Imprinting is a method of desensitizing a foal to humans who will be handling and training them as they grow and mature.
Imprinting your foal is by no means a new idea. Native American horsemen used imprinting centuries ago. They even went so far as to talk to the unborn baby in order to familiarize it to their voice. However, if imprinting is done incorrectly, it can have quite an adverse effect on the (future) learning process for the horse. It is generally accepted that a newborn foal can absorb more information shortly after birth than at any other time of its life.
To start the imprinting process on your foal begin by 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. Pay particular attention to areas the foal is anxious about and gently work those areas until it is comfortable. Rub a saddle pad over its back, neck and under its belly, putting a small baby halter on and off a few times. At this stage you don’t need to actually buckle the halter, just working it on and off is enough. You can graduate to things like electric clippers (bladeless), a bareback pad with a cinch, or anything else you have around.
It’s a good idea to repeat the imprinting process on a daily bases for the first week. 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 to talk to the foal as you work with it as they get comfort from your voice. I then continue working with the foal on a weekly basis.
The best tip I can share with you is to remember your foal has a very short attention span…so keeping your lessons short and sweet will work wonders. Make the entire process a fun time for you and the foal. Don’t forget MOM… Interacting with her during this process will assure her you don’t mean harm and will comfort her a great deal.
One of the biggest problems you may encounter is “restraining the foal”. If you release the foal when it struggles, the foal will quickly learn that struggle = release… With that said, keep with it… Don’t stop before the foal relaxes and always end on a positive note.
Many believe that imprinting is only effective if done within the first hour or two after birth, but in fact, it has been my experience, that it is equally effective if done within the first few days after birth. The key is follow through, patience, and kindness.