Last Updated on March 29, 2023
The world of horse terminology can get very confusing, especially when it comes to the names used to describe horses of different ages! Many people think a colt and a foal are the same things, but what is the difference between a colt and a foal?
What Is A Colt Horse?
Many different names are used to describe horses according to their gender and age. This is particularly complicated when it comes to younger horses. Horse breeders will refer to their young horses by particular terms depending on how old they are and whether they are male or female.
The word colt is used for young male horses, up to the age of four years old. This name is used from birth and throughout the first four years of life.
The only exception to this is if the male horse is neutered before the age of four. When this happens, he is no longer considered to be a colt.
If a young male horse is not neutered, he remains a colt until he is four years old. On his fourth birthday, the entire male horse becomes a stallion.
Young horses are only called colts if they are male. Young female horses are given a different name, as we shall find out later.
Are Colts And Foals The Same?
All young horses are called foals during the first year of life. This name is used from the moment they are born until their first birthday. The word foal is used for both male and female young horses.
Many people think that the word colt is used to describe all young horses, but this is not true. Only young male horses are called colts, and female horses have a different name. The word foal is used for both genders, as long as they are under one year old.
So, if a male horse is under one year old and has not been neutered, he will be called a colt foal. The colt part tells us that he is male, and the foal tells us that he is under one year old.
Read more about Foals Nursing and What They Eat
Colt Vs Foal Comparison
Does this mean that a colt is always a foal and vice versa? No, it doesn’t!
If a colt is over one year old, he is no longer referred to as a foal.
And if a foal is female, then she will not be called a colt.
The words colt and foal are used to describe two different characteristics. Colt tells us about the gender of the horse, whilst foal tells us about the age.
Is A Yearling The Same As A Colt?
When a horse reaches its first birthday, it is then called a yearling. This name is used until the horse is two years old. The word yearling gives us information about the age of a horse, but not its gender.
So, if a male horse is one year old and has not been neutered, it will be identified as a yearling colt. If it is neutered during this time, it becomes a gelding.
What Is A Filly Horse?
The filly is the name given to a young female horse, up to the age of four years old. She will be called a filly throughout this time, as female horses are not routinely neutered.
A filly that is under one year old will be referred to as a filly foal. At the age of one, she will be called a filly yearling. After this, she remains a filly until her fourth birthday, when she is then called a mare.
The other name used for female horses is the word dam. This is used to identify a female horse that has a foal. If she is still nursing her foal she will be described as a dam with a foal at foot.
Read more about What Is A Filly Horse Mean
What Is A Weanling?
The term weanling is used to describe a foal that is no longer dependent on the milk from its dam. At this point, the foal will be weaned and will move onto a normal diet.
So, when a male foal is weaned, he becomes a weanling colt. A female would be called a weanling filly.
What Is The Difference Between A Gelding And A Stallion?
It is very common for male horses to be neutered. The name stallion is used to describe a male horse aged four years or older that has not been neutered. As soon as a male horse is neutered he becomes a gelding, regardless of his age.
Another word you may hear to describe a male horse is the term ‘sire’. This means the father of a horse. For example, you might hear someone say that a stallion sired a particular horse.
If you ever hear people talking about a rig, this is a horse that has been partially neutered. Rigs can be a big problem, as outwardly they may look like they are a gelding. However, they can still have the behavior and characteristics of a stallion, and the potential to impregnate a mare!
The reason that many male horses are neutered is that an entire male horse is very difficult to handle and care for. They cannot be kept with mares and may fight with geldings. Only the very best male horses are kept entire for breeding purposes, and the rest are neutered.
The process of neutering a male horse, also called castration, involves a surgical procedure to remove both of the testicles. This stops the male horse from producing testosterone, the hormone that gives the desire to mate. When a male horse has been neutered or gelded, he becomes much calmer and easier to handle.
So, as we have learned, the word colt is used to describe a young male horse, up to his fourth birthday. A foal is a male or female horse that is less than one year old. A male horse is called a colt foal until his first birthday.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the different names used to describe horses! Do you find it really confusing, or does it make perfect sense? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE