When I developed Imprint Training of the newborn foal in 1959, because I was a veterinarian I included desensitization of all body openings (eyes, ears, nostrils, mouth, anus, vagina in the female, etc.) because I know from experience that many mature horses, despite advanced performance training, were quite resistant to such areas being handled or invaded.
After writing a couple of articles describing the method, and explaining the “imprinting period” which, in prey species like the horse, occurs immediately after birth, the Western Horseman magazine asked me to do a book on it.
I did so, and Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal, thanks to that popular horse magazine, introduced the method to the horse world, internationally.
Because, except for a few cultures, which live in tents or small shelters, such as Bedouin Arabs and a few North American and South American Indian Tribes, handling the newborn foal was largely opposed to, I was taught to avoid doing so in my youth.
It was difficult for humans to understand that the imprinting period in prey species was immediately after birth, combined with immediate and permanent learning ability, nature’s way of ensuring survival for the newborn. Thus, it was not traditional in most human societies, even those most advanced technologically. It did not fit our human babies.
Even I did not think of teaching the just-born foal to accept certain harmless, but frightening stimuli.
For example, not even in my book, published in 1991, nor in the best video done on the method, Early Learning (Video Velocity) several years later, did I think of including exposure to fly spray in the method.
I had imprint trained many foals, including my own, but mostly my client’s, but never thought of including a spray.
It was when I went to spray a fly repellant on one of my own foals, at three months of age and observed her frightened flight reaction, that I realized, in addition to all the other things the foal quickly accepted when introduced soon after birth, I had to include spray.
Therefore, although not emphasized in the books or the videos I have done on imprint training, I will now include sprays.
I do not use chemical sprays. I just use a spray bottle with water in it. Depending upon the environmental temperature, I use cold water or warm water. I want the foal to be comfortable. I lightly spray the entire foal.
Like everything else in my imprint training procedure, it is instantly memorized and accepted by the foal.
It may be many days, or weeks later when I actually use fly spray on the foal, but they remember. The fear is gone. They accept it.
One word of caution: I use warm water or cool water on the newborn foal because that rewards the foal’s acceptance. I do not use actual chemical repellant. The sight of the spray, its feel, and the sound of it are all stimuli, which if unfamiliar, stimulate the flight response in the horse. So will an unfamiliar odor. So I teach the foal to accept the spray sound, its sight, and its sound, but omit the odor until the foal is older.
It is the same concept that I use in the newborn foal when I gently tap the sole of the foot 100 times and then “rasp” it with the palm of my hand. They are then permanently prepared for the farrier. But, if I loudly hammered on the foot, I may get the opposite effect: fear of the having the feet trimmed or shod.
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