Introduction
What if there was a way to practically insure your newborn foal would be manageable and easy to train later in his life and it would take about two hours on the day he was born? Well this is the promise made by Dr. Robert Miller if you follow his imprinting plan. My personal experiences with other folk’s imprinted foals had not been that encouraging, I find many are poorly trained to lead and a bit aggressive. This was not an indication of the lack of worth of imprinting just that it was not the final word. Foals still needed to learn to lead without resistance. Just as important is that the foal learns early on that he always stands below humans in the herd dominance issue. Dr Miller has added a few lessons to the initial imprinting process that he says will address these issues making later training a breeze.

The Goals
The goals of the process are:

  • Bonding with humans
  • Desensitization to certain stimuli
  • Sensitization to other stimuli
  • Submission to humans

The Technique

Timing
It is important to understand that if done improperly the imprinting process can do more harm than good. Imprinting must be done at birth, the process is lost after day one and maybe within hours of birthing. You can train a foal after birth but this is a bit different. If the foal is not imprinted at birth the imprinting technique makes a wonderful training tool and can be used that way.

Persistence
It is not difficult to do, you just must be persistent at each step to accomplish the goal, acceptance of the stimulation, before moving on to the next step. Quitting before acceptance is achieved may result in the opposite effect, increased sensitivity.

Bonding / Submission
Start by kneeling at the back of the foal and grasping the muzzle flex it back gently to the withers, this will prevent the foal from standing. Begin toweling the foal dry. During this time the mare is allowed unrestrained access to the foal. The foal is also prevented from standing. This procedure allows the foal to get to know you and establishes you as a dominant player in the foals life. This is not fear but respect you are establishing.

Desensitization
Of course the first desensitization is done using the towel. Once dry start at the head and gently begin rubbing the face and head and begin handling the ears. You should stick your finger, gently, into the mouth and nostrils. This may have to be repeated up to a hundred times, but be persistent, remember the goal: complete acceptance and relaxation. The foal will resist theses procedures and he should be gently but firmly restrained until he quits wiggling. Watch those feet!

Continue the handling and rubbing until the foal accepts it completely, then move down the body. Taking the body in easily handled sections and work on each until acceptance is established. When you first start, the foal will be very reactive and tense but as you go along the foal relaxes and each new section desensitizes a little quicker, until you get to the point that the foal remains relaxed no matter where you rub. Go back and recheck old areas to be sure they are truly desensitized.

One area to avoid desensitizing is the area of the flank where the heels of a rider will contact to urge the horse onward.

The legs are handled and rubbed starting at the body and working your way down. The legs should be repeatedly flexed and straightened until the foal becomes passive to the process. The bottom of the foot can be gently tapped with the palm of the hand to get use to being shod.

Areas where you might be shy are just under the tail head, the perineum, and the groin, but these areas are important to desensitize also. Be sure to spend time on the teats, scrotum, and penis. Since rectals are important parts of reproduction and some exams it is best to get him use to it now. You can take a plastic or rubber glove, lubricate it with mineral oil, KY jelly, or enema solution and, yes, get the foal use to having its anus manipulated. Start by inserting a lubricated finger into the anus gently and then wiggling it about until the foal relaxes and accepts the procedure.

Once the foal is accepting totally of these procedures, the foal should be turned over and with you still working at the back of the foal, start the procedure on the other side.

Time
The time for the desensitization procedure may take an hour or more after which the foal is allowed to stand an nurse. Do not rush it. continue to work with each area until the foal is completely relaxed. Only then move on to the next area.

The Results
Following this procedure the foal is compliant, accepting of human companionship, and easily led and trained. Dr Miller says this imprinting is permanent and results in an unafraid but respectful foal.

Contributed By: Robert N. Oglesby DVM

This article reprinted with permission from Horseadvice.com, an internet information resource for the equestrian and horse industry since 1994. On the WWW at www.horseadvice.com we have tens of thousands of documents on the web about horse care, diseases, and training.