Foals are spunky, gangly, occasionally mischievous, and downright adorable. They run around on their too-long legs reminding us all to never take ourselves too seriously and that life is always worth enjoying. It seems that no matter how a foal comes into this world—whether their birth was expected and surrounded by love or a surprise that required some kind of rescue—they have a carefree nature that is impossible to miss. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of being around a foal or have so far only admired them in pictures and videos, it’s important to know that there’s more to these big babies than their incredible cuteness.
Keep reading to learn interesting facts about all foals.
1. Foals aren’t foals for long. A horse is only considered a foal for the first 12 months of its life. If it’s male, it can be called a colt until it’s 2-3 years old. And if it’s female, the young horse is a filly until it’s 4 years old. After that, a horse is considered a mature adult, and those clumsy days as a foal are a distant memory.
2. Most foals are born in the dark. Horses are prey animals, and they’ve developed some truly ingenious biological ways to protect themselves from predators. Even how and when they give birth has adapted in ways to keep them safe. Most foals are born between midnight and 6 AM when it’s still dark. This is because it’s easier to hide a newborn foal from predators when the shadows are on your side.
For even more protection, mares are typically in labor for only a short amount of time. They’re vulnerable during birth, and they want to get the difficult part over with as soon as possible so they can be on the lookout for danger. It’s not uncommon for diligent humans to miss the event altogether because they stepped out for a quick bathroom break or coffee run.
3. A foal’s legs are 80-90% fully grown at birth. There’s an important biological reason why foals are born with long, gangly legs. Long legs give them an advantage during the first few months of life when they need to keep up with their herd or risk being left behind. They need to run away from predators and travel for food and water.
Their long legs help them survive, even if they also make them somewhat clumsy. As they grow, the rest of their body catches up to their long legs, and their legs stay generally the same length.
4. Foals can stand only 2 hours after they’re born. It takes a human baby nearly a year to develop the muscle and balance to stand on their own. Foals, however, can get on their hooves in less than two hours. Some babies even start nursing and walking around only a half hour after they were born.
Their quick progression to standing, walking, and even galloping is another trait that is necessary for survival. They need to be able to move if their mother senses danger. Foals also need to be able to stand in order to nurse and receive their first vital swallows of nutrients.
5. It’s not unusual for newborn foals to have bowed legs—this is called “windswept.” Bowed legs are especially likely when a smaller mare gives birth to a larger foal. When it happens, it’s usually nothing to worry about. Some foals even walk with their fetlocks almost touching the ground due to their still-developing tendons. In most cases, bow-legged foals straighten out in a few days as they quickly gain muscle. If they don’t, a vet can help determine whether the issue will be a permanent problem.
6. Foals are usually born with no teeth. They don’t need teeth to nurse in those first few days, but their mouths don’t stay gummy for long. Foals develop their first baby teeth only a few days after they’re born. Within a week, they have four incisors. In a few more weeks, they’ll have a complete set of 24 baby teeth. They won’t get their permanent teeth until they’re several years old.
7. Foals start eating grass as early as two weeks old. While they still depend on their mother’s milk, two-week-old babies will start experimenting by munching on small amounts of grass and hay. The curious and hungry foal will continue to consume both grass and milk for the first four months of their life. By the time they’re between 4 and 7 months old, they’re ready to be completely weaned.
8. Young foals do not have an immune system. When foals are born, they’re welcomed into the world without their own line of defense against infections and illnesses. Their immune system doesn’t develop until they’re several months old, and that leaves them vulnerable to a long list of life-threatening things. It’s important to monitor foals closely to catch the early signs of infection or illness. Even something minor could turn serious without the immune system’s protection.
9. Foals are big babies that get bigger fast. The size of a foal at birth will ultimately depend on its breed and the size of its parents. On average, however, a newborn foal weighs between 150 and 200 pounds. That’s usually about 10% of their mother’s weight. As they nurse and build up muscle, that baby will put on an impressive 3 pounds every day.
By the time that young colt or filly is two years old, they’ll be about 97% of their full height. Depending on their breed, they may or may not be ready to ride at this time. Some breeds mature more slowly and aren’t ready for riding until 3-4 years old.
10. Foals use “baby talk” to communicate with their elders. If you pay attention to when a new foal meets other members of their herd for the first time, you might notice them do an odd thing with their jaw. The movement is similar to chewing, and it tells the older horses that they’re not a threat. They’re basically saying, “I’m just a baby, I come in peace.”