Ending Weaning Trauma

How to have the horse you hope to find:

foalYears ago I developed a way to wean foals that did not create trauma. I used this approach for over twenty years. During this time, I learned that horses that grew up being weaned in this manner were smarter and had a deeper sense of well being created by the trust they had in human beings.  I feel one of the biggest opportunities we have to build trust with horses can be accomplished at weaning.

There were two reasons that I did not want a foal to experience trauma. The first being my understanding of the suffering that they go through. Ripping a foal from its mother as a way to wean is torture. I also felt that by avoiding the trauma I would create a super horse that could connect with humans. What I discovered was that less training was needed, and horses that were weaned without trauma were amazing partners as family pets and as performance horses.  They excelled at the top of their ability.

I began the process of weaning at around three months, or when the foal was interested in eating along with his mother. Inside their 80 by 50 foot paddock I set up a corral that was about 12 by 16 foot. There was a bar across the gate that the foal could go under, but it restricted the mom from entering. This way the foal got to practice separation on his or her own terms and the mother could call the foal out if she needed to.

Pixabay Image 794748At the afternoon feeding time I put the foal’s food down in his corral and waited for the foal to enter. Then I put the mother’s food down on the other side, close to her foal. When they were both focused on their rations, I closed the gate so the foal could not get out. When the foal discovered that he or she was locked in and wanted out, I would open the gait. (This act built trust in the foal. Instead of taking him from his mom, I was returning him.)

If he had not finished his food I would lock the gate so he could not get back in. The foal was fast to learn that he needed to finish his food before he left. If mom became concerned about the separation, I would accommodate her by returning her foal to her. In no time they had the routine down. (The adjustment time was in the hands of the foal and his mom.)

I increased the time before opening the gate when the foal asked to be let out. This built tolerance in the foal to accept being away from mom, without trauma. When the foal could wait for 20 minutes with no concern, after he had finished his food, it was time to move on to the next step.  I would feed mom and lead her foal to the next paddock where the foal’s food was waiting. I would return the foal to mom as soon as the foal was finished. In some cases, I would return the foal even before he was finished so he would look forward to returning. The foal was now around four months old.

running foalBy six to eight months, they were no longer worried about being separated and they no longer looked for one another. The foal became interested in exploring life without mom. By six to eight months, mom and offspring no long experienced anxiety being separated for any length of time. The foal lost interest in nursing and the mother dried up.

Weaning foals in this manner, along with shaping the character of the foal with the Waterhole Rituals, turns out a horse that is quite different than a foal that has experienced trauma. The foals that were weaned in this manner naturally enjoyed human company and training. Being lead on a rope is quite natural to them, and they shy less or not at all. They are more willing, secure and optimistic. They get into trailers easily without the need for training. They accept saddles easily, and less bomb proofing is needed. Being ridden was natural to them. Of course there were some that took a bit more care, still they took less care than horses that had experienced weaning trauma.

adultNote– I think it is very important not to keep a mom and foal together for too long as they will develop a dependence on one another. If left together too long, it takes someone experienced to remove this dependency without causing trauma. Many decisions need to be made on the spot; when to allow and what not to allow.  For adult offspring or two horses that experience separation anxiety, I use the same system I do for weaning a foal along with the Waterhole Rituals. I got the same good results…no trauma experienced.

What I wish for every horse lover is that they could experience a horse that was raised without the trauma of separation, to feel what a horse is REALLY like. I wish for horses, that their relationship with humans offer them a better life and that trusting them would be natural.

foal2I know the damages of trauma, first hand, from dealing with my own trauma of separation. Trauma is like a scar on the body. It is always there to remind you. Trauma effects your first reaction to others. With time, it can be repaired through good relationships that heal. The Chair Challenge program develops a special bond and heals trauma both in horses and humans. The Chair Challenge is an in-depth guided program. It is the suggested prerequisite to the Waterhole Rituals course. Both programs can be started at the same time. Love to hear from you. I do read all your comments.

Have a great weekend!  Be on the lookout for new horse and human sightings and may the horse be with you.

Warmly, Carolyn

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Nahir - a day ago Reply

Hi Carolyn,

I asked something in this section of the blog regarding the chair challenge, I also asked you in Facebook I also asked in the Live phone call … I don’t know where else to ask … I can repeat the question …

After spending time sharing territory and creating a two ways communication I need to continue the day with the training, I work with polo horses.

I am not sure they really like it, since the routines can be pretty boring some times and some they just don’t care for polo. I feel Guilty and kind of abusive about creating a space for them to open up know me, for me to know them and create respect and trust but after I need to follow and agenda in this case .. the training routine in polo, stick and ball, riding, etc

I would really appreciate some thoughts on this matter so I can go into the chair challenge … As I said before .. sometime I prefer not to create the bond to not break the trust they put in me… Thank you and once again I thank you in advance for your time and care .

