Baby horses are a blessing. Getting caught up in the excitement of your mare giving birth is the norm, but it’s important to not forget that ‘training’ your foal begins as soon as he hits the ground. While some people prefer to not mess with their young horses for a year or so, many others live and stand by the methods of imprinting. Imprinting is a way to desentize your newborn foal so that later in life, training will be much easier. Here are some simple steps you can follow when doing so.
The First Hour
If you are lucky enough to see your mare give birth, it is important to remove the placenta from the foal’s face right away in order for it to breathe. Make sure both the foal and the mother are healthy and that no complications arose during the birth. Let the mare lick her baby and give them some time to bond. The foal should be on its feet within the hour and searching for that teet. Once the foal lies down again, gather your materials for the imprinting. You will need:
- A squirt bottle filled with clean water
- A plastic bag
- A friend to help
The most important part of imprinting is positioning yourself and the foal in a way that neither of you will get hurt. Have your friend gently hold the foal’s head and neck so that he doesn’t strain himself. The foal should be lying flat on its side with plenty of room to move in case he gets angsty.
Make sure someone is holding the mare while you carry out the imprinting. Start by rubbing the foal down completely from head to toe. Rub his face and ears especially, to discourage him from being headshy later on in life. Rub down his neck, body, and legs. Make sure to rub both sides of his body.
Next, hold one of his legs and tap the bottom of his hoof gently, yet firmly enough for him to notice. Tap the hoof about 50 to 100 times, then repeat for the other three hooves. This will desensitize him for the farrier and general hoofcare.
Once that is finished, grab your squirt bottle. It’s important to make sure that it is full of clean water. Spritz the foal from head to toe. This will help him accept the fly spray and the hose.
The final step is to rub the foal down with the plastic bag. The loud noise may cause him to startle a bit, but keep rubbing until he is calm. This will help desensitize him to loud noises and general ’scary’ things he may encounter in the future. I always like to finish by rubbing the foal down again with my hands and getting him calm. Ending on a good note is best.
The Following Weeks
Repeat these steps every day for the next 2 or 3 weeks. By the end of the third week, it will be so routine for the foal, that he won’t even bat an eyelash. Imprinting a foal is a great way to get him used to everyday horse necessities such as: haltering, hoof picking, grooming, etc. You will have significantly less trouble introducing these things to him once he’s old enough. Some extra things you can do are: brush him down with a dandy brush, put a halter on and off of him repeatedly, and let the radio play in the barn or next to his stall. The brush will prepare him for grooming, the halter for, well, haltering, and the radio is extra ’scary’ noises he will learn to ignore.
Handle your foal with kindness and patience, and he will appreciate it. Just like children, foals are very fast learners. A foal’s first year is the best time to introduce him to different things and get him used to it so that he will accept them without putting up a fight in the future.