Treats for Foals

We have three foals at the barn that I spend a lot of my time at. Ariel is an absolute sweetheart; while not particularly enthusiastic about human contact, she certainly doesn’t mind it and sometimes even enjoys it. However, the other two, Tessa (short for Contessa) and Posey, are terrified of humans.

Tessa is the worst of the two. There was a time when I was cleaning her stall, and needed to exit. Tessa was positioned so as to be between the door and me, and her mother was in such a position that she couldn’t hide behind her. Therefore, instead of taking the risk of letting me come near her, she attempted to fling herself through the door.

Needless to say, this isn’t exactly the kind of behavior we want in our young horses. Through several sessions of squatting in the stall, holding still, and talking softly to her, I’ve actually gotten Tessa to come up and sniff my hand cautiously a couple of times.

I’d like to have something edible to tempt her with, so that she’ll associate me with yummy treats. However, the foals don’t seem quite as enthusiastic about carrots and apples and peppermints as the older horses do. Anyone have any suggestions for little treats they won’t be able to resist?


How young a foal? For a young one, get some applesauce or carrot baby food and mix it with molasses and rub it on the foals’ lips. The prepare to be followed around all the live long day.

While that sounds like a good idea for a more friendly foal, like Ariel, there’s no way I could manage to get close enough to get it on the lips of the other two without completely terrifying them. I was kind of hoping for something to tempt them to eat out of my hand, in hopes of getting them to come closer and have more contact. Perhaps I could mix up some of the applesauce and molasses and offer it out of my hand- while messy, it might work (and then I’ll be the most popular human at the barn- every horse will smell it and want to come up and lick my hand).
As a sidenote, while they’re still nursing, they also can eat hard foods. We give them some sweetfeed, and they often snack out of their mom’s bucket.

Sounds like they weren’t imprinted? Do you regularly breed horses at that barn? It seems strange that you don’t seem to know what to do with them. I have only had one foal myself and am definitely not an expert, but I know that if I stood around with a can of applesauce all day my colt would likely have happily ignored me all day. I didn’t just sweet talk him and hope for the best, I… well, I guess I “forced” myself on him. ; ) I would halter him so I could hold his head still while I rubbed his face. I would hold him with an arm around his chest and an arm around his rear while I scratched him. This way, he learned that I wasn’t going to hurt him and he wasn’t going to dodge away or “choose” whether or not he wanted to deal with me. He’s 3 now and still not overly motivated by treats, while my other horses seem to be total treat hogs, so I don’t know how old they have to be to figure out treats. Maybe my guy is slow. ; )

I’ve only closely worked with one foal, and she was already about 6 weeks old when I met her. Her owner started handling her when she was only a few days old, and made time to do so every day. She associated him with good things, like handsful of sweet feed and ear scritches (which she adored - she was Arabian but I swear that little filly was part cat). I don’t know if he had to deal with her being afraid of him at first - I didn’t think to ask. When I started cleaning stalls for her owner, she was very shy with me at first - would get on the other side of Mama, etc. - but got over that very quickly when I started helping to condition her to road noise by taking her for walks. Other than sweetfeed, the only treats he used were carrots. I must have used a truckload teaching her to calmly load into the horse trailer. I did learn something when we took her out on the road in the trailer for the first time - a filly can kick the roof of a horse trailer if she is sufficently motivated.

When I was a kid, it was always a treat for us to give my grandfather’s horses sugar cubes. One of them liked them so much she got a bit obnoxious when she didn’t get enough to satisfy her…

I’m new at this barn, and there have never been any foals at any of the other ones I’ve been at. The barn manager has said that they’ve never had foals like this before; they’ve always been pretty friendly in the past. I’m afraid to do anything that would force myself on them too much; I don’t want them to hurt themselves.