With all those babies filling up the pastures, it’s time to take a look at how breeders and trainers shape young minds to prepare them for their future in the show pen. Like any aspect of training, there are numerous theories and differing practices regarding the raising of foals. The paths to success may differ, but the commonality is being horseman enough to recognize the needs of their individual horses and develop a program that is right for them.
It’s a lucky foal that gets to grow up romping in the rolling, green paddocks of Masterson Farms in Tennessee. Beyond the idyllic pastoral setting, Ken and Marilyn Masterson’s foal program develops a solid foundation of sociability and experience that prepares them for a future in the show arena.
Ken Masterson is quick to credit his team for their success. He says, “We’re so proud of everyone who works at the farm. The one thing they all have in common is that they genuinely care about the horses and love what they do. That pays dividends down the road.”
The farm typically has 35 to 40 foals born each year. A solid protocol is vital to managing that volume of activity. Masterson Farms practices a very hands-on, gentle approach, yet it is also pragmatic. “We avoid problems by making our foals comfortable and trusting from the start,” adds Masterson. “It would be way too time consuming to have to battle with them every step of the way.”
He explains, “All our foaling is done inside in the breeding barn. The babies are handled a good bit by Dr. Anderson, our vet techs, and our staff those first five to seven days, so they’re pretty accustomed to people.” Foals stay inside for a few days or up to a week, depending on the weather. The babies learn early on that being handled is a positive experience. He continues, “As soon as they’re comfortable with us, we start doing everything we can with them so they’re accustomed to everything they will experience when they’re adults.” The youngsters learn to be restrained, have their feet picked up, and are introduced to baths and being led.