A preliminary study of the effects of the number of consecutive days of training and days off on foal recall

Jaymie Loy, Leigh Wills, Sally King, Hayley Randle

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


It is critically important that early foal handling and training takes into account foals’ cognitive abilities. The inclusion of days off during horse training has been found to be beneficial. This study aimed to determine how the incorporation of days off during initial training influences foal learning outcomes and behaviour. Twenty Thoroughbred foals (age 47±13.6 days) were blocked by age (< or >8weeks) and randomly allocated to either Method A (trained for two consecutive days followed by a rest day, two more training days, rest day, ending with up to three more consecutive training days) or Method B (trained for four consecutive days, two rest days, ending with up to three more consecutive training days). Qualified Foal NZ instructors used negative reinforcement to train foals to ‘go’ (cranial pressure on the halter until foal steps forward) and ‘stop’ (caudal pressure until the foal stops) from both left and right sides. Occurrences of foal biting behaviours were instantaneously recorded during training sessions. Session length was determined by progress made and did not exceed 25 minutes. Training success was assessed using number of signals required (recall) for the foal to perform the task in the next training day. Recall data for all tasks were nonparametric (left ‘Go’ AD=6.32; ‘Stop’ AD=2.89; right ‘Go’ AD=4.24; and ‘Stop’ AD=6.10; all P<0.005). Foals’ recall of any of the tasks did not differ according to whether they were trained with two non-sequential days break (Method A) or two consecutive days break (Method B) for either younger or older foals (all Mann-Whitney U P>0.05). Younger foals (<8weeks) trained using Method B showed significantly more biting (median=7) in session four than those trained using Method A (median=0; W=36; P<0.05). However, this difference in biting behaviour disappeared by session five (median=0; W=46; P>0.05). There was no difference in biting behaviour exhibited by older foals (>8weeks) according to training method. This study shows that whilst the foal’s ability to recall previously learnt responses is not influenced by the number of consecutive days of training or days off during a 7-9 day training programme, foals <8weeks that had four consecutive days of training showed significantly more biting behaviour than those who had a day off training prior to day four. It is recommended young foal initial training programs incorporate a day off within the first four days in order to decrease potential stress related behaviours such as biting. Lay person message: Handling foals appropriately and creating a positive human-horse relationship that takes foals cognitive abilities and limitations into account is critically important for future behavioural development. Having a day off during the training programme did not hinder foals training progress. Young foals (less than 8 weeks) who had four consecutive days of training before having a day off showed more biting. Initial training of young foals should avoid four consecutive days to avoid negative behaviours such as biting occurring.


ConferenceInternational Society for Equitation Science
Abbreviated titleBringing Science to the Stable
Internet address


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