Nahir

sharon - 7 days ago Reply

my mare has suffered from this all her life .She is 19, how can I help her? If I seperate her from other horses she will has a panic attack, but if I ride her out by herself she goes willing.I know she worries alot.

Pat Wellfare - a couple of weeks ago Reply

I used to breed and always tried for an easy weanin g. I love your idea of the separation but instant return if needed. I used to feed separately but not quite the same. I no longer breed but if I do will be using mostly your method. I am not so sure of total weaning too early though as nature lets them stay until the next foal. I never let mine go before 8/9 months.

Sytske - last month Reply

My experience with weakening foals is that in fact if I do nothing the foal will quickly become independent itself. Our foals grow up in a herd and by 6 months they tend to find aunties or grandmothers who will be their companions. They may return to mum for a drink – less so for comfort. Often the mother will wean the foal itself if she is pregnant again.
Of course if you have to wean early I fully agree that this is a great way to get the foals used to weaning this early … Other wise I tend to take the mother away for a few hours at a time by the time the foal is already more independent – at that time it is seldom a problem for either party… And as long as i take the mum and leave the foal with its trusted group the actual weaning tends to be little fuss and no trauma.
Two years ago I even had to take a mare to a clinic in the middle of the night. We decided it would be more traumatic for the 8 month old foal if we took her and might have to leave her separate in a box than if we left her with the herd. She took it all in her stride and was very happy with her foster mums.

    Carolyn Resnick - a couple of weeks ago Reply

    Hi Sytske,
    Thank you for sharing all of your insights. I am sure they will benefit anyone who reads your response.
    Warmly,
    Carolyn

Susan Lucey - last month Reply

Thank you Carolyn, I deeply appreciate how excellent your guidance is. I don’t have my horse yet but with other animals so much of the goodness of your heart wisdom can be brought in all animal arenas. I’ve always believed it starts with weening with all life. Thank you for making this planet more sane and understanding.

    Carolyn Resnick - a couple of weeks ago Reply

    So nice to get this message Susan, thank you for sharing.
    Warmly,
    Carolyn

Fox - last month Reply

Carolyn,
I was hesitant to read your first book. Just being honest. Thought the cover a little too “New Age” for me. The book was not at all what I was expecting. It was so good I gave it to my father. He also enjoyed it and it was not what he was expecting either. I found it interesting that your book has many parallel’s in Klaus Hemplings book although I found your book an easier read. His book was translated from German.
Weaning is a sad time. You demonstrate how it does not have to be that way. It is still sad though because most people will say “I don’t have that much time to spend on making sure “junior” is without trauma…life is tough and we have to grow up so its time to cut the cord.” Ray Hunt said you don’t need any qualifications to own a horse. For that matter you don’t need any to be a parent. No wonder we have a world full of unhappy and unfulfilled people. I would much rather choose your way and see the world as you see it. Blessings to you and yours. Happy New Year.

    Carolyn Resnick - a couple of weeks ago Reply

    Hi Fox,
    Thank you for such a lovely message. Glad you read my book in spite of the cover. lol I put that crazy cover on my book to draw attention to the fact that horsemanship is an art and comes from the lessons life teaches us as we are looking for a deeper connection with horses. It is not about tack or lessons taught by humans but about making a connection with a horse at liberty. The backwards rider points out that giving a horse liberty is not natural to a human while the horse is completely at home at liberty. The purpose of my book is to show the reader how to follow their own guidance system to gain the knowledge they are looking for. Thank you for your message. I enjoyed hearing from you. Warmly, Carolyn

Jess - a couple of months ago Reply

I am currently writing an essay on the effects of natural horsemanship on training horses, and this blog has been fascinating to me. I witnessed a very traditional approach to weaning foals in Portugal at a dressage yard and it is wonderful to read about an alternative method.
Jess
UK

Marina - a few months ago Reply

Hi Carolyn,

I loved reading this. I’ve been thinking about weaning a lot due to my upcoming foals in the spring (two on the way). Thanks to your influence, your approach is very similar to what I’ve been planning. It’s so great to hear the way you approach these situations.

Lots of love,
Marina

kathi - a few months ago Reply

hi carolyn

sorry for my bad english. I come from germany and i want learn a better english.

I saw you at random in this film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft27i2cd548

i found this very interesting.

that we must first work on ourselves before working with other people or animals, I find an important and correct point.

alternative ways of thinking that are different from the normal mean stream, I find very interesting.

I’m also trying to move away from what is considered normal and look around what is still so are the other possibilities more and more. This is what I really want to reach as many areas in my life. I’m still at the very beginning.

