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Each foaling season, I’m reminded of the path that’s led me to my present vocation as equine behaviorist. Over 50 years after I “discovered” the method of permanently shaping the behavior of newborn foals—which I dubbed imprint training—it’s in widespread use all over the world. Imprint training has been used not just on equines, but other precocial species such as llamas, camels, cattle, elephants, rhinoceros, and so on. To my surprise and satisfaction, it’s also being widely used in racing breeds (Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and racing Quarter Horse).

Recently, an increasing number of videos and manuals on imprint training have come out, as over the decades, other horsemen have adopted imprint training and modified it. I’m very pleased to see this, as it greatly reduces the abusive handling of the horses after maturity. However, while some of these recent adaptive versions are okay, others are not. Some of the people promoting training of the foal during its imprinting period (right after birth) obviously do not fully understand the scientific technology. Pat Parelli, by contrast, has a very good video on his technique.

For my part, I’m still quite satisfied with “Early Learning,” my last video on imprint training, now that it includes a description on colostrum administration during the first postpartum hour. My original book, Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal, remains the best-published description of its genre, and has been translated into German, French, Polish, and Italian.

The concept of imprint training newborn foals met with a lot of opposition during the first quarter- century I promoted it. This was because it wasn’t customary in most modern cultures. This is despite the fact that imprint training was traditional in primitive, nomadic cultures that lived in close contact with their horses. I always assumed the latter was true, knowing that I hadn’t invented anything new. All I did was give the concept and methodology a name, explain it scientifically, and work at popularizing it. But it’s an ancient technique.

Done correctly, imprint training makes it easy to start a young horse under saddle. The goal of colt-starting shouldn’t be to create a spectacle. It should be to train animals so gently, softly, and effectively that the result is a respectful, compliant, highly responsive, and safe horse.

Photo credit: Flickr user Clod 79

Be prepared for foaling season: New Book & DVD Packages:

Click here to order: Imprint Training Package
Package includes a signed copy of Imprint Training and the Early Learning DVD for just $49
(a $57.90 value – save 15%).
Click here to order: Foaling Package
Package includes a signed copy of Imprint Training, Early Learning DVD, Foaling Fundamentals DVD for just $74.95
(a $87.85 value – save 15%).

Spring is almost here, and with its arrival usually comes lush pasture (drought notwithstanding). Sadly, verdant grazing land usually means that veterinarians will see many cases of laminitis. Some years, this deadly disease of the navicular bone and hoof can reach epidemic proportions.

Spring pasture has made me paranoid when it comes to the health of my horses. When it’s time to turn them out, I first make sure that their bellies are full of their usual hay. Then, I only allow them five minutes on pasture the first day. In fact, we usually cut the grass first, and then, on the first few days in pasture, double the amount of time until they’re getting two hours worth of grazing. Then, I’ll turn them out long-term, but again, only when they’re full of hay.

This very cautious approach minimizes the chances of laminitis attack on spring grass, but it isn’t a guarantee. Thus, I check my animals every day, so I’ll be able to catch the first signs of pain in their feet if trouble arises. The earlier laminitis is treated, the less chance there is of permanent damage resulting in founder.

Flickr user Nottingham Vet School

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Q. My mare is pregnant. When should I vaccinate her?

A. I like to vaccinate mares about a month before they foal, to ensure that antibody levels will be at a peak in their colostrum (the first milk) when they deliver. Colostrum has several functions besides providing nourishment. It’s a laxative and helps to prevent constipation, a not-uncommon problem in newborn foals (this is why many veterinarians include routine enemas when doing a postpartum exam). Colostrum helps supplement the foal’s immune system, and for this reason alone, is a critical part of the nursing process in the hours after a mare has given birth.

Mark Your Calendars!

Interested in catching one of Dr. Millerís summer or fall lectures?

Robert M. Miller, D.V.M.
  • May 30-June 2: Light Hands Horsemanship: Santa Ynez, CA. Join clinicians
    Eitan Beth-Halachmy, Lester Buckley, Jack Brainard, Richard Winters, and more!

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