called a foal.

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The foal pictured above is a two-month-old male Thoroughbred baby. A male foal is called a colt. So he is a foal colt, colt, or stud colt. A female foal is a filly.

Colt and filly describes a young horse similar to how boy and girl are used to describe people. Most horse owners call their horses either a colt or filly until they reach four years old.

Like the term foal, other horse terms refer to them by their age or position in life. For example, a foal that recently stopped nursing is called a weanling, regardless of sex.

Foals typically stop weaning around six months old. After weanling, horses are called yearlings. A yearling is a horse that has reached its first birthday but hasn’t turned two years old. This term is also used for either sex of horses.


Male horses over one-year-old but haven’t reached two are yearling colts, and females are yearling fillies. After horses turn two, they are called colt (male) or filly (female) until they turn four.

After four years old male horses are stallions, and females are mares. If a male horse is castrated, then it’s a gelding. These are not hard and fast rules.

We had a three-year-old filly that acted like an old horse since she was born. Everyone that spent time around her called her a mare.

My neighbor has a five-year-old stallion that kicks up its heels and plays in the pasture like a yearling. All of us still refer to him as a colt. It’s not unusual to bend the rules for a horse’s personality.

Baby HorsesFoalColt (male)Filly (female)
Male HorsesColtStallionStudGelding
Female HorsesFillyMareBroodmare

Horses primarily used for breeding are referred to in specific terms. A stallion used for breeding is called a stud, and a mare is referred to as a broodmare.

A foal (baby horse) can be conceived either by “live cover” or artificial insemination. Horses mate naturally in the wild or pastures.

However, domesticated horses are commonly selectively bred in a controlled environment under the watchful care of a veterinarian or owner.

“Baby Horses” Can Stand Within One Hour of Birth.

Standing within one hour is a sign your foal is healthy.

A newborn foal enters the world with enthusiasm. The newborn should be able to stand within the first hour, nurse within the two hours, and pass his first stool within three hours. These steps are referred to as the “1-2-3 Rule”.


The foal’s dam instinctively knows the importance of colostrum to her baby. She will encourage her baby to stand and nurse right away. The ability to suck the mare’s teat is present shortly after birth.

Foals will nurse approximately every thirty minutes after their first nursing. Keep an eye on your colt; failure to nurse regularly is an early sign of a problem. Have your veterinarian examine your foal within the first day of his birth.

After the birth of your new foal, you should keep an eye on the baby and be able to answer these questions:

How long after birth did the foal stand? How often is the foal nursing?Are the mares udders reduced in size after the foal feeds? Check udders before and after nursing, does the foal exhibit milk on its nostril and face?Has the foal had his first bowel movement? (if your foal has not had its first bowel movement one enema can be given. If the medicine fails to work on your foal, call a veterinarian)

Foals can wean after three months.

The timeframe to wean a foal is a topic for debate. First, to answer the specific question, foals can be weaned safely in three months. By the third month of a foals life, he is likely foraging enough grass to maintain a healthy diet.

Because of the addition of nutrition from other sources, the foal no longer needs his mother’s milk to remain healthy. His mother could also use a break from providing milk to her foal. Weaning her baby would allow her to regain some of her prior strength.

The next question should be, what is the best age to wean a foal? This is where we enter the gray area. Some studies have shown horses weaned at three months are at a higher risk to develop behavior problems and are prone to have more orthopedic diseases.

The timeframe to wean a foal is a topic for debate. First, to answer the specific question, foals can be weaned safely in three months. By the third month of a foals life, he is likely foraging enough grass to maintain a healthy diet.

Because of the addition of grass, he no longer needs his mother’s milk to remain healthy. The mare could also use a break from providing to her foal. Weaning her baby would allow her to regain some of her prior strength.

Exposure to other horses makes weaning easier.

The ideal weaning procedure includes having other horses with the foal to reduce the anxiety associated with separation from his mother. This group of horses will ideally include some barren mares and foals.

The foals provide play companions and mares discipline and manners. Separate the mare and foal so they can not physically touch each other. Keep the horses separated for at least one month,

Most horses are over two before they are ridden.

In the above picture is a 13 month old Thoroughbred. He’s a big strapping yearling but still a long ways from being ridden. He still needs to fill out and have his knees checked.


Before putting heavy weight on a horse, their bones need to be able to support the load. A veterinarian needs to check a horse’s growth plates in its knees to ensure they can bear the burden of a rider before it’s ridden for the first time.

How long it takes for a horse to develop physically so you can ride it depends on a number of factors — the breed of your horse and the horse’s physical development. Quarter horses are often broke for riding as yearlings and begin hard training as two-year-olds.

Thoroughbreds are broke at a similar age. Larger breeds of horses aren’t ridden until three years old and some breeds as late as four years old. Your horse must be physically developed to a certain degree regardless of the breed before it can be ridden.

Horses, are individuals and must be checked out by an experienced horseman before you begin riding a young horse. Riding a horse too early can cause serious leg damage to your horse. How do you know when a horse is fully grown? Click here to find out.

A foals’ mother is called a dam or broodmare.

The mother of a horse is called a dam. Mares are any female horse over two years old and filly refers to female horses below two years old. The mother of a horse is listed on the pedigree of a horse as the dam. The father of a horse is listed as the sire.

Many breeders emphasize the dam’s bloodline over the pedigree of a sire. Some successful broodmares have produced multiple stakes-winning horses. (See article here about stakes races) The great racehorse Secretariat was the sire of many successful broodmares.

Broodmare is the term used to describe a female horse used for reproduction. Mares that have been successful on the track often transition to life as a broodmare after their racing career. Besides a winning racing record, other factors such as conformation and pedigree are also strong considerations determining the success of broodmares.

