Most of the registered Suffolk Punch draft foals at Fair Winds Farm -- a horse-powered, family farm in Vermont -- are born in the early morning hours, just before chore time.
The new foal is brought into the barn with momma and settled into their box stall. The mare is taken out of the stall at mid-day (often on the first day, sometimes not until the second) and given some grain in an adjoining tie stall. She is out of the box for only a minute or less, just long enough to grab a few mouthfuls of grain, then she goes back into the stall with her baby. This procedure is repeated every day, gradually increasing in time as the mare relaxes.
Because this routine becomes familiar, and because the mare repeatedly returns to a foal who is safe, the mare accepts the concept and begins to look forward to going out. When the foal is 10 days to 2 weeks old, the mare usually goes out for some light work: a hayride lasting just 1/2 hour, some light cultivating or similar work.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the length of time and amount of work are increased until the mare is out for 2-3 hours at a time. When she comes back into the barn, still in harness, the foal nurses (you should see the milk squirt)! Foals are usually confused by the harness at first; it smells funny and it impedes their access to the udder to some degree, but they quickly adjust. A secondary benefit to letting the mare in the stall while harnessed, is the smell of the leather becomes as familiar as the smell of Momma. Sometimes people ask about the foal getting tangled, but we have never had a problem, as the harness fits the mare well.
When the foal is 3 or 4 months old, we begin separating him more, putting Momma in a tie stall and leaving the foal in the box for the day. So, they are together at night and separate during the day. If we have two foals, we sometimes put them together for company. By 5 months, the foal is separate at night as well, just nursing twice a day. Soon after that we drop back to one nursing per day, followed by complete weaning. During this time the foal is turned out with other adult horses. We do make sure that their companions change periodically so they do not become dependent on any one horse, but enjoy the company of several.
That time when Momma is out of the stall is a great time for us to handle the baby, teaching it to tie, picking up feet, etc. This method means that the foal is used to people from a very young age, and people become figures of safety and security when Mom is gone, not strangers who suddenly appear when the foal is weaned.
-- Bekah Murchison, Fair Winds Farm, www.fairwindsfarm.org