Imprinting a Foal
From a human perspective, interaction with horses is safer and less stressful when horses have been imprinted and/or desensitized.Are our horses enjoying the relationship, or are they simply dead to the stimulus?
Imprinting can be loving and helpful rather than disruptive and invasive. Harsh imprinting methods advise taking the foal away from its mother at birth and performing a series of extreme de-sensitizing exercises designed to deaden the foal’s reaction to simple procedures, including trimming and shoeing by tapping the soles of its feet hundreds of times, and veterinary treatment by inserting fingers in all orifices.
All of this forms the foal’s first impression of the world while its mother is restrained and not allowed to welcome her own baby.
My journey with horses has been an adventure of discovery. I am always looking to refine and enhance the connection and communication.
For many, it is much easier to dominate animals than to establish loving communication. I have been a breeder now for 14 years and have learned through the process a more holistic and rewarding approach.
Several important ideas are involved:
BECOME A TRUSTED AND CONSIDERATE FRIEND TO YOUR MARE
For my mare to welcome me at the birth of her foal, she must first consider me a friend to be trusted with her well-being. One of the best ways to a mare’s heart is through her stomach; making a fuss over her condition by preparing wholesome healthy meals and snacks will have her nickering the minute she sees you. Grooming, scratching and forays to find choice patches of succulent grass are also great bonding exercises.
All of this will be time well spent as she will transfer her feelings about you to the new foal. Animals learn by example and the foal will watch his mother closely to see how she responds to her human caregiver.
LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT FOALING SO YOU CAN MAKE WISE SAFETY DECISIONS
Many good books are available on the care of the mare and foal throughout the birthing period. Study them and get up to speed on when all is normal and when to call a vet. Many breeders tell the sad story of finding their mare and foal dead in the morning. Others, not knowing what to watch for, leave a mare laboring for hours in agony, and possibly lose her and the foal. Horses birth quickly and efficiently unless there is a misalignment and it is important to know what to watch for.
HELP MAKE YOUR MARE’S BIRTHING EXPERIENCE WONDERFUL
In keeping with the relationship you have fostered with your mare, be there when she is birthing and help make it easier for her. Because my mare knows her well-being is everything to me, she welcomes me at the birth. When the water breaks and the sack appears, I immediately check the position of the foal. In a normal birth one foot is presented slightly ahead of the other, soles down. If it is any other way, make an emergency call to your vet!
Holding the foal’s front pasterns and pulling with the mares contractions will help her labor proceed more easily, and when the nose appears, break the sack so the baby can breathe. If all goes smoothly, birth usually occurs about 20 to 30 minutes after the water breaks.
BE SENSITIVE AND GENTLE
In my barn the foal is towel dried and loved between my kissing and congratulating the mare until the umbilical cord breaks. I then help the foal get close to the still recovering mare so Mom can lick all the places I have just dried. The two of us alternate in one big welcome fest. The mare then rises and I clip her placenta back up to itself so she won’t step on the trailing end and tear it. The weight of the placenta helps it separate cleanly from the uterine wall without leaving bits that can cause serious infection.
All the while, the baby is attempting to stand; when he succeeds, he will then begin his search for the mare’s udder. It is better to give him time (up to two hours) to find it on his own and most mares will try to help by getting in position and pushing the foal in the right direction.
DON’T DOMINATE THE FOAL
Take the time it takes (as Pat Parelli says) to gently and considerately get to know the foal and convince him that your concern is for his comfort and safety. Talk gently, praise him and don’t be in a hurry to restrain him. The proof is in the pudding. Paschar, the foal in the accompanying pictures, was born 3 weeks early after Epona, his mom, had a serious bout of pneumonia. The vets suggested we abort the 10-month-old fetus as she was having trouble breathing.
That was one thing Epona and I agreed upon: our baby would live! When Paschar was born three weeks early he was literally fighting for his life; even after my gentle welcome, a day later he tried to rear and run at me. I understood his concern. Humans had tried to end his life and he had to fight for it. Patiently I talked to him and told him he was my angel (Paschar is the Angel of Vision) and as I talked and stroked him, his eye would soften and he would relax. Days became weeks and I would remind him who he was and how loved he was and each time his eye grew softer. By the time he was two months old he was the most gregarious, loving and affectionate foal who particularly loved being buried under hugging children. At three months old he followed at liberty, backed, moved his hind end and shoulder, picked up his feet, trailer loaded (all at liberty) and ran happily behind in a game I call stick (to me). He was fully imprinted and de-sensitized while fully alive and filled with Joy.
As a two-year-old, he understands my every word and is so self assured that he follows me down to our playground, several hundred yards from the paddock where his family is grazing, gets up on tires, runs across bridges, walks ,trots, and whoas, all by voice and body language, all without halters, ropes or sticks.
Paschar is a super horse. Why? He was born gently, loved, treated with patience and consideration and knows that his well–being is my first concern.
To see Paschar in the video One With The Herd visit www.lizmittenryan.com/media