New foal owner flapping about weaning

I have a three-year old mare and her five month old colt. Colt was a BOGOF. Very unplanned. See my post in the thread about the possibly pregnant three-year old for all the details. They are at a livery yard that isn’t set-up for breeding, but we’ve made it work so far. Didn’t have a choice. Another horse owner at the yard will be buying the foal at weaning.

For the last month or so, I have been taking the mare away for short groundwork sessions, to practice separation and also get her out of the mindset of being pregnant and barefoot. Foal owner stays with foal, with her old horse, a gelding, for company. We do this three or four times per week. Sessions are short. Fifteen minutes tops. Often less.

Normally, mare and foal live in a herd of seven other mares and a (different) gelding, all of whom have become his “aunties” and “uncle.”

Yard owner’s weaning plan is to put my horse in an isolation box out of sight and hearing, while leaving the foal with his aunties. Once the milk dries up, the foal will move in with old gelding, because my mare needs to move back into the mares’ herd.

First off, I have no idea what I’m doing. Secondly, I don’t have a lot of control over this, because only the YO can decide which horses go where. The only thing I can control is the timing. Thirdly, I have a lot of doubts, primarily because the foal isn’t really improving during the separation practice. Mom could not care less, but he screams his head off, and his owner has to keep him on a lead for his own safety. He doesn’t seem interested in bonding with her gelding at this point, and the gelding isn’t that interested in him. Will this improve? Is it even the right thing to be doing? Given the limitations on the yard, should we put weaning off until seven or eight months? That’s massively inconvenient for me, but so is an injured baby.

On the other hand, YO’s plan might be perfectly sensible, and I am just flapping.

Turning mom and foal out with gelding so they can bond in their own time doesn’t seem to be an option. Leaving foal with aunties for the next few months isn’t, either, unless I move my mare to a different yard. That might not even be an option so we should treat it as academic anyway.

I would wean by putting them in separate paddocks, next to each other. This works well for small paddocks. Abrupt separation works if the foal isn’t a fence jumper. We tried weaning my friend’s foal and he jumped 2 fences and ran down the street! He had to be weaned in a stall “jail cell” with no openings. Some foals are easy to wean, others aren’t.

I would not totally remove the mare on your walks, just go far enough that the foal is worried but not freaking out. then return. Then repeat.

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The quietest weaning I EVER saw was when mare was removed from the property when colt was castrated. Colt woke up sans balls and was put back out with his herd of friends. Took him probably close to an hour to even look for momma, and he called a bit without ever getting that worried, and went back to grazing. It wasn’t just low stress, it was zero. Amazing.

It sounds like you’re currently taking him away from his entire herd to practice taking his mom away. He might do better if you let him keep his support system while working on separation.

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Yeah, I fear he might be a fence jumper. He tried to go over a five bar gate, but luckily his owner had him on the lead and stopped him. That’s what prompted me to rethink the entire strategy.

And yes, we have been taking him away from his herd (as well as mom) during separation training. That wasn’t really intentional – it’s just the layout of the barn, and their summer turnout field being a 1km walk from the barn. We would catch them, bring them down, then do all the handling stuff. He’s been with owner and her gelding, but like I said, he’s got zero attachment to the gelding at this point, since they’ve never lived together. We are hoping he bonds with the gelding but he’s not interested in doing that while he’s screaming for mom.

The best way I’ve seen it done is to have them turned out in a mixed herd for awhile. They find friends, other than mom. A couple weeks later, remove mom. He will still scream for a bit, but he will have other friends to fall back on.

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That makes sense. It’s sort of we are doing. They’re in a herd now, but the hassle is that my mare needs to go back into that herd once her milk dries up. That means baby will have to move to a new herd. Barn owner wants to keep my horse with the (predominantly) mare herd, and baby with the boys’ herd. If it was up to me, I would find a new herd for the mare and leave foal with aunties. The joys of boarding and BOGOF foals. :cry:

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Right or wrong, I’ve seen babies reunited with their mothers after weaning with no issues, in as soon as 5 months.

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Since you don’t have much control over the turnout arrangements, it seems your options are limited to the timing of the actual weaning and your current practice separations. I’d delay the former until the latter is going smoothly.

Is baby screaming as you walk him and his mom in from their field? If no, then good to go there. When you get back to the barn are you putting foal and other gelding in some sort of corral? What’s the set up like when you’re trying to take mate off for groundwork? Seems to me the area between we brought mare and foal up to barn and I took mare away for work needs broken down into smaller chunks that don’t push foal into a screaming panic.

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Living in side by side stalls for awhile so baby can’t comfort nurse and eats on own - they lose interest this way without the drama.

