Imprinting a foal refers to a training technique made popular by . As defined in the dictionary, imprinting is "a rapid learning process that takes place early in the life of a social animal and establishes a behavior pattern (as recognition of and attraction to its own kind or a substitute)." Twenty-four to 48 hours after birth is the period when some species, including horses, may be imprinted.
Lessons learned at this early age can last a lifetime. Imprint training is efficient; a lesson learned in a few minutes after birth may save you hours of problems later. Imprinting gentles the foal and prepares it for schooling and veterinary work later. Early exposures to certain stimuli allow the foal to accept the same stimuli later without fear, especially regarding humans.
This technique includes doing things like rubbing the foal all over, pulling at ears, putting on a halter, putting pressure on the poll, taking a temperature, picking up feet, and making loud noises. The techniques associated with imprinting should be done for two or three days in a row, taking about half an hour each time. After the first 24 hours, it is no longer imprinting, but habituation.
One concern with imprinting is the restraint of the foal. If the foal struggles and the trainer releases it, the foal learns it can struggle to escape handling. This idea becomes imprinted on the foal and is extremely difficult to change.
So, done wrong, imprint training can cause problems. Before trying to imprint your own foals, consult a horse trainer, a veterinarian, and Dr. Miller's learning aids, which include the book Imprint Training and the DVD Early Learning
Donna Kromroy of Albia, Iowa, imprints her new foals, working with each mare and foal loose in the herd. Since she interacts with her herd each day, the mares accept her presence and are not threatened by her approach to their babies. If you do not have a super relationship with your mares, you would be better off doing your imprinting in a more controlled area with the mare tied or held by a helper. The first few hours after foaling are the mare's most protective time.
Donna uses a simple rope loop to get easy control of a foal without any fear of injury to the foal. One reason to not use a halter on a young foal is the possibility of damage to its fragile neck if the foal should panic. Instead she fashions a simple restraint from a length of poly lead rope and ties a handle in the center over the foal's back. The rope allows Donna to easily control the foal by herself.