Life Cycle of a Horse: Stages and Care

Horses of different ages

Horses can live into their 20s, but their relatively short lives are full of rapid changes. See how much a horse develops from conception to old age with this free, printable horse life cycle.

Life Cycle Printable

Horses move through unique stages of life as they reach different developmental milestones. Click on the life cycle image to download and print for use at home or in the classroom. Consult the Adobe guide if you have any trouble accessing the printable file.

Horse Pregnancy and Birth

As soon as a horse becomes pregnant, or conceives a baby, the gestation period begins.

  • A mare's pregnancy can last anywhere from 320 to 370 days, but averages 340 days, or a little over 11 months.
  • At 150 days, the horse fetus weighs about two pounds, but looks like a very tiny horse.
  • Mares begin to look pregnant around 250 days.

Foaling

About a week before giving birth, the mare will prefer to be alone and show signs she is uncomfortable. Mares typically foal, or give birth, on their own and the umbilical cord severs by itself shortly after birth.

Stages of Life

At each stage of life, horses have different needs and experience different physical changes.

Foal

From the time they are born until they stop nursing from their mother, baby horses are called foals.

  • Starts nursing within two hours of birth
  • Needs colostrum from mother's milk within first six to 12 hours after birth due to risk of respiratory diseases and diarrhea
  • Consumes 15 to 25 percent of body weight in milk daily
  • Nurses three to five times per hour
  • Remains close to mother
  • Can start eating small amounts of foal feed around two months of age

Weanling

Foals typically wean, or stop nursing from their mother, around the age of three to six months.

  • Weaning can be stressful for some foals.
  • Foals this age need a good balance of high quality proteins, calories, calcium, and phosphorus for proper growth.
  • By six months, weanlings should weigh about half of their expected adult weight and reach about three-fourths their expected height.
  • Healthy weanlings only gain about one pound per day.
  • They need regular exercise to help muscle development.
  • Vaccinations are given at around eight months.

Yearling

From the time a horse turns one to the time it turns two, it is called a yearling.

  • Look unbalanced as they go through growth spurts
  • Almost reached mature height and body just starts to fill out
  • Inquisitive in nature
  • Needs a lot of water

Adolescent

From age two to age three, horses are considered adolescents.

  • Horses reach puberty at this age.
  • The growth rate slows down.
  • A female is called a filly and an ungelded male is called a colt.
  • This is the ideal time for training as they learn quickly.

Adult

Once they reach age four, most horses are considered adults and their growth is complete.

Senior

While the senior years for a horse can start around the age of 15, many today say horses aren't seniors until they reach age 20.

  • A 20-year-old horse is comparable to a human at age 60.
  • Senior horses should be checked over daily because they can develop health problems quickly and may need medicine or pain management.
  • Feed should be soft hay.
  • Expect to see increases in either weight loss or weight gain.
  • Hooves need cleaning daily.
  • Senior horses experience reduced ability to regulate body temperature and will need proper shelter.

The Equine Life Cycle

From birth to death, the life cycle of a horse is marked by distinct periods of growth and maturation. Understanding growth, development, and needs at each stage of life can help you better care for or work with horses.

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Life Cycle of a Horse: Stages and Care