Foal imprinting is a technique used to introduce a new foal to its environment and create a bond with its caregiver. The process involves familiarizing the foal with scents, sounds, and touches. The goal is to introduce as many experiences as possible in a safe, easy, and fun way to make the foal willing to accept new things with interest rather than suspicion.
Foal imprinting is a technique used by humans and horses alike to introduce a new foal to its environment. For the mare (or mother), she is establishing herself as her mother and ensuring her safety by showing him that she is her primary caregiver. Foal imprinting also allows you, the foal’s person, the ability to create your own unique bond with him. The benefit of imprinting allows you to familiarize your foal with a wide variety of experiences, which would be more difficult to present to later when he has become more active.
Immediately after birth the mother will blow into her foal’s nostrils which will familiarize her baby with her scent. She will subsequently address him in a particular tone so that the foal will recognize her sound. The foal’s imprinting continues as she dam rubs him all over his body, while continuing a light, low nicker. As this process continues, the foal will attempt to stand and nurse. It is important to allow these steps to complete before stopping the pasting process.
If you are present at the birth, or upon your arrival, the same foal imprinting techniques can be used by you to make your presentation. The first rule is to approach your mare and get permission to interact with her baby. Even the kindest mare could be protective at this time, especially if she’s a virgin mare (first foal). Once you feel comfortable that your mare feels safe with your presence, you can begin imprinting your foal.
Start by giving your foal your scent. Breathe gently into his nostrils and allow him to breathe into yours. This simple technique will create an instant bond and he will recognize you for the rest of his life, no matter how much time he spends between meetings.
If you wish to give your foal a special sound that he will identify with, now would be the time. Many have used human forms of cooing or trilling or some buzz that your foal will associate with you.
So you start with a soft, slow, gentle rub of the foal from head to tail. Start with the head, face, ears, mouth and work your way up the neck and the rest of the body. Be sure to include his genitals and legs.
The final step is the introduction of a foal halter. Start by rubbing it gently on his body. It’s best to put it on as gently, but quickly as possible, so your foal doesn’t feel constricted. Once the halter is in place it can be left in for 15-30 minutes. It’s important to note that your foal should never be left alone while wearing the halter.
All these steps should be repeated a few times a day. Within a few days, when your foal is safely on his feet, you can start picking him up and petting his butt. Never make sudden or abrupt movements, but rather make all foals pleasant to imprint.
The goal of foal imprinting is to introduce as many experiences as possible in a safe, easy, and fun way. If the foal is imprinted successfully, your foal will be willing to accept new things with interest rather than suspicion. This is the beginning of your relationship with your new foal and you want him to feel safe, secure and enthusiastic about any request you ask of him.