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Ask Clinton: Mare Turned Aggressive Around Foal

Q: My mare has become very aggressive about protecting her foal to the point that she’s lunged at me and bitten my shoulder. Before the foal, she was a gentle mare. Will she begin to lose her aggression? Or, is there anything I can do to regain her trust?

A: Unfortunately, you learned the hard way to always use caution the first time you approach a mare with a foal. While some mares could care less if you come into the stall and touch their foal, others will get upset if you even look in the foal’s direction. Be especially cautious of first-time mothers. Even if you’ve known the mare for years and she’s always been docile and respectful toward you, a foal can change everything. It sounds like your mare falls into this group. My rule around the ranch is to not trust a mare until she’s proven to us that she can handle people being around her baby and she doesn’t have a problem with it.

One of the first goals when working with foals is to gain the mare’s trust and prove to her that she can relax when you work with the foal. Until she proves herself to be trustworthy, always keep a halter and lead rope on her while you work with the foal so that you can correct her if she becomes disrespectful or dangerous. It always helps to have someone hold the mare during the first few sessions so that you can keep your attention on the foal.

If you have a mare that is especially dominant toward you when you try to work with the foal, ignore the foal and just go do groundwork with the mare. Teach her that you still have control of her feet and demand her respect, whether she has a foal or not. If you do this, she will learn that she can trust you around her foal and will lose her aggression.