By: Dyan Westvang

Every foal ever born in captivity has been imprinted in one way or another if it was handled at all during the first hour or two of life. Just as all horses are being trained each and every moment we are in their realm whether we intended them to be at school or not!

For as many years as I can remember our foals were imprinted. We just had not put a name to it so thank you Dr. Miller! We also were not nearly so sophisticated in the application of imprinting nor did we expose the foals to nearly so many sensations. Still imprinting was done.

Today there seem to be two schools of thought about foal imprinting and early training. How many times have you heard a person say "Well, I don't want any imprinted foal, they walk all over you!" ?

Foal imprinting is in theory a good practice, however it can be a serious and in some instances dangerous thing if done improperly or half way.

In order to imprint a foal the handling must be carried out during the first hour or so of life.. primarily prior to the foal standing to nurse. After that time what occurs is no longer imprinting but early foal training and both are important aspects of training. It is also vital that during this time the foal and mare be given time to bond and establish their Imprinting. There are videos and books on imprinting where a professional goes efficiently about the task of desensitizing the foal to different stimuli and again sensitizing the foal to stimuli it will be exposed to all the rest of it's life.

In practical life, rarely will the backyard breeder/handler have the skills or the ability to do a proper job of such extensive imprint training in the limited amount of time and yet be able to give the mare and foal adequate bonding time.

So what is the happy medium one might ponder? What things are most important to establish in the man/horse relationship?

Here at our farm we have prioritized these things and work down the list as time permits. What is not accomplished then during that vital first hour will be carried over to early foal training which is almost as indelible as imprinting.

It is our contention that an imprinted foal need not develop into a menace or a disrespectful youngster. Yes, we have made our mistakes just like everyone else, however we discovered that those mistakes were actually quite easily remedied if the foal was imprinted.

Perhaps the biggest complaint about imprinted foals is that they do not respect a human's space. The human becomes part of their "herd" and therefore are free game for the little horsey games all youngsters play. Is the art of imprinting to blame for this? No, not at all. The human who imprinted the foal just left out a couple VERY important items.

First and formost human safety is to be considered in handling any horse or foal. Does that not mean that the horse or foal must then respect the human's space? Of course it does.

So within this first hour of life and then reinforced for several days the cute little fuzzy foal needs to be taught to respect a human's space while still being relaxed and happy to be in human company. That is not a difficult thing to do. Just keep consistent and firm with the foal and within a very short time it will understand where it's place is and keep to it.

Is imprinting good or bad? In our estimation it goes way beyond being good. It is essencial!

© Copyright Dyan Westvang ~ All Rights Reserved~ No portion of this article may be reprinted or distributed electronically or by other means without the written consent of the author. Foxvangen Farm




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