Properly imprinting your foal will determine behavior patterns as your young foal matures. The importance of foal imprinting, or foal imprint, cannot be overlooked.
Dr. Robert Miller, in the early 1990’s, developed a methods of handling and training newborn foals, which he called “Imprinting”.
Imprinting your foal is not a new idea, but Dr. Miller has made it popular again. Native American horsemen used the technique centuries ago. They even went so far as to talk to the unborn baby in order to familiarize it to their voice.
Dr. Miller produced a video describing the process. I highly recommend that anyone unfamiliar with the process of imprinting your foal, purchase and study the video.
Imprinting is a method of desensitizing the foal to the various stimuli it will encounter as a result of the training imposed upon it by its human handlers.
It is generally accepted that a newborn foal can absorb more information shortly after birth than at any other time of its life.
Many practitioners insist that imprinting your foal is only effective if done within the first hour or two after birth. Not to worry. Our experience, after many years of imprinting at Mares’ Nest, is that it is equally effective if done within twelve to twenty-four hours after birth.
What we do is to towel-dry the newborn foal, gently rubbing it all over its body, head and legs. Then we leave the stall and observe the mother and baby, allowing them to bond naturally and assuring that the foal nurses and gets the necessary colostrum.
If the foal is born during daylight hours, the imprinting process can begin at that time. However, if it is a nighttime foaling, we do the imprinting the next morning.
Foal imprint is best accomplished by a three-person team. One person holds the mare and reassures her that no harm will come to her baby. A second person gently holds the foal, quietly talking to it, while the third person does the actual imprinting.
If imprinting is done correctly, it is a wonderful tool. However, a poor job of imprinting can have a negative effect on the learning process. This is why some people do not like imprinting.
Probably the biggest problem is in the restraining of the foal. If the foal struggles and the handler releases it, the foal has just learned that if it struggles it can get released and does not have to obey the human.
Never stop before the foal relaxes and accepts what you are trying to teach it. You don't want the foal to learn that it can resist and not have to obey you. This can be a very difficult trait to correct and it is why I recommend studying Dr. Miller’s method, or having an experienced person available to give you a lesson before attempting it yourself.
Our method, at Mares’ Nest breeding farm includes the following process: Hand rubbing all parts of the body, including the ears and inside the mouth, picking up the feet and patting the sole until the foal doesn’t resist, rubbing a plastic bag all over the body and head, using an electric blade-less clipper to simulate clipping, squeezing the girth several times and putting a small baby halter on and off a few times. This, without buckling it.
It’s a good idea to repeat the imprinting process on a daily bases for the first few days. The entire process doesn’t need to be repeated each time. Just handling the foal and picking up its feet can be a very important lesson.
Remember, a new foal has a short attention span and lessons should be kept brief and non-stressful. Make the entire process a fun time for you and the foal and don’t forget to give attention to the new mother in order to assure her that you mean no harm to her foal.
Read about foal development here.
Information on imprinting your foals.
How to wean your foal successfully.
You may need to read about dummy foals here.
Every horse eventually needs to be trailer trained.