I like horses very much and I do ride very happy. What I do to but can not call it riding. I sit on the horse and make sure that I sit reasonably well and stay up.

Love greetings

Kathi

Lynn Hummer - a few months ago Reply

This is going to be immediately implemented! I run a Pregnant Mare rescue ans so…this is going to be stupendous!

StephanieCamfield - a few months ago Reply

Thanks again for an elegant, compassionate approach! I wish I had known this years ago when I was troubled by the many weaning practices I was a part of. Will definitely use this with future foals and horses who have separation anxiety…or to prevent it.

Mimi Leggett - a few months ago Reply

Very informative blog on weaning. Thank you, Carolyn!

Cathie Orr - 6 months ago Reply

Having worked at a large breeding farm for many years we were always looking for the least stressful way to wean. We weaned at 6 months and were fortunate to have 4 mares and foals together in each pasture. We kept the same groups of four together during pregnancy and after foals were born and around 1 month old we blended the 4 mares and their babies back together. The foals got so attached to each other this made the weaning a bit easier. We would then put all weanlings together and moms in the attached pastures. Moms could see babies and seemed relieved to have some alone time. As I did all the imprinting and handling of the foals I was their surrogate mom and I would be with them when first separated. They were so funny gathering all around me for reassurance and within in minutes they were all happily being foals. There was no screaming and crying and we thought we had finally figured it out. I’m delighted to hear of your technique and can see how easy it makes the transition.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Cathie, Thank you for sharing your approach at weaning time. I’m sure it will help others who read it, to understand different approaches that will suit their own particular needs at their farm. It is always nice to hear of methods that do not put an animal through unnecessary stress. Thank you for sharing and I am pleased you enjoyed my blog. Warmly, Carolyn

Lisa Michelle Skinner - 6 months ago Reply

Hi Carolyn .. warm wishes and thank you for an excellent read and awareness. I will share .. Wishing you only wellness
Michelle

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Michelle, Thank you for leaving this comment and sharing my blog. Warmly, Carolyn

Laura - 6 months ago Reply

Why is it necessary to wean the foal at all? Why the need for such interference?
I have a mare and her daughter who is now 4 years old. She was never weaned. I love spending time with both of them. The daughter spends time with me and they all follow along. Now my mare has another foal who is 3 months old and I don’t see why I should step in and wean this foal. Surely his mother knows better than I what he needs? I simply lead them where is needed and they all follow. And although everyone is always present I spend alone time with each of them when ever they come and ask for it.
I am new to the world of humans and horses and there are many things that puzzle me.

    nicole - 6 months ago Reply

    Hi Laura, I’m glad to read your comment and share my experience about my 5 years old who is living in a 45 horses’ herd with her mother, father, and grand-father (grand-mom died). My horse is definitively herd-bond (seldom with her mother) but when she is threatened by one of the dominant horses or when she is facing some “danger” she will galop to me to look for security. I reckon this is an ideal situation for both horses and riders. Saying that I can only approve Caroline for her non-traumatic approach to wean a foal as today there is still too many damages done in the equestrian world and surely this post will be beneficial to many.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Laura, Thank you for reading my blog and leaving a comment. There are multitudes of reasons for weaning foals. From health issues and for practical reasons. A horse that is more at ease and not dependent upon its mother is emotionally more developed in my book from my experiences with horses in nature. The horses that have gone on and made their own families have a more enriched life. What I want you to understand is that I’m not suggesting that horses need to be weaned. Only that, if there is a reason for weaning, this is the way to approach it. Warmly, Carolyn

Castagne - 6 months ago Reply

Dear Carolyn,
Each time i read you blog i am sorry i did not met you earlier in my life….
Anyway for now, Thank You so much for sharing all your knowledge and good advises.
Sending Love
Andree

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Andree, Thank you for connecting with me and reading my blog. Warmly, Carolyn

Desiree Taylor - 6 months ago Reply

Simple, effective, caring, lasting. Don’t create trauma so you don’t have to fix it later. I love that! Your different way of looking at things and the profound impact that has never ceases to amaze me.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Desiree, Thanks for continuing to read my blog. You are a wonderful horsewoman and its an honor that you keep reading them! Warmly, Carolyn

Michelle Twohig - 6 months ago Reply

I love your weaning process! I get so sad thinking of Dodger at 5 weeks when his mother died, and despite his adventurous spirit, I can see occasional remnants of that trauma. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, Carolyn…After 10 years of boarding Dodger at other barns, I finally have a home where I was able to build a barn for him and a mini horse companion named Lucky. The perfect, friendly, pacifist, (smart!) 18 y/o gelding, Lucky likes nothing more than to hang with Dodger (when he’s not eating, of course!) and lets Dodger “lead from behind,” annoy him at the “waterhole” and eat side by side in the pasture (Lucky’s muzzled). I’m loving his mini ways.

