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, Kirsty Jenkins, Sarah Ellis, Hayley Randle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is critically important that early foal handling and training takes into account foals cognitive abilities and ability to cope with intense work without becoming overly aroused and fearful. Foals may experience days off during planned training programs due to owner/trainers circumstances and not as an intended part of the training schedule. Recent research has suggested that days off within training schedules may be beneficial to training outcomes. This study aimed to determine how the incorporation of days off during initial training influences foal learning outcomes. Twenty Thoroughbred foals underwent a 6-7 session training program. Foals were blocked by age (< or >8 weeks) and randomly allocated to either training condition A (trained for 2 consecutive days followed by a rest day, 2 more training days, rest day, finishing with up to 3 more consecutive training days) or training condition B (trained for 4 consecutive days, 2 rest days, finishing with up to 3 more consecutive training days). Qualified Foal NZ Ltd trainers 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 first, the left and second, the right side. Session length was determined by progress made and did not exceed 25 minutes. Training success was assessed by number of signals required (recall) for the foal to perform the task in the next training day. Biting behaviors exhibited by foals were instantaneously recorded during training sessions. Recall data for all tasks were non-parametric (left ‘Go’ Anderson Darling = 6.32; ‘Stop’ Anderson Darling = 2.89; right ‘Go’ Anderson Darling = 4.24; and ‘Stop’ Anderson Darling =6.10; all P < 0.005). Foals’ recall of any of the tasks did not differ according to whether they were trained with 2 non-sequential days break (training condition A) or 2 consecutive days break (training condition B) for either younger or older foals (all Mann-Whitney U, P > 0.05). Younger foals (<8 weeks) trained using condition B showed significantly more biting (median = 7; range 0-9) in session 4 than those trained using condition A (median = 0; W = 36; P < 0.05); however, this difference disappeared by session 5 (median = 0; W = 46; P > 0.05). On the basis of the findings of this study, it is recommended that young foal initial training programs incorporate a day off within the first 4 days in order to decrease the development and occurrence of adverse behaviors such as biting.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-68
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Veterinary Behavior
Issue numberNovember-December
Early online date09 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021


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