Has anyone else been nearly bowled over by the speed at which a foal or young horse grows (Figuratively speaking, but if you're raising a foal of a larger breed, it could also mean literally!)? Awkward Mocha as a yearlingAs a newborn, he is wide-eyed and whiskery and spindly and delicate, perhaps with exception of disproportionately large knee and hock joints that make you wonder just how tall he will be as an adult. Then, within a month or two, his body appears balanced--he seems to have caught up with the growth of his legs a bit--and he floats across the ground with ease, making you eager to see what kind of athlete he'll become.

Weeks pass, and he greets you happily at the fence one day with a partially shed coat of sun-bleached winter fuzz, a gawky head with long ears, and a set of hindquarters that seem a few inches higher than they were yesterday. His front end clearly does not match his hind. "Wow, I'm raising a monster," you say aloud, and a panicked automatic thought follows: "So much can go wrong in his joints. Am I feeding him too much/not enough? And is he getting the right amount/kind of exercise? 

These are valid questions you should be mulling over in your head if you're a responsible owner. Thankfully, raising a foal isn't rocket science, but it does require some forethought and planning. Dr. Christy Corp-Minamiji, a California veterinarian and writer, wrote a series this year for The Horse about what happens as the foal grows: for example, body systems and their development, the musculoskeletal system, metabolic changes, and behavioral considerations. She reviewed how to minimize risks for developing joint problems, both from dietary and exercise standpoints, and prepared horse owners to make decisions related to both.

Key to ensuring optimal foal development is a strong relationship with your local equine veterinarian. He or she has the knowledge/tools to help you make wise decisions about caring for your foal. My friends joke about their first child: "The fact she's alive and healthy at 16 months is evidence that anyone can be parents." You might have moments where you feel the same about parenting your young horse! But with this series we aimed to provide you the information you need to feel cool and confident in your foal-raising.

PDF downloads of the series' articles are available.

Here are some insightful videos related to young horse development:

(Adapted from the February 2011 issue.)