My father bought me my first horse when I was 8 years old. I picked him based on how pretty he was. Within a few months I realized that was completely the wrong criteria for choosing a horse! So after we sold him, I let my mum choose my next horse.
We were at a farm down the road and they had a stunning palomino gelding and a very pregnant Morgan/Arab mare. I rode both of them and was instantly taken by the palomino – my favorite color horse! But my mum preferred the mare and I reluctantly stuck to my decision to follow my mum’s intuition. She even named the horse. As we led the horse home she said, in her English accent, “She’s a real Dobbin you know!”
I was horrified, Dobbin sounded like the name of a clunky old carthorse. I wanted a name like Starlight, or Moonglow (she was white, after all). Of course, the name that stuck and that everyone preferred calling her, was Dobbin.
Well at least I got to name her foal and I chose the name, Dusty. At the time, neither my parents nor I knew anything about horses. I’m not sure equine ethology was even a recognized field of study yet… I had my one book called, “Your First Horse” and that was my sole source of information. I followed the guidebook, gleaned information from school friends who were in the local 4H-club and weaned Dusty at 6 months old. We sold him shortly after weaning. People said the mare would be upset for a few days and then quickly forget about her foal. I don’t know what was going on in my life at that time, but I have very little memory of Dobbin’s behaviour after Dusty left – I just remember some neighing and running up and down the front fence.
By the time Dobbin had her second foal, we’d become friends with a horsewoman who’d moved into the area. This woman had asked us to breed Dobbin to a quarterhorse stud, as her sister wanted the foal for barrel racing. She arranged everything and I just led Dobbin there and back from the stud’s ranch. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and continually wondering if Dobbin was okay, and did it really have to be done this way? It all seemed so contrived and brutal.
I named her second colt, Tesoro (Treasure in Spanish) and by the time I weaned him at 6 months, he was quite the energy bucket! Again, the horsewoman also said that 6 months was when he should be weaned. And she trailered him off to her sister 12 hours away, soon after weaning.
Dobbin cried and called and ran the fenceline for days. The horsewoman assured me this was completely normal and Dobbin would quickly forget all about Tesoro. She said that if Dobbin saw Tesoro again in a year or two, she wouldn’t even know he was her son. I believed every word she told me – believed it more strongly than what I was looking at with my own eyes.
But even at that young age, where I unquestioningly gave adults authority over most things, some part of me felt the horror, because even though the horsewoman asked repeatedly, I would never breed Dobbin again. Even when Tesoro became the barrel racing champion of BC, I refused to breed Dobbin.
Now that I’m older and wiser. And I’ve healed my own childhood abuse – that caused me to separate out from my own body – I have a different view of mares and foals.
My Belgian mare, Audelina, nursed Juno until he was 4 years old – she still offered milk, but Juno weaned himself. I watched her offer, and Juno lightly touch her flank, and then walk on past her. A few months after he weaned himself, Juno chose to get on a trailer with his Dad and uncle and head North 16 hours to Kesia’s ranch. Aude did not once come anywhere near the trailer. They both made a clear choice to separate for a while – even though it was very difficult for both of them.
Aude continues to have episodes of grieving/connection. It feels like she can always connect to Juno spiritually (as can I), but her physical mama-body is grieving. She always goes to the same spot during these connections – often Zorra, Posa or Siyone stand with her, supporting her, and none of them eat for hours. They just hold the space.
Now I watch the wild mustang mares, Siyone and Kaliah, nurse their fillies at age two. I see no sign of the mamas wanting to wean their foals.
I am deeply saddened that I weaned two foals and separated them from their mother at only 6 months old. Of course, it was done in complete ignorance, at a time in my life where I felt powerless and all the adults around me were assuring me it was ‘normal’ and just fine – that Dobbin wouldn’t suffer at all. But I’m so happy now that I can balance that karma, and that this time I’m listening to the right authority figures!
I also did not realize how important family is to horses. Until I stumbled into owning my first family of 3 semi-feral horses – which turned into 4 when Juno was born – and witnessed first-hand the incredibly deep, strong bonds of equine family members. Der. It seems so obvious, yet most of us horsepeople never consider it.
I shot this video recently, when all of a sudden, 2-yr-old Xadaa started bucking and running around – what’s the matter? What does she need?
Note: A great book on the racehorse industry, told as a story, from a former owner/participant is: Saving Baby by Jo Anne Normile and Lawrence Lindner.
p.s. I am also thrilled to announce that our new LTYH Supplement Shoppe is up and running! These are all the natural supplements I use with the Singing Horse herd – all tried-and-tested – to produce vibrant, whole-body health. Click the JINI SAYS tab on each product to find out exactly how I use each supplement with the herd, or why I chose it for the Shoppe 🙂
Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Lazer Tapping instructor. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.
10 thoughts on “At What Age Should a Foal be Weaned?”
