"We wean by The Sign if it's convenient. Many of the farmhands feel better if we do it that way. I guess it's just like walking under stepladder--you may say that you're not superstitious, but you'd just as soon not go under it."
Those comments, made almost 30 years ago by Preston Madden, owner of historic Hamburg Place in central Kentucky, at the time represented a felling prevalent among a sizable number of horsemen that "The Sign" is one thing that should be considered in deciding when to wean a foal. Many horsemen still fell that way, and even the farm managers who won't admit to believing in the theory might steal a glance at a Farmer's Almanac as weaning time approaches in the fall.
But what is "The Sign"? And how does a mare owner decipher those odd-looking zodiac symbols in the almanac if he wants to be certain "The Sign" is "right" for weaning?
The fundamental principle of astrology is that the moon, sun, planets, and stars somehow are able to exert an influence on events in our everyday lives here on earth. How this might happen is anybody's guess, but proponents of the pseudoscience are certain that it does happen, and farm managers who wean by "The Sign" usually have substantial anecdotal evidence; they remember entire foal crops weaned by "The Sign" that turned out well, and individuals weaned when "The Sign" was "wrong" that had nothing but problems.
Valid or not, this is how weaning by "The Sign" works:
It takes the moon a little less than 28 days to complete on orbit around the earth, and on any given night during that lunar cycle, the moon appears to be near on of a dozen groups of fixed stars, or constellations. These are the same constellations that make up the 12 signs of the zodiac familiar to anyone who ever has read a horoscope --Pisces, Aries, Taurus, and so on.
Two thousand years ago, astrologers assigned each sign of the zodiac to a part of the body. Every 28 days or so, as the moon moves from on constellation to the next, it also moves progressively from one part of the body to another, from the head (Aries), to the neck (Taurus), the arms (Gemini), the breast (Cancer), the heart (Leo), the bowels (Virgo), the kidneys (Libra, the loins (Scorpio), the thighs (Sagittarius), the knees (Capricorn), the legs (Aquarius), the feet (Pisces).
The idea is to wait until the moon has moved to a sign (or part of the body) that is below the part of the body you are working on. The thinking gets a little fuzzy here, but the theory says that since you are weaning a foal's body (apparently without his lower legs) it is best to wait until the moon--and therefore "The Sign"-- is below the knee. To do this, locate a calendar for the month in question, find the little diagrams, representing the signs below the knee (Aquarius for the legs and Pisces for the feet), then locate those two signs on the calendar.
The calendar will indicate on which days of the month the mood enters those two signs (although theses dates will differ slightly from the almanac). Weaning supposedly can be done safely on the days when the moon is "in" Aquarius and Pisces.
This works out to a 4-day window for "safe" weaning each month, ending when the moon chugs back up to Aries, sign for the head. The actual dates vary from month to month because of the variance between the moon's regular 28-day cycle and the calendar's 28-day to 31-day months.
The effectiveness of weaning by "The Sign" never can be confirmed. So even though weaning by "The Sign" might not help it probably will not hurt, either.
This is very interesting. Do the people who wean by the signs have any experience or knowledge of how using this method might affect whether a foal starts cribbing at weaning? I have read that the majority, not all, I know, but the majority of cribbers start at weaning, around 3 to 6 months. Has anyone owned a foal that had cribbers in its' bloodline and by weaning by the signs found that the foal did not start it up? Or, have any of the foals weaned by the signs ended up being cribbers anyway so the signs don't really have any affect on stereotypies?
I know that there are MANY theories as to why horses start cribbing, so this is just another question in my mind as to whether or not this might be something owners could keep in mind.