Mares can have a lot of babies over their lifetime.

The number of babies a mare can produce over their lifetime is approximately 16. Having 16 foals would require a mare to begin breeding at four-years-old and remaining fertile until 20 years old.

The limitation of one baby a year is due to a horse gestation period. A horse has an eleven-month gestation period, thus limiting the number of babies to approximately one per year.

There are situations where a mare could produce more foals over a lifetime. For example, a mare could have twins one year, or she could remain fertile until 25 years old. However, either of these scenarios would be rare occurrences.

Horses’ gestation cycle is eleven months.

The gestation period is generally eleven months. Just like with humans, every birth is going to vary some. It is not unusual for horses to deliver their babies a few weeks early or late.

The horse breeders’ goal is to have a foal born as close to the beginning of the year as possible. A breeder wants an early birth because the horse’s age is calculated using January 1 as a universal birthday.

Horses born late in the year will be at a disadvantage in many races designated for two and three-year-olds.

A mares’ udders stay full shortly before giving birth.

The udders are a good indicator of when a mare is about to give birth. During pregnancy, especially in the last month, a horse’s udders will occasionally fill but shrink back to average size.


If you notice the udders are remaining full all day, then the baby is coming pretty soon, and you need to keep an eye on your mare. It is harder to notice, but the stomach will shrink as the baby shifts into a position to exit his mother and enter the world.

You can also see the muscles in the hip and buttock area relax. These are hard changes to notice in some horses. Watch for the waxing of the teats. Waxing is when beads of colostrum appear at the end of the mare’s teats.

The colostrum will be noticeable between 12 and 36 hours before the birth of the foal. Your horse may also begin to leak milk from her nipples shortly before giving birth.

It’s doesn’t occur on every mare, so it’s not a reliable predictor of foaling for all horses. Your mare should not be losing significant amounts of milk or colostrum.

Colostrum provides the necessary vitamins and antibodies needed by the newborn foal. If your horse is losing a large amount of colostrum, try to collect it and freeze it for later use.

You should also call your veterinarian to inform him of the leaking colostrum. The mother may show signs of restlessness and irritability. This aggravated activity is normal behavior when a mare is entering the early stages of labor.

Also, the mare’s vulva begins to swell in the last 24-48 hours before delivering the foal. The vulva must relax to allow the baby horse to pass. Excessive sweating during labor is common. The mare will feel warm and likely be wet over her entire body.

When a mare is close to giving birth, her water breaks, she lays down, and the two front feet will begin to come out. After a short time, usually, within 15 minutes after contractions begin, the foal is delivered. The placenta should be expelled within an hour of the birth of the foal.

Dystocia is a difficult birth of the foal.

The formal term for a foaling problem is dystocia. It is a very serious condition and can lead to the death of the mare and her foal. Even if she lives she could be barren in the future.

It is typically caused by an oversized foal, or a foal in an awkward position.

Signs that foaling is not proceeding in a typical manner:

After breaking water foal has not been delivered;No progress is being made with delivery and the mare is in hard labor;Only one leg is visible extending from the vulva.A red mass appears at the vulva, and the mare’s water has not broken.

If you notice any of these signs contact a veterinarian immediately. Get the mare on her feet to slow the uterine contractions. In the case of the red mass showing prior to the water breaking, this is the placenta coming out. It needs to be cut open to allow the foal to breathe.

Refusing to nurse is a problem sign in foals.

Not nursing

Not nursing or not nursing often is a problem. Foals should nurse 30 times a day. Nutritional intake is paramount to a healthy foal’s development. If a foal is not nursing a plan needs to be developed to get him nursing are an alternative devised to deliver the necessary nutrition.


Abdominal distension

Abdominal distension (bloating) and pain: These signs can be indicators that a foal is suffering malnutrition or colic. Another cause could be a rupture of the bladder. Seek the advice of a veterinarian.

Straining to defecate

Straining to defecate, can be caused by stool impaction. You can administer a phosphate enema to try and release the stool. Impaction is the most common cause for straining to defecate but not the only one. The foal could have colic or other serious problems requiring veterinarian attention.

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Limb abnormalities or deformities and lameness;

There are many different types of congenital leg deformities a foal could be born with. Two common problems are flexural tendon laxity and flexural contractures.

Although abnormalities are shocking to see they may be corrected and the horse lives a healthy life. Seek advice from a veterinarian experienced with orthopedic problems in foals. Click here for more in-depth information to help you recognize illness in foals.

There are many differences between ponies and foals.

The difference between a baby horse and a pony is a baby horse will grow over 14.2 hands tall and become a horse. A pony will always be a pony. Horses are 14.2 hands or taller, and a pony is below 14.2 hands tall.

There are horse breeds that aren’t taller than 14.2 hands and are not ponies. These short horse breeds aren’t classified as ponies because they don’t share the other characteristics of ponies. For example, check out the Icelandic horse. The following is a list of differences between horses and ponies:

Height: Horses are over 14.2 hands tall, ponies are below 14.2 hands tall;Intelligence: Ponies are smarter than horses.


Baby horses usually don’t have teeth when they’re born, but they grow teeth quickly. To learn more about baby horses’ teeth, you may find this article helpful: Are Baby Horses Born with Teeth?

Ponies aren’t baby horses; however, they are equines that are under 14.2 hands when fully grown.To learn more about this topic, check out either of these two articles: Is a Pony a Baby Horse? or 10 Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds …

Baby horse’s coat colors usually change as they age, they are typically born with a dull to coat color. Their color transformation begins when they shed their foal coat at about three months. To learn more about the changing of a baby horse’s coat color you can read this article: Do Baby Horses Change Color as They Age? Foal Colors Explored