There's no mistaking weaning time on a breeding farm. Whether foals are handled the old-fashioned way---with abrupt, total separation from the dam---or using modern methods that entail more gradual steps toward independence, they will be under significant emotional and physical stress and won't be shy about communicating it.
Repetitive whinnying, pawing and other signs of anxiety are normal, especially in the early days of the weaning process, but keep an eye on your youngster to make sure his health isn't suffering during this period of transition. If you notice any of the following signs, consult your veterinarian to see what can be done to ease his path to self-sufficiency.
• Weight loss. By the time a foal is 6 months old, he is deriving most of his nutrition from grazing and concentrates rather than nursing, so weaning does not represent a significant dietary shift. Nonetheless, at weaning time the stress of his mother's absence will probably put a youngster off his feed for a day or two. Normally, however, a weanling will recover his appetite soon thereafter and won't lose significant amounts of weight. If he starts to look thinner than normal, consult with your veterinarian about safe strategies to combat weight loss without increasing his risk for developmental0 orthopedic disease.
• Dehydration. The same anxieties that suppress a youngster's appetite may also interfere with his impulse to drink. Make sure your weanling has access to water at all times and monitor how much he drinks. If you're concerned, you can do a quick dehydration check by pinching a bit of skin at his shoulder and pulling it away from his body. When you release the skin, it should "snap" back and flatten within two seconds---any longer may indicate dehydration and warrants a call to your veterinarian.
• Physical exhaustion. A youngster overwhelmed by weaning stress may express his anxiety through near-constant motion---pacing, fence walking, running, weaving and other repetitive behaviors. If this continues for more than a day or two and he cannot be soothed or at least distracted by the companionship of other horses, he may become so tired that he is more susceptible to injury. Call your veterinarian if you're worried about your fretful weanling hurting himself.