To survive in the wild, a foal must learn who his mother quickly, follow her and run alongside her to avoid danger. Prey species like horses attach and bond with what they see right after birth and later instinctively flee from anything unfamiliar. Newborn foals are programmed to soak up a vast amount of information immediately after birth. When first born, a foal does not fear humans and can learn to tolerate and remember many things, just as it can learn to recognize and follow its dam (imprinting). The most advantageous time to make a lasting good impression on a foal through controlled experiences is in that short period just after birth.
The Aim of Imprinting using is:
- To create a bond between the foal and humans
- Desensitise the foal to certain stimuli
- Sensitise the foal to other stimuli
- Create submission to humans
There is no one “correct” way to handle foals; your circumstances and experience will dictate much of how you train your foals at a young age. However, if done properly, handling a foal at birth makes later training easier, as the foal learns to accept things that might be more challenging later on in life. Remember that foals are like sponges and will soak up everything you do, both the good and the bad. Building trust surrounding basic experiences is very important. Tasks such as having feet picked up, being touched all over, including in/ around the mouth and ears can help teach the foal to be comfortable and to have manners for these tasks later in life.
Respect is crucial throughout the imprint and handling process. A foal with no respect can be very difficult to handle by the time they are 2 years old. Ideally you want to be considered as an alpha, but at the same time you do not want the foal to become afraid of you. Horses in a herd situation are not necessarily afraid of the alpha horse, but they respect that horse.
If you have never handled foals before, seek an experienced horse person to help you to avoid the pitfalls and to give your young horse the best start to its life you can. The whole process should essentially create a pleasant experience and a long-lasting bond for both you and your foal.