Spring is an exciting time on many farms as adorable little foals make their way into the word and their antics bring smiles to lots of faces. With so many other exciting new experiences with foals, it can be easy to overlook their tiny little feet that never seem to stop moving. So today, let's take a look at what attention their hooves need and when.
An important step to take before having your farrier out is to get your foal accustomed to picking up his or her hooves. While this may seem daunting, if you work quietly and calming with your foal on hoof handling with a lot of praise for 3-5 minutes 1-3 times per day, before you know it, you'll have the best behaved little hoof-picker-upper. You may want to incorporate the use of a hoof pick both to clean out the hoof and to tap on the hoof so the foal gets used to strange hoof sensations. The good news is, teaching your foal to be ok with basic hoof care from day 1 will make it very easy for you to become your farrier's favorite client.
Ideally, a foal should first be seen by a patient farrier or professional trimmer at 3-4 weeks old but no later than 2 months old. This means the foal will need to be somewhat accustomed to having his or her hooves handled between 3 weeks and 2 months of age. Please note, the 3-4 week rule applies to the average foal, if a foal presents with hoof or leg deformities, he or she should be seen by a skills farrier and/or veterinarian as soon as possible so the professionals can evaluate the specific needs of your foal and come up with a plan. When in doubt, get the opinion of an experienced professional. Many, but not all, leg and hoof abnormalities can be corrected if caught and treated early enough by a skilled farrier and vet.
As previously stated, every foal should be seen by the farrier no later than 2 month of age though many farriers and vets believe the ideal age for the first visit is 3-4 weeks of age. This first visit is an important introduction, not for your farrier to teach your foal to have its hooves handled (since you should have already been working on that), but because your farrier may be able to catch and correct some subtle imbalance of the hoof that those of us with less hoof knowledge may have missed. Certain deviations from the ideal hoof can be corrected, if caught early, with special foal shoes. If your foal does require shoes, they should be frequently reset (every 3-4 weeks) to accommodate the rapid growth rate of foals as this includes their hooves.
Even a perfectly balanced hoof will likely need a trim to keep it that way. Allowing the hoof to grow too long is never good for overall horse welfare but can be particularly harmful for a young horse with legs that are still developing as their bones are incredibly malleable before 1 year of age. This means that any small hoof or leg abnormalities can easy escalate if left unchecked but they can also be very easily corrected to the point where they disappear later in life if addressed soon enough by a skilled farrier.