The first and most important step for safely loading and transporting a foal is to teach him how to relax and accept being handled. Have a helper hold the mare on a halter just a few feet away from the foal.
It is important that the foal is facing the mare while you are doing the early training so they both feel secure and unthreatened. You next need to train your foal to walk forward by placing your arms in a cradle position around him (in front of his chest and behind his rump), taking care not to hold tightly.
If you hold too tightly you may panic the foal. If my previous handling tutorials have been followed regularly, your foal will not be worried about being held this way. I make a verbal clicking sound as a signal for my foal to move forward.
If he doesn’t move, I gently move my arms forward, putting a gentle pressure on his rump and leaving a slightly open space between my arm and his chest to encourage him to step forward into the space. Look for a 1% effort (and all this may mean is a rock forward) then stop pushing and reward him with a rub.
Change sides and repeat what you have just done. Once he has learned the click sound to step forward, teach him to take a step backwards. Simply say “baack” and push back with your arm on his chest, remembering the 1% rule, and then change sides. At this stage still keep your arm loosely around your foals chest and touch him all over and down his legs.
Sometimes when touching the foals legs they will try and pick their leg up and move it away from your hand. Don’t hold the leg up, just rub the leg until the foal puts it down. The foal must learn that touching the leg is not the signal to pick it up. This will be beneficial later when you need to wash, bandage or treat a cut on the horse’s leg and need him to be standing on it rather than picking it up every time you touch his leg.
If you spend a small amount of time each day handling your foal all over in this manner, with a little help from friends, loading him on a float with his mother will be much easier. It’s a good idea to give your foal a little trip in the float whether his mother needs to travel to stud or not, to give him confidence for travelling.
Many mares will be taken back to the stallion on their foal heat, and in this case you will have only a week or so to practice handling your foal so that his trip to the stud is as stress free as possible. I transport a lot of mares and foals in my JR Longreach float which has removable chest bars. With two other people helping me, I have one person holding the mare while a helper and I stand either side of the foal and hold hands behind it.
The other person will gently rest their hand on the foals chest while I pick up the foals front foot and place it on the ramp, “clicking” him to go forward. I have already taught the foal to walk forward on this signal in the stable or yard so they should move forward willingly. With one side of the front chest bar removed, I can walk the foal right up into the front of the float. I get my other handler to walk the mare into the float on the opposite side.
Even a difficult mare will load to get to her foal. I don’t tie her in, the handler will stay with her until the rump bar and tail gate are secure. While I am still standing with the foal, my second handler will now secure a plywood partition across the front of the chest bars from chest height to the floor so that the foal can’t get under its mother’s feet. After the bum-bar and tail gate are secured, I unclip the mare’s lead rope to avoid the possibility of the foal becoming entangled.
You will find the mare will travel happier when she can see her foal directly in front of her. Make sure the foal is standing on a suitable nonslip mat or flooring and the door is well secured so the foal can’t accidentally open it. On a trip longer than half an hour you will need to stop and remove the partition to allow the foal to drink from the mare.