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Can friend gelding live in the herd with mare and foal? Then remove mare, and some time later, move foal & friend to boy herd and mare back to mare herd.

It’ll be much easier if he has a herd friend–someone he’s actually lived with, not just someone he meets when his world is falling apart–to stick with when momma goes away.

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Agree with Simkie- Your foal has NO FRIEND now, so you need to find a horse in one of the groups who takes on voluntarily to being the friend of little foal. Some horses will never be that auntie or uncle.
Once that friendship is established, it should be clear sailing. But find that friend first.
Otherwise use the stall beside a stall method. You can still do this method incrementally inside the barn. Just be wary outside if you think he could be a fence jumper. Some give no clues til they just do it.

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Is it possible for mare and foal to go out with the boys’ herd safely so that he can form some attachments there before he gets weaned and mom goes back to the mostly-mare herd?

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So far, I’ve achieved delaying. Maybe by a month, maybe two, maybe three. It’s a start. Some of that depends on how all the horses get along in the winter turn-out corrals, and the rest depends on how insane I go because the logistics are complicated.

Barn owner also seems willing to move my mare in with her group of horses, who live in a different part of the barn so she would be well away from the foal. That means foal could stay with his aunties. Which would be ideal. Gelding can’t move in with that group because their winter turnout arrangements involve spending days in a fairly crowded corral, and there is no room for a 17hh Hanoverian.

Foal’s owner still insists on the separation practice. That means he’s in a small corral with her and her gelding, while I take mare to a different part of the stables or the arena. This seems like a lot of stress, and I don’t know what it’s achieving.

When together, both mare and foal are good to handle. You can catch them, lead them from A to B, do their feet, etc. etc.

You keep calling him a colt. If he actually is a colt he needs to be gelded or separated from all mares including his dam permanently by the time he is 9 months old at the latest FYI

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Yeah, we’re aware. Very, given the reasons why he even bloody well exists. Hoping to geld him at 6/7 months, but if both balls are not dropped by the time he’s 8/9 months, he will obviously have to man up and move in with the boys. He turned 5 months yesterday.

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Ok. Start here. Begin with taking mare just right outside of corral and simply stand there. So close mare and foal can touch through corral fence. Wait until foal settles. Take mare back in corral to let foal reassure himself. Take mare back outside corral. Walk one step away. Wait until foal settles. Take mare back in corral. Increase either duration or distance in tiny intervals. Either. Never both at once. Rinse and repeat.

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Once weaned, your mare can go back out with the foal- no need to keep them separate. Since it seems that you don’t have full control into what does or does not happen with this procedure, I don’t know how much input you can have here. But “trial separations” when the foal is not yet weaned, then putting them back together again… isn’t something that will be helpful to anyone, and does carry some risk to the foal.

The older the foal is, the more likely that weaning is not a big deal, the less time he will spend with his mom, the more he will hang out with some other horses and make other friends. Left to nature, eventually the mare will wean the foal herself without ever being separated- the main reason for weaning as we do is due to human plans for the foal (or mare).
The easiest way is to leave it for a while more (if possible) get closer to the foal not caring that much any more anyway. Then simply remove the mare from the herd, getting her out of range of hearing or sight of the foal. Leave the foal with the other herd members. He’ll call a bit, but if she doesn’t answer, he’ll get over it sooner, and he still has his friends. Once weaned and a month or two or three goes by, the mare can go back out with this herd. They may recognize each other, but her milk will have dried up, and the foal will not be allowed to suck, nor should think about doing it.
Might be the best idea to geld this colt before he is weaned, in another month or so. That way he has his mom, lack of stress of weaning, to recover from the surgery. Then wean once gelding is healed up, a month later. There’s no rush to wean.
Good luck. It’s always a bit of a stressful time, but mostly it gets done OK. The easiest weaning I’ve ever done was a mare and foal who came to my farm, the mare was going to be a “test mare” for my new stallion. She and her 5 month old foal were out with my mares and foals, in the field. I went out to get this mare (and foal) to bring them in to breed (it was a September breeding- practice for my stallion before breeding season the next spring). The foal wouldn’t come in with her, he turned away and went back with his friends, “refused” to leave his friends. “Take her away, I DON’T CARE!!!”. So I did. He was weaned. Never even called or looked for her.

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I think there is some research that suggests this is actually quite helpful. Lemme see if I can find it

Here’s some info:

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I wonder if the short spurts of separation are doing more harm than good, particularly if you reunite them when he is still upset (he learns being upset gets his mom back). he is pretty young to be weaned, so glad you have more time. It is too bad he doesn’t have any friends his own age. You could consider discouraging suckling by making the teats taste awful? Then he can wean off food, while still having his mom for comfort, and then be weaned from her presence later?

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