Although Imprint Training of the newborn foal has been described in several books and videos since I stumbled upon the method in 1959, it was the Western Horseman book with that title (Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal) that has been the major factor in its acceptance by the horse world, internationally. Based upon several Western Horseman magazine articles, the book (1991) has been published in several languages and is well illustrated.
Because the method was not traditional in twentieth century societies, acceptance was very slow and subject to severe criticism. However, because of its consistent efficacy if done correctly, and the many horses, trained at birth by the method, which have been winners in every conceivable equine sport, discipline, and function, Imprint Training has finally achieved acceptance all over the world.
Teaching equine behavior internationally, and in constant contact with the horse world, I have learned of several advantages achieved by the method that I was originally unaware of, but which are of enough value to warrant description in this article:
1. Dummy Foals
So called "Dummy Foals" are an all too common phenomenon in the horse breeding industry. When I recently read the University of California Veterinary School study in a scientific journal about the "Dummy Foal" Syndrome, and a method of handling it, I suddenly became aware that I had never once experienced the "Dummy Foal" Syndrome in any of the thousands of new born foals I had done Imprint Training on or that I had supervised being done by someone else. This seemed to be statistically improbable.
Only four of the thoroughbred farms that were clients of mine in the late twentieth century accepted Imprint Training, it wasn't traditional. Quite the contrary. It was widely accepted that the newborn foal and the mare should be, as much as possible, be left alone.
The racehorse industry also believed that if foals were made to be too docile, too calm, too unafraid, that they would not race well. This has been proven to be completely untrue. Imprint trained horses have run in the Kentucky Derby and excelled in every possible discipline.
I suspected that the successful University of California method of using a rope harness to compress the body of the newborn foal, which simulates the pressure the foal experiences from the uterus of its dam during the birth process, is somehow similar to the handling and restraint advocated in the Imprint Training regimen I have used on so many foals since 1959.
The only such farm still operating in 2017 was Malibu Valley Farms. The manager, Mark Cardiel was a toddler when his father, who managed another thoroughbred farm in my area, accepted Imprint Training and used it successfully for the rest of his career. Both of his sons, Mark and George, grew up to become farm managers and used Imprint Training routinely, and successfully.
So, in 2018 I interviewed Mark Cardiel and asked him if Malibu Valley Farms had ever experienced a Dummy Foal. He said "Never!" then he added, "The only times it happened, among hundreds of foals, was when the foaling caught us by surprise and we did not do the Imprint Training immediately, when the foal was born. A few of those we missed turned out to be Dummys."
Having advocated and done what I call "Imprint" Training on thousands of foals since 1959, I should have been aware that not one of those foals turned out to be a "Dummy". Every experienced equine veterinarian has seen "Dummies". The realization that what I was doing somehow prevented the syndrome did not come to me until I read the University of California Veterinary School research paper.
2. The Effect on Broodmares
There have been a few reports on the internet of mares arising when the newborn foal is being Imprint Trained and attacking the human handlers.
If the mare was subjected to Imprint Training when she was born, she will accept and actually condone the procedure as it is being performed upon her just-born foal.
Horses are a precocial species. Unlike human babies or puppies, or kittens, which are an ALTRICIAL species (poorly developed senses at birth, limited learning ability), the newborn foal has all its senses working at birth, has profound learning ability, and an infallible memory. That's how horses, a prey species, are able to survive in the wild.
So the mare, imprint trained at birth, remembers the experience and, years later, when she has a foal of her own, reassures her newborn that what is happening is acceptable.
During my career, I have encountered many aggressive mares with young foals, usually two or three days after foaling. Often these are ordinarily gentle mares, but the maternal instinct provokes them to be bravely aggressive.
However, if the mare was exposed to proper handling when she was born, during her imprinting period, I never experienced her to act aggressively while her foal is being handled.
I do recommend certain precautions:
• A competent, reliable person handle the haltered mare when she gets to her feet after the foal id born.
• She has to be positioned so that she is unlikely to injure the foal by stepping on it, or ensure the person handling the foal is capable.
• She be allowed to lick the foal and hereby bond with it as it is being handled.
All of the above is nicely illustrated in the painting, which is on the cover of the Western Horseman book on imprinting foals.
Precocial species, like equines, cattle, deer, sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, deer, etc. are imprinted as soon as they see, smell, and otherwise sense what is around them at birth; usually by the mother and other members of the group.
Altricial species, like humans, dogs, cats, eagles, hawks, have delayed imprinting periods. Puppies, born with their eyes closed, for example, imprint at 6 to 7 weeks.
Horses can learn at any age. But, to ignore the advantages of early learning in such a creature, immediately after birth, is an opportunity lost. Additionally, I have learned that the "Dummy Foal" Syndrome seems to be preventable by appropriate postpartum handling, and additionally, if the foal is a filly, there is an additional benefit. If and when she is eventually bred, her attitude will benefit the foal by reassuring it and making it more compliant.
I had to eventually add a chapter to my Western Horseman book, Imprint Training of the Newborn Foal relating new information about the process I had learned since the original publication (Chapter 19, “Updated Information").
Now, 59 years after I discovered the method, this article describes two additional facts that I was unaware of until recently. I am grateful to those breeders who made me aware of the broodmare's cooperative attitude if she was imprint trained at birth, which reassures her newborn foal and facilitates the procedure.
I also greatly appreciate the research done at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine at Davis, CA by Dr. John Madigan and associates on the "Dummy Foal" Syndrome. Until I read it I had not become aware that of the many thousands of foals imprint trained at birth in my practice, I had never experienced a single "Dummy Foal".
Because labor is so short in the equine species (an evolutionary development to help ensure survival of both mare and foal in the wild), the time spent in the uterus during delivery is usually brief. Due to the minimal compression of the foal's body, sometimes there is not enough pressure to allow adequate oxygen flow to the foal's tissues and, along with other factors, leads to the "Dummy" Syndrome.
As a veterinarian, I have seen too many "Dummies", yet until I read the UCD paper, it had not occurred to me that I had never seen an Imprint Trained foal, or heard of one, that turned out to be a "Dummy".
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