Dodger’s last barn had about 30 horses he smelled and saw regularly, so to now be with just one teeny tiny little horse, his desire for, and dependency on me seems to have grown significantly. He is very vocal now every time he sees me when before it was just the occasional muffled hello. Before Lucky got here, I brought him home to the new barn for a visit, but he was too anxious to stay without me in the paddock with him. On his second visit with Lucky all moved in, Dodger became instantly curious and quite content to stick around with his new friend, yet was still very happy to see me.

There’s a tone in Dodger’s welcome whinny to me every time I walk out there that tells me I’ve definitely become one of his herd and he’s so glad I’m back. If I take Lucky on a walk out of Dodger’s sight, it’s not long before he’s calling for us. So it’s a bit of a game change for Dodger (and me)…and very educational.

I have a similar set up in a huge paddock like you describe where Lucky can come and go as he pleases (except when they’re eating) under a couple of stall guards positioned to keep Dodger out of his miniature stall door, but Dodger can stand right next to him. Much like your weaning process…

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Michelle, Thank you for sharing. Its good to hear that Dodger has a wonderful home with a horse he feels a connection with. I’m sure this helps with the trauma he experienced losing his mother long ago. Thank you for being such a good horse mom to Dodger and Lucky. Warmly, Carolyn

Kim - 6 months ago Reply

What a great way to wean a foal! I would be interested to hear in more detail how you would apply this to herd-bound horses, since the method with foals cannot be directly applied. For example, you could not create a creep feed and both horses would be eating the same thing so would have no incentive to stay separated until they finished their feed.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Kim,
    When you are working with 2 adult horses, first, you begin with the Waterhole Rituals. After they have learned the Waterhole Rituals, you can separate them at feeding time with just a fence between them and they wont object to the gate being shut because of the bond you have formed with them. You then asked them to stay in their separate corals a bit longer according to their tolerance. I have many people in my Insider Circle class that I coach on this matter and it is an easy fix. There are many steps to this process that you will learn in the class and it is fun. Always you let the horse control the steps as you go along.
    Warmly,
    Carolyn

JayneForster - 6 months ago Reply

Great blog, makes so much sense. I wish my lovely Maya had this start.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Jayne,
    Its always the challenges in our life that strengthen us. I think it was worth it for Maya to experience her beginning stages of life the way she did. After all, this is how she wound up in your family and now, she has a “forever home”. Never neglected again!
    Warmly, Carolyn

LindaSalinas - 6 months ago Reply

Hi Carolyn! Great blog. Loved reading how you handle the separation of a foal and it’s mother. We have to do a podcast on that subject!!!

Horses provide us many topics for discussion that we can implement in our own world. I think trauma of any kind is paralyzing. I also recognize there are times when trauma can not be avoided but if we can, it is our ethical duty to do so. The way you described avoiding trauma is admirable.

Leaving for England tomorrow for another WHR clinic. The English woman are amazing horseman who love your work. Think of us as we will be thinking of you.

Thank you for another wonderful blog.

Sending you much love and light,

Linda

    JayneForster - 6 months ago Reply

    That is a ‘ for sure thing’ you will be missed but we will hold you in our hearts Carolyn, thinking of you this weekend. Can’t wait to see you linda.

      Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

      Dear Jayne,
      I cant be missed because I am there in spirit! I can feel the warmth all the way across the pond.
      Love, Carolyn

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Linda, I cannot believe that you read my blog in the middle of preparing to leave for your clinic in the UK! I would look forward to doing a podcast with you on this subject. I think its a great idea! It always delights me how easy it is to solve the “challenges” we face with horses when we give our full attention to the matter. Please give everyone a hug from me and special hugs to you, Andre and Jayne. All of you are in good hands!
    Warmly, Carolyn
    p.s. would love to be there…know that I am there in spirit!

Michelle - 6 months ago Reply

You are definitely one of my horsey icons🐴
Your methods are so in tune with the horse & they resonate with me so much. I would love for my next horse to be trauma free. Wouldn’t it be a dream come true if all domestic foals could have this as the way they are introduced to Becoming independent from mom . Also I have gained so much insight from your podcasts with Linda… Thank you so much for taking the time to relay your stories & amazing knowledge of horses😍🐴 it is so helpful to us that desire connection.

    Carolyn Resnick - 6 months ago Reply

    Dear Michelle, I want to make a video in the future of how to wean a foal. I think it would be so beneficial for horse people. It will develop their ability to approach a horse and foal in an easy style. It will help them in knowing how to approach each moment with the horse to get the best possible results. It will help to bring out the trainer with in. Ive been on this trail all of my life and I feel there is still more to come! Warmly, Carolyn

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