It is a cruel reality in the human world! Back in my 20s I had pure bred Golden Retrievers & my MaMa dog had three litters! I kept them together until about 12 weeks! The toll it took on Tosha was immense! She always seemed relieved when it was over! But Tosha herself was sold to me at 4 weeks…and she was way to young to be away from her mom and litter! Of course in retrospect so much I could of done so much better! I truly hope you have forgiven that young Jini…as she was just basically a foal herself and I know Dobbin knew that too! The area Dobbin & her foals had …sure looked to be vast? When I think of the things done wrong it’s always nice to contrast that with all the good that was there too! Love that you have a chance now to let the horse MaMas And foals in your life choose there own timing! We are not always in a position to do what’s right but when we are it is so empowering! ✌🏼💚🐴
12 weeks is how long I think ALL pups should be kept with their mums! And yes, we all have grown and as we know better, we do better. That picture of Dobbin was our pasture at our home near Edmonton, Alberta, but it was only 3 acres! We later had 5 acres across the road, so I could rotate them. I could ride on all the roads for miles and the foals would just follow along. Those were the days!
Dear Jini, I can’t believe you wrote about it! What a connection!
I am from Brazil and I have been following your work with the herd with great admiration. It changed my life and of my horses, so thank you very much!
I recently bought a foal weaned at six months and now I finally managed to buy his mother too. I have been anxiously asking myself what this reunion will be like after a year apart and if they will recognize each other. He is her first and only baby. Anyway, I think it will be something very powerful. What you think?
Hugs full of gratitude and admiration!
Oh that’s wonderful Malu! Personally, I still wouldn’t immediately put them in together – but would put them across a fence until I see how they feel/react. Horses really map things according to smell, so they may need time to realize who each other is – or they may know immediately. When the lads come back to join the herd, I will do the same thing. They may well be in with the herd within 30 seconds, but it’s not worth seeing a horse kicked to pieces when it can so easily be avoided. Please let us know what happens!!
Hello! I am so grateful to have found your website as I have been trying to change my way of being with my horses. Today a funny thing happened and I thought of you.
I was feeding this morning (I have 3 horses and a filly) and my filly chased her mother from her feed. Well Daphne, her mother actually came to me, but I was shocked and feel that I failed her. I told her to try again. She did and she finished eating, but I truly feel I missed an opportunity of some sort. Is this normal foal behavior? What could I have done differently? Thank you so much for all you do!
Hi Jilliane – Well 2 things come to mind – first is that I have repeatedly watched the mothers “allow” their foal to push them off their feed, or push in with their food. It seems to me they are teaching/encouraging the foal to develop personal power. The other thing that I do is once the foals are old enough to want to eat, I provide them with their own feed dish. I may put it right next to Mom’s or in a different spot – I see what they want/prefer. Hope that helps! And you’re welcome 🙂
I’m so happy to read this! I too, ignorantly weaned a foal at 4 months when I was really just a foal myself. Now I have a pregnant mare again, and the life experience of raising two children of my own, both of whom I nursed for many years, until my milk dried up, and whom I carried on my body and cuddled through the night until they were physically too large or chose otherwise. Some of the natural type horse teachers I follow still promote early weaning and I’ve been looking for someone else that agrees with my instincts not to break that precious bond. Of course, I have a small herd and am keeping this foal, so would have nowhere to send them away to even if I wanted to. But I don’t want lack of space to be the only reason I keep them together.
Awww she’s gorgeous! I think it’s the most wonderful gift to NOT separate mamas and children. Both the mustang fillies are still nursing at almost 3 years old now. I thought perhaps their mamas would wean them after a lifetime of birthing a foal every year, but nope! Neither mum shows any sign of restricting access. It’s the most natural thing in the world.
I too am so glad to find this article. We rescued some mustangs and one was an unhandled pregnant mare (unbeknownst to us) who gave birth 11 months later. We’ve never raised a foal before. Everyone kept telling us to wean him before a year. It just didn’t feel right, and separating them seemed cruel. We just can’t even think of doing such a thing to them. He’s 28 months now and is still nursing. If we are giving him too much attention, she will entice him away with milk. It’s really cute and funny. I put up a story about him and his mom on TikTok a couple days ago, sharing about his surprise birth and transformation (he’s a Varnish Appaloosa) . One of the pictures shows him still nursing, and some “horse” people have gotten so upset by it, saying how wrong it is. They throw out all kinds of reasons why… and there is no reasoning with them… so I just delete those comments. Finding this today made me feel so happy that we listened to our own knowing instead of the people who think they know better than Mother Nature. I even read today they are now realizing early weaning causes many potential physical and mental health problems, which makes so much sense. Thank you, and love your site and soul!
Oh I love it – the son is bigger than mama! Awesome 🙂
Another study I read recently stated that 98% of weaned foals had ulcers! For all of us mammals, stress and emotional pain goes straight to the gut.
It is the ultimate in toxic specism (I just made that up – or we could say humanism) that we presume to know *better* than the two beings in the most intimate relationship on the planet!
You might also find this post useful:
followed by this one – they show, again, how not dominating and honoring the wisdom of the colt and mama can be so beneficial:
Glad to see you here!